In April of 2015, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen and the Fairewinds crew headed to Quebec City for the World Uranium Symposium. Attended by more than 300 delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power and weapons, the symposium brought together experts who are calling on governments throughout the world to end all uranium mining. In this presentation, Arnie shares how the nuclear industry refused to learn from their own mistakes and repeated the same failures at Fukushima Daiichi that caused widespread devastation at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
FAIREWINDS ENERGY EDUCATION – World Uranium Symposium 2015 - TMI and Chernobyl Workshop
MC: I now call Arnie Gundersen. He’s a well-known international expert on nuclear safety and ex-secretary from the nuclear industry, with a lot of experience. And he’s also with this organization, Fairewinds Energy Education, which does a great job in demystifying nuclear energy. So he will talk about Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. And please hold on your questions. I hope we will have time for questions after that.
AG: And I think I’m supposed to say I have no conflicts of interest. I think that’s what this means. You can be sure that the nuclear industry is not paying me to give this presentation. Okay. Arnie Gundersen. I’m with Fairewinds. If you’re spelling Gundersen, it has an e and Fairewinds has an e. That way you can remember. What I studied – I studied TMI extensively. I was one of the experts at the trial that never happened. So I studied TMI extensively, and to a lesser degree, but still significantly, I’ve studied Chernobyl from an operations standpoint. And I’ve come to the conclusion that if we as a civilization had learned the lessons of Fukushima – had learned the lessons of TMI and Chernobyl, Fukushima never would have happened. The first lesson that was totally ignored was that as engineers, we need to expect the unexpected. Every one of these events happened outside of what experts thought was the worst possible scenario. So the bottom line is that nuclear is a technology that does that routinely. You study all the reasons a power plant can fail and you think you’ve got them all, and there’s always one you haven’t analyzed, which is expect the unexpected. This is from the DIET Commission on Fukushima but I submit to you that if we replaced Fukushima with Chernobyl or if we replaced the word TMI and Fukushima, this statement would apply to both. The accident at Fukushima Daiichi cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly man-made disaster that could have been and should have been foreseen and prevented. That’s not Fukushima specific. That’s also Chernobyl and TMI. The DIET Commission – the DIET is the equivalent of a parliament in Japan. And they commissioned a study to look at the accident. So I come up with four areas – lessons we should have learned from TMI and Chernobyl. And had we learned those, we might have been able to avoid Fukushima. The first is that safety systems that engineers design will fail. The second is that emergency planning will fail. The third is that people will die. There’s no doubt in my mind that people died at Three Mile Island – I’ll talk about that. And then separately, obviously, we have deaths at Chernobyl, regardless of what the IAEA and the nuclear establishment will tell you. And the last is that the risk is grossly underestimated. This is a picture of the remnants of the nuclear core at Three Mile Island. It was taken two years after the accident. I know the man who took these pictures, and to give you an idea of the mindset of these guys, they put a camera into the top of the nuclear reactor and they went down to where the core was and they didn’t see anything. So they pulled the camera out and they said something must be wrong with the camera. So they put it in a second time down to where the core was and they said something must be wrong with the camera and they pulled it back out again and recalibrated. The third time they sent it down, they finally said, oh, my God, we had a meltdown. So despite all the evidence, the incredible radiation levels in the power plant, two years later, it took this picture to convince the nuclear establishment that a meltdown had really happened. It doesn’t take an engineer to see that there’s one unique item on this graph – that little bump in the middle there – that’s the hydrogen explosion that occurred inside Three Mile Island at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. So we had an explosion at Chernobyl; we had one at TMI; and of course, we had a bunch at Fukushima. So expecting containments to retain their integrity based on the TMI experience is wrong, based on the Chernobyl experience is wrong and certainly based on the Fukushima experience. I argued with the NRC – Nuclear Regulatory Commission – twice in 2010, because in their assumptions, they say that nuclear containments do not leak. So when they’re looking at siting a nuclear power plant and all of the calculations that go behind it, they say nuclear power plants do not leak. It’s on the record, on the advisory committee of reactor safeguard’s record – they don’t leak. But this picture shows just the opposite. I’m going to walk over here for a minute. Before the pressure spike and after the pressure spike, there’s a couple of pound difference. After the explosion, the containment never had a positive pressure again. It was never pressurized. What does that mean? It was leaking. And yet the nuclear industry will tell you that the containment retained its integrity at TMI despite the fact that that graph exists and is well known. The tail on the right side of that pressure spike is exponential, which also shows that the pressure was leaking out of the containment. Well-known fact but totally ignored when a power plant is licensed anywhere in the world, that containments do leak. Of course, the picture on the right is something called the elephant’s foot. It was a picture of the remnants of the core at Chernobyl and it was taken a year after the accident by a robot. And of course, the picture on the left is the remnants of the explosion at Chernobyl as well. There’s a key lesson here is that a year after Chernobyl we had a picture of the core. Two years after TMI, we had a picture of the core. No one has a picture of the core at Fukushima. It’s so radioactive that nobody can get near it. This is what happens when you don’t learn from history. This is Fukushima 2, 3 and 4 – the little boxes. And this is a couple thousandths of a second in between. That flash is a hydrogen explosion that destroyed unit 3. That comment about if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it – and Fukushima has shown that we didn’t learn the lesson from Chernobyl and we didn’t learn the lesson from TMI. This is a thermal image of Fukushima unit 3. The only geeky slide I’ve got today is this one. It’s provided by Tokyo Electric. What temperature does steam boil at? 100. That spot’s 128 degrees. That’s not steam leaking out of Fukushima. That’s hot radioactive gases. And despite the fact that I’ve been talking about this slide for four years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to say that a containment will not leak. I had the same argument at Pickering when I was arguing with the Canadian regulator. And the Pickering reactors have twice as much zirconium as did Fukushima. Zirconium is the chemical element that causes hydrogen explosions. And yet they’re blissfully unaware of the possibility of an explosion at Pickering. Second point – so systems will fail, whether it’s cooling systems or containment systems, systems will fail. Second point is emergency planning. The Japanese are the greatest emergency planners in the world. I mean they really expect that earthquakes will come. They’re known for this. And yet they failed miserably at evacuating their own people after Fukushima. But we shouldn’t be surprised. At Chernobyl, the Soviets didn’t evacuate people soon enough, either. And at TMI, we had the exact same problem; that we knew that radiation was ready to leak out and people were not evacuated for days afterward. The problem there is the reaction of the bureaucracy is not to protect the people; it’s to protect the bureaucracy. And when you buy into the concept that nuclear is safe, it’s very hard to then admit that you’ve been wrong and get on television and tell people to run like hell. So I gave the keynote at Penn State at the 35-year anniversary after TMI last year, and Governor Thornburg, the former governor of Pennsylvania was one keynote and I was the other. And I asked him afterward – I didn’t want to put him on the spot in front of everybody, but I asked Governor Thornburg – I said, you know Governor Thornburg, on the first day of the accident, you were lied to. And there was this 10-second pause. And he said, yeah, you’re right. I was lied to. And I said, okay, knowing what you know now, that there was a meltdown, that there was a hydrogen explosion, would you have ordered an evacuation. And Thornburg said no, which is just a fascinating insight into how a bureaucrat thinks. I said you had one barrier left – a leaky but not failed containment – and you mean to tell me you would rather have risked the population in the river valley – Susquehanna River Valley – rather than evacuate those people. And Thornburg said even knowing – if he had known how bad things were, he would not have ordered an evacuation. So why do we have emergency plans? They didn’t work at TMI, they didn’t work at Chernobyl and they certainly didn’t work at Fukushima. I got this email from a girl – well, she’s a woman now – but she was a girl after TMI. And it’s long and I’m sorry – let me just summarize it. She was in chemistry at Middletown High School in the year of the accident, and that month they were studying radiation. They had a radiation detector hanging outside the classroom. They came into class at 10 o’clock in the morning and the detector was audibly loud – it was screaming. Well, the chemistry teacher called the governor. And the governor said, we know, don’t do anything about it. With that mentality in the people that we’re counting on to protect us, we really can’t assume that emergency planning is effective anywhere on the planet. The third point was that people will die. This is Dr. Steve Wing. If you go up on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission site, you’ll find that 10 million curies of radiation were released from Fukushima and nobody died. That’s the official party line of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Doctor Wing did an epidemiological study of the Susquehanna River Basin. You see the white is the Susquehanna River. The red on either side of it is incidents where cancer rates – lung cancer rates – were twice as high as average, and the green are the surrounding hills. So what Wing was able to prove definitively is that cancer rates in the river valley were much higher than can be attributed to anything except the accident. Well, what happened at TMI? TMI happened on a calm day. There was an inversion. And all that radiation sat in the river valley. And so it ran up and down the river valley, but it didn’t disperse laterally and Wing’s data is damn convincing. Yet Wing has been laughed at now for 20 years. This study was published in 1990. People did die and there’s the proof right there. Well, the same thing happened at Chernobyl. Alexi Oblikov (?13:51) and Nurestrenko – the Nurestrenkos (?13:55) have published a book by the New York Academy of Sciences that shows that as many as a million people likely died and the nuclear industry got the editor of that fired. So after it was published, the editor was fired for publishing it. That’s the kind of pressures that we’re up against. And the last person is Uri Vandishevski (?14:22). He’s the guy who sort of created the concept of Chernobyl heart. Cesium is an analog like potassium and it gets absorbed by your muscles. And in fetuses and in your people, when their hearts are still growing, that cesium winds up in their heart and causes defects. Well, Vandishevski had been studying this in lab animals and definitively showed that cesium causes heart defects in lab animals. And then he noticed that the same thing was happening to children from the Chernobyl disaster. And the bureaucracy’s response was to throw the guy in jail. So when you start throwing scientists in jail – I give you a lot of credit for actually doing this research – so when you start throwing researchers in jail, it has a chilling effect on other researchers. He was sentenced to eight years, but thanks to pressure from the EU – not from America and not from the nuclear industry but the EU – he was released after three. When he got out, all his samples had been destroyed and all his analysis was destroyed, and he published from memory. And of course, the nuclear industry’s position is well, it doesn’t count because he doesn’t have any data. So you throw people in jail and you destroy their data and then you ignore the fact that they had data in the first place. The last point is the risk is greatly underestimated for nuclear power. We have this saying in the nuclear industry called PRA – probabilistic risk assessment – but I call it pray. And what the nuclear industry does is they assume they know every single way that a nuclear power plant can break and they assign probabilities in like a tree kind of a shape. The problem is this: if you have a deck of cards, what’s the chance of drawing an ace? You have four aces in 54 cards, so it’s one in 13. We know that. So you can do a probabilistic risk assessment if you know how many cards are in the deck. And that’s the problem with nuclear power. What we’ve found is that it breaks in ways that scientists haven’t counted on. So therefore, the probabilistic risk analyses are totally wrong. What I said in the speech in the last session, the people that do these PRA’s say there’s a one in a million probability, but yet we know we’ve had five meltdowns in 35 years – about once every 7 years. So history says once in 7, the nuclear industry says one in a million. Which one you going to believe? I frankly believe history. And then the last point is that if you properly weigh the risks and you properly weigh the benefits for nuclear power, it’s a distorted balance. The risks clearly, clearly exceed the benefits. Thank you very much.