Arnie Gundersen at the Japan National Press Club

Thanks to Robert Knight WBAI for English audio version of Arnie Gundersen at the Japan National Press Club. The Japan National Press Club hosts Arnie Gundersen. More than 80 journalists were present where questions were asked regarding the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and the ongoing risks associated with the GE Mark 1 BWR nuclear reactors. A Japanese version of the press conference is here.



Emcee: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is the event of a series called “Talking with the Author.” Today we have Dr. Arnie Gundersen, who is the nuclear engineer and energy advisor of the United States. He has authored a book entitled Truth and Prospect of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants. Dr. Gundersen was born in 1949 and he was involved with the designing, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants in the whole of the United States as an engineer. On the 18th of March, immediately after the nuclear accident in Fukushima last year, he appeared on CNN and he stated that meltdown had been already occurring. Today he will be speaking from the position of an expert regarding the cause, current status as well as the countermeasures going forward of the accident. Interpreter is Nagai (?:57) from Seimel International (?59) and I am Eda (?1:01) of Japan Television, and I’m a member of the planning committee of this press club. I will be the moderator today. First of all, Dr. Gundersen will be talking for about an hour, which will be followed by a Q&A session. So thank you very much and the floor is yours.

AG: Thank you very much. I’m Arnie Gundersen. I live in Vermont and all of my life, I have worked on Mark 1 reactors very similar, if not identical to Fukushima Daiichi. I would like to thank everyone for coming today. And I would also especially like to thank Soesha (?1:42) for sponsoring the tour and for publishing my viewpoint of the accident and the view forward. I hold a bachelors and a masters degree in nuclear engineering, and I was a senior vice president in the nuclear industry in the United States. I also have a license to operate a nuclear reactor and I hold a nuclear safety patent. At the beginning of my career, the first reactor I worked on was a Mark 1 almost identical to Daiichi unit 1. And then later in my career, I also worked on Mark 2’s and Mark 3’s. When I was a senior vice president, I had approximately 400 people working for me, and I’ve personally been in about 70 nuclear power plants during my career. The first thing I would like to say is I need to express my personal appreciation to the very brave men and women – but mainly men – at both Daiichi and Denai for the effort that they made during the very first week and two weeks at the beginning of this accident. Not only their personal bravery saved the nation of Japan and it also saved the world, I believe. And so we all owe a debt of gratitude, and I personally feel a debt of appreciation to the people on the plant site that worked so hard in such an awful condition, and very likely saved the country. They are very brave men. The Mark 1 design has had a long history of problems. In 1972, I had just gotten out of college and within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Mark 1 was known to be too small. The amount of power in a very small enclosure was unique. And all of the other nuclear reactors that were built at that time had much larger containment than the Mark 1 design. So there are memos and they’re available – if you’d like me to email you, I can – of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying, in 1972, we never should have licensed this Mark 1 design. But because we did, if we were to stop now, it would stop the nuclear industry from ever developing and we’re afraid. In 1976, I had moved on and was working on a Mark 3 reactor, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission required a test of that reactor. And they discovered that the pressure was not down, but was up. (4:51) And as a result of that test, they realized that the Mark 1 design would have lifted off the ground had there been an accident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission required large straps to be put over top of the torus to prevent this uplift force in 1976. So that was the first modification to a design that was already too small. Then, in 1979, when the Three Mile Island accident happened, there was a hydrogen explosion inside the containment of Three Mile Island. The nuclear industry never assumed that the hydrogen could be generated and as a result of that, over about 10 years, again the Mark 1 design was modified to add a containment vent. So the vent sort was exactly the opposite of a containment. The purpose of a containment is to hold the radiation in, but the vent was added because the containment couldn’t do that and they needed an escape valve to allow the hydrogen to escape or else the containment would fail. When my wife and I – every day we take a walk through our neighborhood – in February, right before the accident, 3 weeks before the accident, we were walking through our neighborhood in Vermont, and she said, you know, we do a lot of nuclear consulting and we find a lot of problems. Where did I think the next nuclear accident would occur. And I told my wife this: I told her, I don’t know where it will occur, but it will occur in a Mark 1 reactor. So the first part of the problem was that the Mark 1 design is the weakest containment in the nuclear fleet. The second problem was the seismic issues at the Fukushima site, but also in Japan in general. You have much worse earthquakes than almost anywhere in the world. When the plant was built in 1970 through ’78, I believe that there was no – that the seismic conditions were understood to the best of the ability of the people who built the plant. But then in the 80’s and then especially in the 90’s, we began to realize that this area and Japan in general could have a more severe earthquake and a more severe tsunami than Daiichi was ever designed for. So the second problem was for at least the last 20 years, there was enough information to indicate that Daiichi and Denai should have been modified for a larger tsunami and a larger earthquake, and it didn’t happen. So that third piece of the puzzle was the fact that the regulator here in Japan and Tokyo Electric were too closely associated. And I don’t think I need to go into too much detail here on that. So there were three pieces that came together on 3/11. The first part is the Mark 1 design; the second part is seismic knowledge that was ignored; and the third part was the close relationship between the regulator and Tokyo Electric. I don’t think that this problem is unique to Japan. I’ve seen it in the United States and I’ve certainly seen it in Europe as well. And I’m concerned in developing countries where they’re just beginning to use nuclear power that this relationship between the regulator and the person who owns the power plant is too cozy. We call this an echo effect. If you get a bunch of people in a room and they all agree, all they hear is each other’s reinforcement. And the problem here – perhaps more than in America, but again, I don’t believe Japan is unique – the problem here is this echo effect and myths were perpetuated. When I look back on the accident, I think there’s several key issues that the nuclear community worldwide needs to understand before we go forward and build another nuclear power plant. (9:27) In my world of nuclear power, I live in a world of severe accidents, but very low probability. And it’s very difficult in day-to-day life to understand that once in 100 years is not enough of a threshold. We need to be looking at a once-in-20,000-year threshold in order to make sure that an accident like Fukushima doesn’t happen at a plant somewhere in the world on the average of about once every ten years. We need to set the threshold higher. The second area is seismic issues. And it appears that Fukushima Daiichi unit 2 and unit 3 likely survived the earthquake and were destroyed by the tsunami. It is not clear that Daiichi unit 1 survived the earthquake. So there is lessons that we need to discover over the next years when we go back into unit 1 to see if it really did withstand the earthquake. What Tokyo Electric and what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems to be focusing on is something we call the loss of offsite power. And certainly when the tsunami came, it destroyed the diesels on at least Daiichi units 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but perhaps on Daiichi 6, at least one diesel survived. The diesels were placed in the basement because when you have a large weight and you’re in a country that has large earthquakes, you don’t want the weight very high. So there was a logic back in 1970 when the plant was built to put the diesels in the basement. But now it’s clear the diesels were placed in the wrong location and in fact, they could have, as knowledge of the magnitude of a tsunami happened over 20 years ago – the diesels could have been moved up the hill and they would not have affected the performance of the plant. But it would have cost about 100 million dollars to do so. The other issue that happened at Fukushima, and we are just beginning to understand it in the nuclear community, is not the loss of power, but what we call the loss of the ultimate heat sink. If you look at the pictures of the plant site immediately after the tsunami, there are pumps that were right along the ocean. And those pumps were designed to cool the plant. The diesels took that water and ran it through the nuclear reactor, but the pumps all failed. Had the diesels survived, you still would have had meltdowns at Fukushima because the pumps along the ocean were inundated also because of the tsunami. I was contacted by a retired Japanese pump engineer about 4 weeks after the accident, and he said you need to look at Dianee (12:45) The pumps survived at Dianee where they failed at Daiichi. They were a different design. So there were lessons learned as these reactors were built at Dianee that never were reincorporated in Daiichi. So the second problem, and perhaps even more difficult to fix, will be this issue of the cooling pumps along the ocean and how to protect them. The pumps on the ocean have to be at the ocean. It’s not like the diesels that you can move them up high. The pumps on the ocean have to be at the ocean because that’s where the cooling water is. So a more difficult problem looking forward is how to protect these safety-related pumps. The next item is the batteries. There were not enough batteries. Batteries are not designed to turn these huge pumps inside a power plant. They were designed to last for a couple of hours to move little small valves and things like that until the diesels could be fixed. But the batteries simply were totally inadequate and worldwide, we need to increase the amount of batteries to perhaps they can last for two days instead of four hours. The last item that I’d like to talk about is the containment design. We’ve all seen the two different explosions at Fukushima Daiichi unit 1 compared to unit 3. (14:14) And in engineering, there’s a difference in those two explosions.

F: (Japanese)

AG: On Fukushima unit 1, the shockwave traveled at less than the speed of sound, and we call that in engineering a deflagration. Now a deflagration can certainly be damaging, as it was at unit 1. But the explosion at unit 3 was a different type of explosion. I measured the shockwave on unit 3. I scaled it off the building and watched the explosion move. And the shockwave on unit 3 traveled faster than the speed of sound. That’s called in engineering terms a detonation – faster than the speed of sound is a detonation. Slower than the speed of sound is a deflagration. The difference would be in a room like this, a deflagration would blow out the windows and likely hurt all of us. A detonation would structurally ruin the room. So the nuclear industry needs to understand the unit 3 explosion. It’s different than what happened at Three Mile Island, which was as deflagration, and it’s different than what happened at unit 1, which was a deflagration. The unit 3 explosion would do structural damage to any containment, and the nuclear industry needs to understand how that happened. And I think I already discussed venting and I won’t go there. The next thing I’d like to talk on briefly is the evacuation. (Japanese 16:04) It was clear that by the second day of the accident, this was a level 7 accident, which is comparable to Chernobyl. I said on CNN on March 15th that this was a level 7 accident. At the same time, the American Secretary Chu of the Department of Energy said, no, it was only a level 5. The difference is very important because it effects emergency planning and the speed at which individuals should be evacuated, and the distance away from the nuclear reactor that they should be evacuated. I was an expert on the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and I see in Fukushima the same mistakes that the Americans made at Three Mile Island. At Three Mile Island and at Fukushima, the plant management – the people in the plant – really understood the severity of the accident. But in both cases, 30 years apart, when the plant management contacted offsite management – it was General Public Utilities in the United States, and of course, it was Tokyo Electric in Japan – the process began to slow down. What I saw on Three Mile Island was that the corporate office was trying to protect the corporate assets and they actually told the plant manager not to order an evacuation, despite the fact that the plant manager wanted an evacuation. And I see the same thing at Fukushima. I believe that the management onsite in the first day and the first week really understood the severity of it. But senior management working up the chain, for whatever their motivations were, failed to act quickly enough. So while we learned mechanical repairs to make power plants safer, it seems to me like the lesson at Three Mile Island and the lesson at Fukushima really are institutional problems in that the corporate officers and corporate offices simply don’t respond quick enough. In addition to the internal problems between the plant and Tokyo Electric offices, there of course were the problems between Tokyo Electric and the Nation of Japan. Of all of the people on the planet, the Japanese are the best at emergency planning because you have earthquakes and you understand that you need to respond in the case of an emergency. And so for the problem to happen in Japan tells me that worldwide, it is likely that other nations would respond in a very poor fashion. During the first week of the accident, I was on CNN and I said then that women and children should have been evacuated out to at least 50 kilometers. But it gets to the first point on the slide, if you don’t believe it’s a severity 7 accident, you’re not going to evacuate the women and children. So there’s a definite connection between understanding how severe the accident was at the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric home office level and their response in inadequately moving women and children away. (19:43) All of the transcripts of what I said on CNN are available on the Fairewinds website so you can confirm that I did indeed say these things. In the long term, the issue is (1) how do we decommission the site; and secondly, how do we clean up the contamination within Japan. I was the author of a chapter in the first decommissioning handbook, and so this is an area that I have some specialty. The only example of a dismantlement that’s anywhere similar to the Fukushima accident is Three Mile Island. At Three Mile Island, the United States spent about 2 billion dollars just to remove the nuclear fuel from the reactor. The building is still there and will be until the other unit is shut down. But just to remove the nuclear fuel from the meltdown at Three Mile island was about 2 billion dollars. At Three Mile Island, the melted fuel fell from the nuclear fuel rods, but it laid in the bottom of the nuclear reactor. At Fukushima, the meltdown has occurred through the bottom of the nuclear reactor, which complicates this – at least 10 times more complicated. The difference between the two is twofold: (1) Three Mile Island was only running for about 3 months. So there wasn’t much residual heat in the nuclear fuel. The other reason is that the Fukushima reactors are boiling water reactors and the reactor at Three Mile Island was a pressurized water reactor. In a boiling water reactor, there are 70 holes in the bottom of the nuclear reactor. In a pressurized water reactor, those holes are on the top. So when the meltdown occurred at Fukushima, it was easier for the melted fuel to escape the nuclear reactor and wind up in the bottom of the containment. Now that the fuel – at least some of it – has left the nuclear reactor and is on the floor, there’s no science about how to remove the fuel from underneath the nuclear reactor. Over the next 20 years, entire new disciplines of robotic removal will have to be developed before we can even think about removing the nuclear fuel from the bottom of the containment. I estimate that the cost to clean up just the Daiichi site will be something on the order of $60 billion U.S. The other term there is the $250 billion for the total cleanup. I believe that over the next 25 years, the total cleanup, especially in Fukushima Prefecture, will add another $190 billion U.S. to that. So $60 for the plant and $190 – I believe it will be about a quarter of a trillion U.S. to completely – over the next 20 or 30 years – to completely clean up after this accident. The next bullet point relates to additional cancers which I believe will occur as the result of Fukushima. I understand that my number of about a million cancers over the next 20 years is higher than a lot of nuclear industry experts. But I base my number on studies that came out of Three Mile Island. Dr. Steve Wing at the University of North Carolina has done some extensive epidemiological studies of Three Mile Island. When I use Doctor Wing’s analysis of the cancers after Three Mile Island, I develop a number that’s on the order of a million cancers. I realize that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says no one died after Three Mile Island. But I believe, and there’s a lot of analysis now to indicate in fact that there were 10 percent increases in lung cancer and similarly for other cancers. Those studies are just now coming out 30 years after the accident. The next item is, I don’t believe that what we call blending down the radiation is the appropriate strategy for Japan. An example is a school near here – near Tokyo – that had a tarp that was very contaminated. What they did with that tarp was that they added, for every kilogram of tarp, they added 1,000 kilograms of clean material and then burned it so that they could reduce the concentration of radioactivity so it could be disposed in landfill. I believe that that strategy is wrong. The history of waste that’s stored in pits are that pits leak. So instead of having several high concentration radioactive storage areas most likely near the power plant, we are spreading that radiation out throughout Japan in many low concentration incineration pits. The strategy of down-blending this waste and spreading it out is less expensive in the short term until these pits begin go leak. And we have to remember the radiation stays there for 300 years. So the likelihood of these pits leaking, maybe not this year, but in the future, becomes significant and severe. It seems to me that in order to solve this problem, the Japanese government needs to understand and admit the severity of the problem. It seems like right now they’re protecting TEPCO first and the people second, in my opinion. There’s another alternative to building nuclear power plants in the future. And I think Japan is at what we call a tipping point. And there’s an opportunity here to change the way – not just Japan, but the way the world generates power. The concept of central station generation was absolutely needed in the 20th Century. (Japanese to 26:25) But I think that building more central station power plants is similar to the French when they built the Maginot line, they were fighting World War I over again, as opposed to realizing that technology had changed. There are many technologies available. And in fact, Japanese firms are at the forefront in quite a few of these. I’ve owned five Mitsubishis in my life and Mitsubishi is at the forefront in some of these renewable technologies, and also not just generating the power but being able to move the power around. Japanese firms like Toyota and Mitsubishi and others are at the forefront already. So there’s an opportunity here if Japan chooses to take it to choose a different path and to generate that power in a distributed sense, and with computers and smart grids, we simply don’t need the paradigm of central station power any more. I am not suggesting this path is easy. Japan is in a tough spot. But to build more central station power in a – especially nuclear – in an area that’s so seismically active – to me, there’s an opportunity here looking forward to lead the world in a new technology as opposed to follow the world in an old technology. My credential are up there. I would like to thank you and I am prepared to take questions. (applause 28:11)

F: Mr. Gundersen was very much looking forward to receiving questions from the audience. So please raise your hand if you have a question or comment. Please proceed to the nearest microphone and identify yourself by stating your name and affiliation.

M: (28:27) My name is Horoda and I’m a freelance journalist, individual member of the Press Club. Thank you very much for your presentation. My question is regarding the appropriate level of the number of nuclear power plants that Japan can accommodate considering the scale and size of our country. Our country is a very small country with a lot of population. U.S. is a big country and you have many areas where you don’t have much population. But in Japan, we have four islands of Japanese archipelago and we ended up in having more than 50 nuclear power plants. Aside from the question of whether nuclear power generation is good or bad, when we introduced the nuclear power generation, I believe the number was too excessive that we have more than 50. So I’d like to find your opinion as an expert regarding the appropriate level of nuclear power stations if we have to have one. We have to consider certain geographical elements as well as the sort of softer power aspect, by which I mean that we have a country where bureaucracy is rather strong, but we don’t have an organization to protect the residents against the nuclear power plants and we found out after all that the bureaucracy was not as correct and accurate in action as we believed it to be. But anyway, in the face of strong bureaucracy we have, what do you think is the appropriate level of the number of nuclear power plants that Japan should have?

AG: Thank you. I think siting a nuclear power plant depends on three things. And the first is having enough cooling water. Japan certainly has enough cooling water for the 50 nuclear reactors that it presently has. But the second two criteria are harder. The second one is seismicity. Japan has .3 percent of the land mass of the world, but at the same time, it has 10 percent of the world’s earthquakes. So essentially, there’s 30 times more earthquakes in Japan than anywhere else on the planet. So from a seismic standpoint, it’s very difficult to build a power plant to withstand what Japan is reasonably expected to withstand over the next thousand years. You really need to design for the thousand-year earthquake, not the hundred-year earthquake. So I think from a structural engineering standpoint, it’s very, very difficult to build a nuclear power plant strong enough to withstand the Japanese thousand-year earthquake. So the Japanese recently did a stress test on their nuclear reactors. One week before the Fukushima accident, the Fukushima units would have passed the stress test. So the stress test just confirms that they’re built as strong as engineers like me designed them in the first place. The stress test really doesn’t show if they’re capable of withstanding something much more severe than they were designed for, which is exactly what happened at Fukushima. The third piece is the population density; and of course, Japan has a very high population density. So there’s one thing that’s good: plenty of cooling water. And two things – the seismic issues and the population density, which really mean that nuclear power plants are very difficult to build here. In order to make the plants strong enough to withstand the seismic issues that are unique to Japan and the population density, what happens will be that the cost will increase to the point that other alternatives will become viable. So I can’t answer your question precisely – how many – but in order to make them withstand the rigors of Japan, the cost will get to the point that other alternatives will become attractive.

M: (32:55) My name is Shimuda and I’m also an individual member of the Press Club. I have two questions. The first one: was there any communication or instruction from GE to TEPCO about the defector reactor which is Mark 1? I don’t know the time frame, like 30 years after the invention, GE contacted TEPCO and said that this reactor is a defective reactor so you should decommission it? Or GE said it but TEPCO did not listen to that – was that the case? That’s the first question. The second question is plu thermal that Japan is pursuing. This is quite different from Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. If a plu thermal system goes and if it goes wrong, I think there is going to be a lot of emission release of the Strontium. But government and TEPCO are all reticent. They are quite about the plu thermal system. So as an expert, what will be the kind of explosion if this plu thermal system goes wrong? Not only Cesium, but will there be many other radioactive materials released?

AG: Okay. The first question on the Mark 1 reactor. I’m friends with a General Electric engineer named Dale Brightonbaugh. (34:32) And Dale resigned from General Electric in 1976 because as a matter of honor, he felt that the Mark 1 was not an adequate design. And General Electric continued to build them and promote them. So General Electric’s position has always been that the Mark 1 met the standards that were in effect at the time it was built and because of the changes they have put on the plant, those changes continue to make the design adequate even today. I don’t believe General Electric has ever admitted that its design was inadequate, just that it needed to be improved upon and the repairs that had been made over the years were adequate. And this is not just Japan. In the United States we have 23 Mark 1’s, including a Mark 1 design that is even older than the Fukushima unit 1 at Oyster Creek. So no one – either the Nuclear Regulatory commission in the United States or NUSA here, or TEPCO or the owners have ever recognized that the Mark 1 design is inadequate. There have been engineers like me or Mr. Brightenbaugh who have been for years talking about the inadequacy of the design. But the regulatory authorities have basically said that it was built and we call it grandfathered – it was grandfathered. On your plu thermal question, the plu thermal design is novel and new and looks good on paper. But the problem is that reactor control in a plu thermal plant is even more sensitive than it is in a uranium plant. So all these designs look good until they get built, and then the operating problems begin to become evident. Your question on releases – a plu thermal plant will release more plutonium in the event of an accident, which is much more hazardous than the strontium and the cesium that was released at Fukushima. MOX stands for mixed oxide fuel. Now each of the Fukushima reactors had plutonium in them because as uranium 238 is in a nuclear reactor longer and longer, it becomes plutonium. So all six reactors already had plutonium in the core. There was additional plutonium in unit 3. There were 30 bundles called MOX fuel, which stands for mixed oxide, meaning it contained extra plutonium. There wasn’t enough extra plutonium in unit 3 to make the accident any different. Now had there been a complete MOX core in unit 3, nuclear reactor control is dramatically different with plutonium compared to uranium. But the accident at unit 3 was no worse because of the 30 test bundles of MOX fuel.

M: (38:00) My name is Komera (?38:11) and I’ve from a TV station – television ?38:14. Thank you very much for your presentation because your presentation was quite insightful, suggesting that the future path for the Japanese energy policy and so forth. Now going forward, U.S. has issued a license, a first license in 34 years for constructing a new nuclear power plant. So considering the future of Japan, U.S. and in fact, for the whole world, if the nuclear power generation continues, we will have to consider the disposal of the nuclear waste. We have not resolved the question of intermediate repository and much less, anything about the final deposit – disposal of the nuclear waste. Do you think that the current method of vitrifying and burying underground is the successful way? And do you believe that it’s going to be successful or do you think that we live in a world where we have to think something different?

AG: Thank you. The Americans just licensed something called the AP 1000. And it’s interesting because it couldn’t be built in Japan. The AP 1000 has a huge water tank on its roof – 6 million pounds. I’m trying to convert that to kilograms – so anyway, there’s a huge water tank and from a seismic standpoint, the last thing you want is a large mass on the top. So although we’ve licensed it for low seismic areas like Georgia, we can’t even build them in California, let alone have them built here. On your broader question about what to do with the nuclear waste, ever since I was in college, we’ve always thought the solution is 5 years in front of us and it never seems to get there. Vitrification appears to work for short periods of time but when we realize that we have to keep this material for a quarter of a million years before it’s decayed away, it isn’t the ultimate solution, either. And I think in this respect, waste storage in Japan is worse than waste storage in other areas where there’s large locations of relatively low seismic, where you might be able to store it. I think what the Fukushima accident has forced the Japanese to realize is that the nuclear fuel cycle is not closed. You can’t take the uranium and reprocess it and put it back in and have this never-ending loop where you don’t have to worry about the nuclear waste. And on an island of this size with this population density and the seismicity here, it’s my biggest concern. I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer for that and I don’t really think that anyone does. So in closing, I would like to honor the men and women – especially the men at Fukushima, Dianee and Daiichi for their bravery. I’d like to thank you all for coming, and I would like to thank my excellent translator.

F: (41:38 – Japanese) Thank you very much. We are looking forward to having another opportunity so that we can hear about the decommissioning, which is your expertise. This is a token of our appreciation.