Gundersen Discusses the Environment and Radiation Levels Faced By the Fukushima Rescue Workers

About This Video

Gundersen expresses his belief that authorities should have acknowledged sooner the severity of the accident and revealed more information to the public. He calls the accident one hundred times worse than the worst case scenario imagined a year ago.



John King: Returning now to provide some important perspective: nuclear experts Sharon Squassoni and Arnie Gundersen. Sharon let me start right there. Sharon, you have travelled to Japan frequently. Help our viewers here in the United States understand the cultural significance. You heard Anna right there talking about older workers who understand these plants being encouraged to volunteer because, I hate to say it this way, they are closer to the end anyway than younger workers.

Sharon Squassoni: Right. I think, especially in Asian cultures, age is considered to be a venerable thing. The older you are, the more respect you get. I suppose the bright side of this is that they are also more likely to be workers who are very familiar with the plant. It is a recognition I think, though, that the radiation exposure is quite significant for these people.

John King: Arnie Gundersen, you are very familiar with this specific design. You could probably walk blindfolded through one of these plants. Take us inside. Take us inside. When you hear about those spent rods in reactor number 4 with the pool drained completely. You hear at least two of the containment vessels, I believe it is number 2 and number 3 if I have the numbers right, have at least cracks in them, and you watch this complex play out, take us inside. What is going on in there?

Arnie Gundersen: First, you can imagine a fireman in a full body suit with a respirator and an air pack on, in the dark, in hot environment, probably carrying extra equipment, and on top of that, entering an area where there have been explosions and it is likely that there is rubble. Well, that is there, plus radiation. So now these guys have to watch their dosimeter, as well as worry about all of those features. The problems are really exacerbated by the darkness and the rubble. The question is, when you get to a spot where you have to be, like near the fuel pool, you have very limited stay time, maybe you can stay 10 minutes, maybe 5. I hired employees that could only stay on the job for 3 minutes before they exceeded their personel exposure. So you get all suited up, and you do all of that, and maybe you can do 3 to 5 minutes worth of work.

John King: And Sharon, if you can only do 3-5 minutes worth of work and we already know they are having trouble getting a significant water supply up there, we know they do not have constant electricity because the power was wiped out by the tsunami. It leaves you with the impression that they are getting very, very little done. That is why it is taking so long.

Sharon Squassoni: Well that could be. Certainly, depending on the levels in that spent fuel pools and the rate of water shooting out of this hose, it could take quite awhile to fill it back up. But again, we just don't know how much water, if any, is left in that spent fuel pool. But the issue Arnie highlighted is correct. You have got to swap out these workers. There has to be a good organization so that they can pick up the tasks that the person before them has done.

John King: Arnie Gundersen, let me just ask you bluntly this way. Again you are very familiar with this design; you have worked on this exact same model. What would you do differently?

Arnie Gundersen: I think I would have acknowledged as soon as the event happened, that the situation was much more out of control than Tokyo Electric did. To wrap it around to the beginning of your show, I do not think Tokyo Electric was not telling the truth. But they did not tell enough information soon enough. What they told was probably true, but they did not tell enough of it and they did not tell enough of it quickly enough.

John King: It has been described already, secretary Chou today called it, Arnie, worse than Three Mile Island. Based on everything you know tonight, is there a chance that it will be worse than Chernobyl.

Arnie Gundersen: I actually think it is at Chernobyl level right now. A year ago, the worse case imaginable was 1% fuel failure with a containment that leaked 1% per day. That is what we thought was the worst that could happen. And now we are finding 70% fuel and a containment with a hole in the side of it. This is a hundred times worse than the worst case we imagined a year ago.

John King: A sobering, sobering, sobering perspective. Arnie Gundersen, Sharon Squassoni, appreciate both of you so much.