About This Video
Gundersen says "sandbags and nuclear power shouldn't be put in the same sentence, but it is a lot better than Fukushima." Gundersen explains that Ft. Calhoun was already shut down and has much less decay heat. He stresses that the auxiliary building and containment building are not his major concern. A small building, the intake structure, which contains the emergency service water pumps is needed for cooling the nuclear fuel and should be protected. Another Nuclear Plant, Cooper (about 90 miles south of Ft. Calhoun), is still running and poses a bigger threat because of it's decay heat. Gundersen believes that both Nuclear Plants will "ride out" this problem, as long as an upstream dam does not break. If an upstream dam were to break, he says, "All bets are off".
YELLIN: Let's get some perspective now on the safety of nuclear power plants in the U.S. and look at some possible worst case scenarios.
We're joined by nuclear safety advocate Arnie Gundersen. Arnie, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the situation at Ft. Calhoun is under control, that this will not be a repeat of what we saw in Japan. In your view, case closed?
ARNIE GUNDERSEN, NUCLEAR SAFETY ADVOCATE: Well, sandbags and nuclear power shouldn't be put in the same sentence, but it is a lot better than Fukushima. The real reason why is, they were shut down in April and their management decided not to start them back up.
Now, nuclear atoms split, and these split pieces give off a lot of heat. But after two months, there's not anywhere near as much heat.
So, to compare it to Fukushima is wrong. It's a real problem, but it's not a Fukushima level problem at all.
YELLIN: We're looking at pictures right now -- I don't know if you can see them. But when you take a look, are you already concerned about the emergency pumps possibly flooding? I mean, they are covered in water. What happens after that?
GUNDERSEN: Well, I think the focus has been on those two big buildings. The auxiliary building and the containment. Really, it's not those buildings I'm concerned about.
There's a little building out by the water and it's called the intake structure. And in there is an emergency service water pump. That's the pump that cools the nuclear fuel. So, it's important that that building not flood any more because if the emergency service pumps get flooded, they won't be able to cool that nuclear reactor.
YELLIN: OK. Now, Ft. Calhoun as you point out, it's been shut down since April. Then there's Cooper Nuclear Plant, which is about 90 miles south of Ft. Calhoun, it's a different story.
So, why are you more concerned about Cooper?
GUNDERSEN: Well, Cooper's still running, and again, those pieces -- if Cooper were to shut down now, the heat produced would be 100 times more than the heat at Ft. Calhoun, a lot more heat to get rid of.
Now, it's also the identical reactor to Fukushima. It's a boiling water reactor, just like it.
If I were the management of Cooper, I'd really think about shutting down so that you get ahead of the problem, so that there's less of those decayed products to generate heat.
YELLIN: Do you have any immediate concern for the people who are living nearby?
GUNDERSEN: You know, short of an upstream dam failure, I think they'll ride this one out. If an upstream dam were to fail, all bets are off. So, I think the key is to keep an eye on the upstream dams.
YELLIN: Now, if you were consulting a team at Ft. Calhoun and Cooper right now, what advice would you give them?
GUNDERSEN: Well, Ft. Calhoun, you know, they got taken to the woodshed about 18 months ago and have made a lot of modification since. Now, why the NRC waited 30 years to do that is a question.
But, right now, with the modifications they've made and being shut down for two months, I don't really think they can do much more except wait and hope the water doesn't get high.
Down at Cooper, though, my advice would be to shut down now and ride it out.
YELLIN: All right. Arnie Gundersen, thank you so much. Let's hope all goes well there and continues as it has.
GUNDERSEN: Thanks for having me.