Fairewinds Calls for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Delay Licensing Until Fukushima Lessons Are Evaluated


Gundersen implores Congress and NRC to think outside the box. Pause licensing of new nukes and 20-year-life extensions until the lessons learned from Fukushima are applied. Fairewinds Associates recommends that regulators look at the feasibility of emergency evacuation plans, containment leakage, and aging management plans for 40-year-old Fukushima model reactors.


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Arnie Gundersen: I'm Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds and today is Monday, April 25th, 2011.

I wanted to look back today at the six weeks since Fukushima and see what kind of lessons can be learned at this early date and what the United States should be doing as a result of that. The industry had a worst case assumption of 1% failed fuel on one reactor. And in fact, we have got multi-unit sites and we have got 70% failed fuel at 3 reactors at Fukushima. Clearly what we thought on March 11th was worse case, is in fact, not worse case at all. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission assumed that containments leaked at a 1/2% a day. At Fukushima, we have 3 reactors. The reactor containments leaking at enormous amounts more than that. One, water is literally pouring out of the side of it. Back before March 10th, the industry assumed that all these releases would get sucked out of the buildings and pulled up a stack and released very high into the air to minimize exposure. At Fukushima, the stacks did not work. The worse case assumption that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever thought possible was that batteries could be used for 8 hours and then everything would be back to normal. Of course, at Fukushima, that did not work either. And also, the industry always assumed that their worst case, people would have to be evacuated out 10 miles and in a day or two or three, they would be allowed to come back in.

Well the United States State Department has suggested that people move out if they are within 50 miles of the plant, and no one knows when they are coming back in. We simply have not planned for the really worst case.

If you look at Fukushima, we have got 3 reactors in one form of a meltdown or another. And we have got 4 spent fuel pools that have had fires, explosions and leaks, again, in one form of meltdown or another. That is 7 problems.

If this were a road race, we would have a 7 car accident. And if this were a road race, we would put out a yellow flag and slow things down. Yet, here in America, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not putting out the yellow flag, and it is not slowing things down. As a matter of fact, it is continuing to license reactors to run for an extra 20 years. Or to have their power increased, even though in the background we have Fukushima looming over us.

I think it is time to put out the yellow flag and slow things down. Here is an example. I have argued with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 5 years. I have written expert report on expert report about containment leakage. I have given the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pictures of holes in the side of containment. And then they have said, no, containments do not leak. I have given the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pictures of cracks in the side of containments. And they have said, no, containments do not leak; there is zero percent probability that a containment will leak.

Well at Fukushima, we have got 3 containments that are leaking and yet the NRC continues to license new power plants based on the fact that we believe that the containments will not leak.

In my professional career, there have been 5 major accidents and near misses. There has been Three  Mile Island and the NRC blamed the operators for an operator error. There was Brown's Ferry, that was a fire that almost caused a meltdown and it was caused by a maintenance guy looking for leaks with a candle and the candle set the wires on fire. They blamed the maintenance practice. Then there was Chernobyl and again, the industry blamed the operating practice. Then there was Davis-Bessey, that was in 2000. There a hole the size of a grapefruit was allowed to eat it's way through the side of a nuclear reactor and the industry blamed one guy for signing one line on one procedure, and ultimately, management paid millions of dollars in fines, because it really was a management issue. And now there is Fukushima. And we have got a natural disaster, again, totally unanticipated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is really good at working inside the box that they have constructed. We have not had an accident with anything that they have evaluated inside the box. But we have had many accidents caused by stuff outside the box.

Now, what I am suggesting is we pause. Put out the yellow flag and say, keep running, but we are not going to license new reactors to run or we are not going to license old reactors to run for an extra 20 years until we figure out what is happening here at Fukushima. I think there are a couple of things that we can do.

We can petition the government to have a really independent agency take a look at the Fukushima problem and not have it staffed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission employees. They have missed every major accident until after the fact for the last 40 years. We need independent thinkers who can think outside the box and anticipate what is really the worst case.

The other thing I think we need is a freeze on licensing. Some reactors should, will probably, at the end of this process, realize that the Fukushima problems are so great that they should be shut down. It might be because of evacuation planning, it might be because of other reasons. But I think we are going to see that. But a pause in licensing right now, where reactors should continue to run, but not be re-licensed in a situation like this until the Fukushima lessons learned are there, is appropriate.

Not just the old reactors, but also we have new reactors working their way through the licensing process with billions of dollars of loan guarantees. We do not need that power now and now is the time to slow things down rather than grant licenses and ultimately say, oh my god, we made a mistake.

What I am suggesting is that if you recall back 100 years ago, the French said never again, it is not going to happen again. And they built a wall between them and Germany. And the wall was called a Maginot Line. And that wall was designed to prevent an attack from the previous war. They were fighting the previous war instead of the next war. With the Maginot Line.

But by building new reactors, I think we are building a new Maginot Line. Technology has changed. We have computers, we have smart grids, we have distributed ways of generating power closer to the grid with not as much waste and much higher efficiencies.

So by putting loan guarantees in the process where we have got tens of billions, and potentially hundreds of billions, of dollars of money on the line, we are creating here in America a Maginot Line. The technology of the 20th Century was to build large power plants. The technology of the 21st is not. And what I am proposing is that by freezing licensing and thinking through these Fukushima large power plants, we may see that we can do it better and smarter with distributed sources of power in the future, and we do not have to build a Maginot Line.

Well I hope we all contact our representatives and ask for a freeze on licensing and ask for an independent agency to come in and evaluate these plants because I do not believe that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is going to think outside the box. Thank you.

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