The Big Picture Theatre

Maggie and Arnie speak at The Green Mountain Global Forum about the risks of living near one of the twenty-three US nuclear reactors that are identical to the four that exploded at Fukushima Daiichi (Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors). The “Lake Wobegone” effect (where each community thinks their nuclear plant is better than average) convinces the 23 local communities in which there is a Mark 1 BWR that a nuclear accident couldn’t possibly happen at their nuclear reactor. The experiences at Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, prove that faith in nuclear safety is unfounded.




MG: Thank you all for coming down here tonight. We appreciate the invitation to speak. We had a lovely drive here. It’s beautiful. Being in Burlington all the time, we don’t always get to the Vermont hills. So we’re here to talk about 3 things: Fukushima Daiichi and what’s happened there; Vermont Yankee and what some of the expectations may be for all of you with the decommissioning planned beginning shutdown in 2014; and a little bit of our personal history we’re asked to speak about, and about Fairewinds Energy Education.

AG: I wanted to start today with a brief discussion of sort of how we got into this situation and why we’re all here to begin with. And then Maggie and I will go to a Power Point and then after the Power Point there will be time to answer questions. Think about it, this meeting would not be necessary if policymakers in the United States and at the NRC really believed what they saw on television, if they really believed that the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, we wouldn’t be having this meeting tonight. Because they would know like we know that accidents can happen, accidents do happen and that accidents are inevitable. And given that and the great consequences of a nuclear accident, I think policymakers are fooling themselves if they believe that it can’t happen here. I have a saying, sooner or later in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs. And I think that’s proved itself repeatedly. Yet Yankee and all the plants in the United States have an interesting dichotomy. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will tell you the chance of a meltdown is one in a million. And they use a think called probabilistic risk assessment – PRA – and I like to call it “pray” because that’s really how the numbers developed, I think. To claim that it’s a one-in-a-million probability, so if you take a million and divide it by 400 nuclear plants, that means that the chance of one meltdown is something like every 2,500 years. So from the time the Parthenon was built until now, there should have been just one nuclear meltdown. So that’s what the NRC’s PRA tells us. But in fact, the real world tells us something different. There’s been five meltdowns in my professional career, starting with Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and three at Fukushima. So if you use those numbers, 35 in the numerator and 7 in the denominator – 5 in the denominator – you wind up with about an accident every 7 years. So let’s round it off to once a decade. And policymakers are blinded by the PRA when in fact the data that the world gives them is in fact a lot more reliable. I recently gave a speech at the Pickering Plant up in Canada. And the Canadians do things a little bit differently there. I actually got to present directly to the Commission. But all the people before me said that Pickering should be allowed to continue for another five years. It was up against the end of its useful life and they didn’t want to fix it. They just wanted to run it five more years. And the logic was something like, we’ve got nice people who work at this plant that are in the church choir and they’re coaching our kids in little league or in soccer and they pay lots of taxes and they’re a good corporate citizen. By that logic, good people will know if their plant is not safe or not. Well, I got to know the nuclear reactor operators at Three Mile Island. After the accident, I had people on my staff working at Three Mile Island so I got to know Three Mile Island people. (4:38) And I can assure you they were incredibly conscientious people, pillars of their community and very safety conscious. And yet an accident happened. After Chernobyl I got to know some of the operators that were there. And there’s nobody who’s a better engineer than the Russian engineer. They are phenomenal engineers, totally committed to safety. Their families lived within sight of the nuclear reactor. Nice people. And yet an accident happened. And I also – Maggie and I wrote a book, it’s only in Japanese but it was a bestseller in Japan. And after we wrote the book, we got to know a lot of the people who worked at Fukushima Daiichi. And it’s the same thing. They lived a couple of miles away. The Japanese are meticulous and yet an accident happened. And I think the lesson here is not that just because these people are nice that an accident won’t happen. An accident can happen despite good people working at the plant. And so whenever I hear people say that, I pinch myself and I say a nuclear plant can have 40 good years and just one bad day. It reminds me a little bit of Lake Woebegone with Garrison Keeler where all the women are strong, all the men are handsome and all the children are smarter than average. As I go around the country, I bump into lots of towns that have a nuclear plant. And the plant is – everybody in town thinks their plant is better than average. So I probably should write to Garrison Keeler and get him to use that in his analogy – the Lake Woebegone reactor probably is better than average as well. But the takeout here is that this is a technology that can have 40 great years, to be wiped out by one bad day. And it’s happened five times in 35 years. So it’s not infrequent and God knows it’s not inconsequential. Mikhail Gorbachev said that the accident at Chernobyl is the cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not Perestroika. The accident at Chernobyl. And if you look at what’s going on in Japan now, I just spoke with Prime Minister Kan last week – he and I and several others – and Prime Minister Kan was the guy who was running Japan at the time of the accident and he was pronuclear before the accident and he said we should never start these plants back up again because the risk is too great. 40 good years and one bad day. Well, what does it mean when a company like Entergy says that Vermont Yankee is safe, what exactly does that mean? That means that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in congressional hearings has admitted that the only look at less than five percent of the paperwork in the plant. So what safe means it that an inspector has checked boxes off showing that the data is available. But the other pieces of that that Entergy doesn’t share with you is that these commissioners, the NRC commissioners, are appointed by congress but they are vetted by the nuclear industry before they get their appointment. So every one of these commissioners is in a position where to get the position, he needs the approval of the industry which he is supposed to be overseeing. So what exactly does it mean to be safe? It means that that same lobbying group called NEI – Nuclear Energy Institute – works with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff to develop the laws that these plants work under. So laws that were written by lobbyists that work for the nuclear industry and approved by commissioners who are vetted by the nuclear industry are then used as a cover for a company like Entergy to claim that they’re safe.

MG: (9:10) There are only two commissioners and now a third who finished their terms and did not go back to work for the nuclear industry. One is Peter Bradford from Vermont. He lives in Peru, Vermont, and he went to work as head of the Utility Regulation Board for New York State. He was a commissioner during Three Mile Island. The other is Victor Galinski and he’s in California now – correct? – and he also did not. And now current Chairman Jaczko who was forced – he was the last Chair – there’s Allision Macfarlane is now the Chair, but Chairman Jaczko was drummed out last year by the nuclear industry, of course, because he wouldn’t capitulate. And he was trying to uphold the law that they’d been chartered to do, which was protect public health and safety first.

AG: So that’s – when you hear Entergy say well, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved it, that was based on commissioners that they had individually approved. So let’s talk a little bit about some of these corporations that run nuclear power plants. And I’ll talk about Entergy because it’s in our back yard, but it’s applicable to all of them. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed all of these power plants to be spun off as something called limited liability corporations – it’s an LLC. So Entergy owns a dozen nuclear power plants, each of which is an individual LLC. Vermont Yankee is an LLC. On the Hudson, we’ve got Indian Point 2 is a separate LLC from Indian Point 3. Well, what does that mean? It means that if Vermont Yankee can’t pay its decommissioning bill, the LLC can declare bankruptcy and the corporation is shielded. If there’s an accident at Indian Point 2 that releases radiation, Indian Point 2 can declare bankruptcy and Indian Point 3 can continue to generate profits that go to Entergy, and it’s not responsible for paying the cleanup caused by the other unit. So this LLC structure is a way to avoid liability. Hence the name, limited liability corporation. Now Entergy wouldn’t do that, would they? They did. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Entergy had the distribution company that ran the power in New Orleans. And they declared bankruptcy. They left the City of New Orleans high and dry and they used their LLC structure to do just that. What that then caused was a government bailout of Entergy’s LLC and they actually took community development block grants that were aimed – millions of dollars in community development block grants that were aimed to help the poor people of New Orleans and they gave that money to Entergy instead to dig itself out of bankruptcy. And Entergy gave its executives bonuses. So that’s problem 1 with the corporate structure. Now on Entergy we discovered when I was on the oversight panel that Entergy was not putting enough money into the plant. I don’t think any of us are surprised there. But part of the problem with the leak that we had a couple of years ago was that they hadn’t put enough money into the plant and they were basically riding it into the ground. What the panel said was – I’ve got the words right here – “limited resource allocation for non-safety systems might therefore be systemic within Entergy.” That’s what five people unanimously said, including three who were definitely pronuclear. So the conclusion of our panel was that Entergy as a corporation was not spending enough on their power plants. Now Entergy brought in another panel at Indian Point, of their own people. This wasn’t appointed by Peter Shumlin for my case and others, but they brought in 12 experts of their own people. (13:44) And on Indian Point, they came to the same conclusion. Here’s what they said. “The physical condition of the plant is visibly deficient. The care and maintenance of some of the plant systems and structures do not meet the standards of high performing plants.” And then they talk about resource allocation again. Now what was Entergy’s response to that? They cut the staff at Vermont Yankee by five percent. So when two panels are telling them they’re not spending enough money, their solution is to cut even further. What did the NRC do? Nothing. The quote from the NRC, a guy named Neal Sheehan, who’s the public relations spokesman for the NRC said, “The NRC has the ability to determine whether there are any adverse impacts to our reactor oversight process. If we observe any negative trends via inspection findings or performance indicators, we could determine if there is any linkage to human resource changes.” Well, what that says to me is that when the plant breaks down and the nuclear core is sitting in the middle of Main Street, they may come in and make the determination that they cut too much of the staff.

MG: And you may remember Neal Sheehan from the pictures you saw of the cooling tower with all the water flowing out when Vermont Yankee’s cooling towers collapsed. Now they had – it had been recommended for years that they fix things with the cooling towers and take care of them and they choose not to. Neal Sheehan’s quote at that time, until a whistleblower got the pictures out, was oh, nothing wrong here, just a slight deformity in the wood. And that’s what he told Vermont’s governor, Vermont’s legislators and that was his comment until that night we received a picture from a whistleblower and passed it on and someone blogged it. You know, you just cannot believe what the NRC PR team is trying to tell you.

AG: Related to that on this issue of staff reduction, it’s not just Entergy. The Millstone Plant, which is down in Connecticut on Long Island Sound, reduced its staff. And the people that owned its comment was well, we’re reducing it to come down to the industry average, and the NRC approved it. Now think about that. If here’s the industry average and you’re over the average going down, that’s acceptable. But that would imply that there’s people under the average that should go up. And that doesn’t happen. It’s a downward ratchet that the NRC always approves. So it again speaks to this oversight issue and corporations are really running the show at Entergy – I mean at the NRC – I’m sorry. Now there’s a couple of things getting into Vermont Yankee specifically. We get emails all the time about the accident at Fukushima and is it like a plant in our country. Let’s look at Vermont Yankee. Vermont Yankee is identical to Fukushima Daiichi. All three units are – two of the three units are identical to Fukushima Daiichi. And one of them had just gotten approval to run beyond its 40th year, just like Vermont Yankee got approval to run beyond its 40th year. So we’re dealing with the identical technology that we’ve seen blow up three times at Fukushima Daiichi. And this was known for years. Maggie and I were walking literally six weeks before the accident, this was in February- through our neighborhood. And Maggie said, we do a lot of expert reports. (17:48) Where do you think the next nuclear accident will be? And I said I don’t know where it’s going to be but I know it’s going to be in a General Electric boiling water reactor with a mark 1 containment. And that was exactly what Fukushima Daiichi was. Three days after the accident, the NRC was recording a phone call between their executives and one of their executives bloated out, this is the worst containment in the world. Now he didn’t come to that conclusion three days after the accident; it’s been known for 20 years. And we’ve got one here in Vermont and thankfully, hopefully it will hold together for one more year before it’s shut down. But there’s 23 others just like it in the United States that continue to run. But when the NRC’s senior guy says this is the worst containment in the world and yet in America, we let 23 of them continue to run. Worse than that is the spent fuel pool. And we’ll talk about that in the slides. The spent fuel pool has – at Vermont Yankee it’s – the big box is the reactor building. At the top of that box is where the nuclear fuel is stored. At Fukushima Daiichi they stored 7 years worth of nuclear fuel there. Vermont Yankee’s got close to 40. The fuel in that pool contains more Cesium than all of the atomic bombs that were ever fired in above-ground testing. 700 bombs worth of Cesium is in that pool on the top of Vermont Yankee.

MG: And why does Cesium matter? I mean why is that a radioactive isotope that’s important? Because it’s a muscle seeker. You eat bananas, you get potassium in your body. Cesium is absorbed into your body just as potassium is. In Chernobyl – since the accident in Chernobyl they’ve had a thing with young called Chernobyl Heart, because the heart absorbs so much cesium it malfunctions or grows abnormally. All different organs can be impacted by the cesium that is absorbed into the body.

AG: The nuclear people like to say well, cesium’s just like potassium. And chemically it is. They’re right above each other and right below each other in the Periodic Table. But the energy that’s released when a cesium atom disintegrates is a million times more powerful than the energy when a potassium ion is ejected. So the comparison is false, but you might hear about the banana equivalent doses. It’s designed to obscure the facts. The other thing is – the last piece of this, and we don’t think of it much in New England, but it’s earthquake frequency. That seems to be a West Coast problem. Well, in fact, East Coast plants are more dangerous from the standpoint of earthquake damage than the West Coast plants. The West Coast plants were built to withstand earthquakes. But the East Coast plants were not. You’ll remember the earthquake we had like two years ago down – it was in Virginia and it was about 10 miles away from the North Anna Nuclear Plant. The ground moved about six inches. Literally, the earth moved about six inches sideways. And it was a Richter 6. And the nuclear industry’s position was, isn’t this great, the plant withstood a Richter 6. Well, the plant’s maximum design basis was a Richter 6. I would hope it met what it was designed. But what the industry doesn’t tell you is that they thought a Richter 6 was a once-in-a-thousand-year occurrence. And it happened after 30 years. So the issue of can we have an East Coast earthquake that’s worse than recorded history? Sure. Recorded history, the worst East Coast earthquake is Cape Ann, right off of Boston. And it happened in 1730 and totally leveled the city. (22:03) So we do have East Coast earthquakes that our plants on the East Coast are not designed to withstand.

MG: In today’s economy, all of you have heard the questions and discussions about fracking for gas. A lot of the companies, a lot of the fracking companies are saying we can frack near nuclear power plants; that’s land that’s available. But we want you to know that the fracking causes seismic activity; it causes earthquakes. And those earthquakes then would impact nuclear structures if they frack for gas near a nuclear plant.

AG: So let me sum it up. It’s easy for the nuclear industry to allow arrogance and hubris to set in when you look at the sheer size of a nuclear plant. When I was on the panel – the oversight panel – Entergy would bring in farmers and people in the community and they’d look at this plant and they’d look at how robust it is compared to their barn. Well, the question that nobody asked is, why does it have to be this robust. What is the beast that we’re holding back that requires a building of this robustness? And I think Daiichi’s shown us first hand that safety systems can fail catastrophically. And these plants must contain that radioactivity 7 days a week, 24 hours every day, 365 days a year. But we know historically there’s been at least five that haven’t in the last 35 years. One operator mistake, one significant weather event, one seismic event, or worse yet, one terrorist event, and all of New England will have that very bad day. And like Fukushima Daiichi, it will be a very sad future after that very bad day.