Spring: The Season of Nuclear Disaster – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi was the title of the April 4, 2017 tele-briefing hosted by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and guest speaker Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen. Hosted by Tim Judson, NIRS executive director, Arnie discusses the myths of atomic energy, the ins and outs of each disaster, and his own personal experiences with assessing the industry failures and magnitude of each disaster. At the end of his presentation, Arnie and Tim also answered questions from listeners in this enlightening segment.
TJ: Okay, welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us for this national telebriefing: Season of Nuclear Disaster: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima – with Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education. I am Tim Judson, the Executive Director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service and I’ll be your host tonight. This briefing was supposed to be hosted by my colleague, Mary Olsen, who is the southeast office Director, who had the benefit of spending a month last year touring Fukushima with Arnie and meeting with victims, residents and refugees. Unfortunately, Mary is under the weather tonight and was not able to make it. So you got the short end of the stick with me. But we are pleased that so many of you could be here tonight. This is our fourth year of providing these national and international quarterly briefings to provide people in the U.S. and around with the world with in-depth information on urgent issues relating to nuclear power, sustainable energy, radioactive waste and the public health risks of radiation. NIRS’s quarterly briefings are all open to the public for anyone to attend, and while we primarily invite people to attend these briefings through our email list of supporters and our followers on social media, we encourage you to spread the word to anyone you think would be interested in the topics that we cover. For those of you not familiar with NIRS, we’re the primary national information and resource center for the anti-nuclear and safe energy movement in the U.S. since 1978. For 38 years – 39 years, we have worked to end the use of nuclear power in the United States and for technically sound, environmentally just and publically acceptable solutions for radioactive waste. We provide support to grass roots activists and local campaigns and we serve as a watchdog in Washington, D.C., leading campaigns on national policy issues such as the Chernobyl Bill and taxpayer subsidies to build new nuclear reactors. But to be successful, we need your support, both in taking action and on the issues and just as importantly, in whatever financial support you can provide to our work. And you can make a donation to NIRS on our website at www.NIRS.org or through the mail or any other means that you’re comfortable with. If you feel NIRS’ work is important, please consider making a contribution. So on to our program. We decided to call this program The Season of Disaster both because of the almost eerie coincidence that the three most well-known nuclear disasters of our time – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, occurred around the same time of year, and the clear and dramatic impacts they have had both on the public’s perceptions of nuclear power and the impacts they have had on the environment and the fate of the nuclear industry. However, these three reactor catastrophes are far from the only major nuclear disasters that have occurred, and there is obviously nothing special about the early spring that invites reactor meltdowns. For instance, horrible as the Three Mile Island meltdown was – and Arnie will dispel many of the myths about the scale and impact of the TMI accident – the worst radioactive disaster in U.S. history occurred with virtually no one paying attention less than four months later. In July, 1979, in Church Rock, New Mexico, on the anniversary of the first atomic weapons test in Alamo Gordo, New Mexico, a uranium mill tailings pond broke, spilling tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, which wasted down the Rio Puerco, contaminating the river, drinking water, farmland and animals for 60 miles or more downstream. Church Rock is a Native American community on the Navajo Nation and the contamination and health impacts on the community have never been addressed. Similar tragedies have occurred in the former Soviet Union in Chelyabinsk at the Mayak nuclear complex, Windscale in the U.K. in what is now the Sellafield Nuclear complex. (3:37) And at the Santa Suzanna reactor in the San Fernando Valley near downtown Los Angeles. And the list goes on. But our guest tonight is Arnie Gundersen, who has spent a lifetime working as a nuclear engineer, former industry executive, whistleblower and now watchdog and technical expert in the public interest. Arnie has served as a consultant and expert witness for state governments and nonprofits groups in many proceedings, and through his organization, Fairewinds Energy Education, provided much-needed accessible information on the topics of nuclear power and radioactive waste. In the weeks and months after the Fukushima accident started, Arnie provided frequent briefings and videos explaining what exactly was going on and sifting out truth from fiction about what was unfolding. Technical experts like Arnie who are willing to speak out publicly and provide their expertise in ways that challenge the nuclear industry are indispensable and far too few and far between. We’re lucky to have him with us tonight and in service of the public interest and public health and safety. In a moment, we’ll get started with Arnie’s presentation. But first, I have a few instructions on how we’ll handle questions and answers. Because of the large number of participants tonight, everybody has been muted. At the end of the presentation, we’ll have 10 to 12 minutes – hopefully longer than that – about 45 minutes or so, for Q&A. To ask a question at that time, you’ll be notified when we’re starting the Q&A. You can dial *6 and then when prompted, press 1 to be added to the queue. When it is your turn, you’ll be notified that you are un-muted and may ask your question. We’re sure that there will be plenty of questions and want to be make sure we cover as much information as possible. So to that end, we ask that everybody make their questions as concise as possible and refrain from making long statements. So with that, I want to introduce Arnie. And Arnie, if you could – to start, just tell us a little bit about your organization, Fairewinds, and the kind of resources that you offer on your website and the kind of work that you do.
AG: (5:33) Thank you, Tim, and thank you to NIRS for sponsoring this presentation. Let’s get the spelling right. Fairewinds has an “e” in the middle of it – F-a-i-r-e –the old English spelling. And Gundersen has an ‘e” at the end of it and not an “o.” We’re an “e-focused” group here. Fairewinds is a 501(c)(3) and we were founded in 2008 by wife, Maggie. She also came from inside the nuclear industry and that’s actually where we met. We were both on the other side of this argument back in 1979 when we got married. In any event, Maggie started Fairewinds to do just general technical studies in 2008 and by – of course, Fukushima happened in 2011, and that fundamental changed the public’s interest in nuclear power – again. It seems like after a disaster like TMI or Chernobyl or Fukushima, there’s a new interest and it’s unfortunate because the battle goes on every day, as NIRS certainly knows. So our focus is – because Maggie’s was from public relations and I was trained in how to speak on television, we have a bunch of videos up on the web. I was CNN’s expert during the disaster and have been on Rachel Maddow and Democracy Now and on and on and on. And I’m proud to share what I know with as many people who’d like to hear about it. That said, I’d like to go into this issue of is spring really the season of nuclear disaster or is it just a coincidence. We’ve got Three Mile Island in March of ’79 and then in April of 1986, we had Chernobyl; and then again in March of 2011, we had Fukushima. So within 6 or 7 calendar weeks, the three larges nuclear reactor disasters occurred. So is there something in the air? Is there something that happens in springtime? And the answer is no, not really. It’s more of a statistical fluke. But interestingly, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl both started at night. And there’s a lot of good studies that will show that operators – and people – don’t think very well at 4 o’clock in the morning. So there might be a linkage to these types of disasters that have an operator impact compared to night shift versus day shift. But probably not from a seasonal standpoint. I think Tim really hit the nail on the head. If you go back, there’s been – over the 50 years of nuclear power, there’s been major radiation releases just about every other year. Some of them have been at reactors, some of them have been at fuel facilities, and of course, the one in Russia was at a chemical plant that was working in the nuclear industry. But you actually – Tim actually hit on the three other ones that I’d like to touch on briefly before we get into the big three – TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima. The first one was what was Church Rock. And it happened four months after Three Mile Island and the nation’s attention was rooted on Three Mile Island. But because it happened on a Native American reservation, it was not covered in the media. And the native population lives with that to this day – the contamination of that to this day. And yet if you ask somebody what’s Church Rock, no one knows. So I think when you look at all these disasters, you have to believe three things if you’re going to move forward with nuclear power. When I run down the list of disasters today, we can pretty much disprove the three myths that you have to belief if you’re going to allow a nuclear plant in your backyard. The first myth is that disasters never happen. If you thought there was a one-in-a-hundred chance that you were going to have a meltdown in your nuclear power plant, you would say no, I don’t want that. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it’s more like one in a million. The next myth is that no one ever died. And I’ll touch on that extensively as I go through this presentation. And in fact, huge numbers of people have died from these nuclear disasters and from the day-to-day releases of mill tailings and mining and on and on. And the last one is that nuclear power is cheap. If you believe those three things, you’ll want to build nuclear power plants. And yet I think the data shows that none of them are true. So let’s run down this list of power plants. I have a little longer focus on Fukushima because it’s more current – at the end of the presentation – but I will touch on the other major disasters that have happened. First, there’s Chernobyl. I’d like to mention, a dear from of mine Alexi Yablakov (?11:54) died this year. He was a champion of Chernobyl issues. Alexi was deeply involved in the disaster as it was happening, and then he actually became the first science advisor to Boris Yeltsin when Russia spun out of the Soviet Union. He was the champion of epidemiological studies. He actually published a book here in the United States and to give you an idea about the pressure that we on the public side of this argument are under, when Alexi published the book, the publisher was fired after the book came out. So the pressure is constant and ongoing on the truth seekers in this argument and I’ll be mentioning a few others as well. You know, Alexi said that about a million people would die of cancer from the Chernobyl disaster and of course, the International Atomic Energy Agency – the IAEA – will say well, the 28 firemen that put out the fire died, but other than that, we really can’t prove that anybody died. So you know, there’s a big difference between less than 100 and a million. And I think the facts are coming down on Alexi’s side of the argument as time goes on. We’re now finding – the most amazing thing that happened this week on Chernobyl was that Ukrainian immigrants who have moved to New York City, have developed a really rare form of cancer. We have a link up on our Facebook page about this, but there’s an extraordinary number of statistically meaningful, I believe – of immigrants who are developing this cancer, and they all have one thing in common, and that’s that they were near Chernobyl when the release happened. So that’s one of these trickle-on effects that don’t make the newspaper; that’s common in the presses – if it bleeds, it leads. But with nuclear disasters, the damage happens 10, 20, 30 years down the road and the news people have moved on to a more exciting story. So I think Alexi is right and I think the newly released material about these Ukrainian immigrants in New York City is yet another example of that. There’s another scientist on my list who’s very much alive. That’s Uri Bendashevski (?14:46). Uri is the champion of something called Chernobyl heart. It turns out that radioactive cesium is absorbed in your heart and children in embryonic cells and very young children have very fast-growing hearts. So in children, they picked up heart defects in the Ukraine. Uri was the one who highlighted this fact about Chernobyl heart. What happened to Uri, he was thrown in jail for 7 years on trumped-up charges. And the EU got him out after four, and he does not live in the Ukraine any more. He’s moved. But while he was in jail, his files were destroyed and his data was destroyed. He’s published from memory and of course, the nuclear establishment says it’s not science because he doesn’t have data. Throw a guy in jail, destroy his data and then claim he’s not a scientist because he has no data. That’s pretty typical of what some of these public champions go through. On Chernobyl, the interesting thing about Chernobyl is that they’re going to wait 100 years before they dismantle the plant. And they’re building a sarcophagus over it, which is an enormous engineering feat and it’s about $5 billion to build and I’m not sure what it’s going to cost to maintain. But the decision of the Ukrainians and other scientific advisors are that they would let the nuclear radiation inside the building decay away for 100 years before they even began to dismantle it. So keep that in mind when we get onto the Fukushima argument because that’s an important distinction. No one’s really figured out the cost to dismantle Chernobyl, but we’re at $5 billion just to build the sarcophagus that’s going to go over the site. Moving on from Chernobyl, the radiation is contained because a nuclear core, when it melted down, never got into groundwater. It’s sitting in the basement of the building, but it’s high and dry. And that’s another major distinction between it and Fukushima as well. Scientists knew exactly the configuration of the melted nuclear core about a year after the disaster. They had pictures of it. And of course, here we are 6 years into Fukushima and we don’t have any. So Chernobyl – you can’t say safely protected, but certainly the scientists are making a reasonable attempt to keep that radiation out of harm’s way for decades, if not centuries. We’ll have to worry about that in another lifetime. Let’s move on to Three Mile Island. When I was growing up, Three Mile Island could be abbreviated as TMI. But kids today don’t eve know what TMI means. To them, it means too much information – which talks about how the information about a nuclear disaster right here in Pennsylvania leaves the public’s mind. So Three Mile Island was very much in the news last week because of the 38th anniversary of the disaster. I was out there giving a presentation on the 26th and we’ll be posting that presentation on the Fairewinds website. Again, a sad note is that Dr. Steve Wing is a noted epidemiologist from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Steve passed away last year and he was one of my best friends, and it was really sad to see one of the champions of the radiation damage from Three Mile Island die so young. But the NRC – Three Mile Island was the first highly publicized nuclear disaster; there were many before it, but the first highly publicized nuclear disaster. Walter Cronkite was on the news very seriously discussing the disaster and it was really bad and could have gotten a whole heck of a lot worse. If you go up on the NRC’s website, they claim that no one died. And again, in the speech that I’ll be posting, based on Steve Wing’s work, it’s clear that lots of people did die. The NRC also claims that releases from the plant were reasonably small – about 10 million Curies of radiation. We don’t have to get into what a Curie is, but it’s a smaller amount than from Fukushima, for instance. Well, the NRC is wrong and I’ve pretty clearly proven that in some scientific papers that I’ve written. Yet if you look at the NRC’s website, they still claim that no one died and 10 million Curies were released. One of the problems with epidemiological studies of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island is that people move away. It turns out that after the Three Mile Island disaster, 50 percent of the people within 10 miles left in the next 5 years. So it’s awfully hard to track Americans because we don’t have databases where we can track people for extended amounts of time, to link cancers later in life to their experience near Three Mile Island, which is what makes Doctor Wing’s work so significant. Using the data that was available, Steve was able to piece together a clear picture that up and down the river valley near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, there’s clear increases in cancer. But it’s difficult now to follow up on Steve’s work because basically everybody’s moved on. And when a cancer develops now, it’s hard to say that that cancer cause was caused by the fact that I lived 7 miles away from Three Mile Island. But statistically, epidemiologists can do that, and I’m still hoping that we can put together an epidemiological survey of the TMI survivors. I had a letter – right after Fukushima, we had a letter come in an email from a woman who had been a 10th grader at a high school 4 miles away from the nuclear reactor on the day it happened at Three Mile Island. And she said she was in chemistry and her class was studying radiation and nuclear power for the whole month, and they had a Geiger counter hanging out the window for the whole month. And Geiger counters go click click periodically. But on the day of the disaster, they walked in and the thing was buzzing. It was constant clicks. The teacher recognized there was a problem and called the governor’s office and the governor’s office reply was, we know, don’t do anything about it. So they put those kids at risk and didn’t evacuate. And I think that’s the thread that runs through all of these disaster is that the bureaucrats won’t evacuate. But at Three Mile Island, this woman went on to say that the plant staff called their wives – and this was back in the 70’s when more women were at home – and they grabbed their kids and evacuated – the kids of the plant workers evacuated by 11 o’clock in the morning of the day of the disaster, despite the fact that Governor Thornburg and the State of Pennsylvania suggested it might be a good idea if people left, three or four days later. So the plant staff knew what was going on and it’s sad to see this woman have to explain that people were bailing out while at the same time telling the public that there were no problems. We’ve got this issue of a systematic database that the Russians don’t have and the Americans don’t have and the Japanese don’t have. The only real systematic database is the Germans, and there was a study called the KiKK study in Germany that did show increases in cancer of people that lived near German nuclear reactors – meaningful – statistically meaningful increases in cancer, because the German database would allow them to track people who moved. But we don’t have that here. What the nuclear industry will tell you is oh, this is anecdotal. When a group of people develop thyroid cancer or something like that, they’ll say that’s anecdotal. I think the definition of anecdotal data is any fact the nuclear industry disagrees with is anecdotal. So Three Mile Island was – I was on the other side of this argument when Three Mile Island happened and I was telling people don’t worry, the plant is safe, no radiation has been released, and it wasn’t until 1990 when I became a whistleblower and realized that the NRC did not have the public’s back that I started to study Three Mile Island in earnest and really discovered how serious the disaster was. So let’s move on to Church Rock. I promised my Native American friends that I would bring it up wherever I can because it’s one of those issues where we’ve got an environmental justice issue. Because it happened on a Native American reservation, it’s ignored. But there was a uranium mill – mine there – and they were milling the waste. And it’s the slushy stuff that’s left over, the tailings that are leftover are wet. And they had a large dam that was holding it back and the dam broke. As Tim said, thousands of tons of radioactive waste and thousands of tons of acidic water flowed into that Puerco River and it ran downstream at least 80 miles, largely through Navajo reservations. It still has not been studied. The total amount of radiation was more than Three Mile Island. The type of radiation was different but the total amount of radiation was greater than Three Mile Island and we don’t know anything about it. That radiation is still in the Native American riverbeds and still being absorbed by the cattle that graze on the riverbeds in the rainy season versus the dry season, and that doesn’t make the radiation go away. So it’s with deep sadness that I always bring up the issue at Church Rock because it’s probably one of the more ignored disasters. Let’s move back a little bit in time back into the 50’s. There was another nuclear disaster in the states right outside of LA at a site called Santa Suzanna. Back then, LA was much smaller and since ’56, the suburban growth of LA has now come right up against the sides of the Santa Suzanna site. I went to college in the 70’s as a nuclear engineer and we were not taught about Santa Suzanna. It was secret. It was secret until the 80’s when courageous reporters discovered it. There was a meltdown that spread cesium at least through tens of miles around the reactor. Maggie and I were out there in the Burbank area, which isn’t that far, probably 20 miles away from the Santa Suzanna site, two years ago. And the woman we were staying with was worried that she might have Fukushima radiation at her house. We asked for a vacuum cleaner bag of house dust. And we analyzed the dust and I called her back and I said, well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is you don’t have any Fukushima radiation in your house. And we can tell that Fukushima radiation still has cesium 14 in it. And then I said well, the bad news is that you’ve got Santa Suzanna radiation in your house because you do have cesium 137. So if there’s anybody on this call tonight from the area, within 20 miles of Santa Suzanna, please contact Fairewinds and send us a vacuum cleaner bag. Just don’t throw it in the mail. There’s a process you’ve got to go through here. But we are collecting house dust from within 20 miles of Santa Suzanna that we can analyze to see the spread of the radiation even today. This is ’57 – it’s a long time. And still we’re picking up radiation from the disaster in house dust. And why is house dust important? Because you breathe it in. And a lot of these particles are small enough that you breathe them in but you don’t breathe them out. They get stuck in your lungs. And because of that, they can induce a cancer. So anybody in the LA area within 20 miles of the Santa Suzanna site, please get in touch with Fairewinds. We’d love to have a dirty vacuum bag of house dust. The last reactor I’d like to talk about is a reactor called Windscale – before moving on to Fukushima – is a reactor called Windscale. And it was a nuclear reactor designed to build bomb production material – plutonium. And it was in Cumbria, which is the northwest corner of England. And in 1957, it had a fire and what happened there was an incredible piece of luck. There was a famous scientist, a Nobel Prize winner, a guy named Cockcroft, and he was on the panel that licensed this plant. They had a large chimney outside. And he said, you know, if we have a reactor fire, we really should put a filter on top of that chimney to capture all the radiation. And all the other scientists laughed at him – oh, it can’t happen, don’t worry about it. But because he was a Nobel Prize winner, he insisted that they put this filter on top of the stack. And they called it Cockcroft’s Folly and it delayed the plant by six months. But at the end of the day, when the plant started to burn, it was that filter that captured all the radiation and basically saved northwestern England from a lot worse disaster. I was up there two years ago in 2014 and I sampled some river mud from 8 miles away and I found plutonium contamination – extensive plutonium and avaresium (?31:38) contamination, which indicates bomb waste 8 miles away in a river. And this stuff’s not going to go away. It’s got a quarter-of-a-million-year half life. And the Brits are totally ignoring the problem. The common thread through all of these is emergency planning. The officials never evacuated. And the other one is that there’s no extensive epidemiological studies. And the issue is funding. When you’re on our side of the argument and you have to relay on crowd sourcing and cookie sales to fund your science, whereas the nuclear industry can throw millions at building these plants, it’s extraordinarily difficult to do a competent epidemiological study because the funding is just not available. So I’d like to close by talking about Fukushima Daiichi. First off, Fukushima is a place. It’s like a state like California or Connecticut. It’s about as big as Connecticut. So when you hear the word Fukushima, that’s a state. And Daiichi means number 1. So when you hear Fukushima Daiichi, it’s the first nuclear site in the Fukushima state, called a prefecture. So I try not to call it the Fukushima disaster because that’s like calling it the California disaster. Who wants their state named after a disaster? So I always call it the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Daiichi had six nuclear reactors at it. So the first site had six nuclear reactors and then about 7 or 8 miles away, it was the Fukushima Daini site. And that site had 4 nuclear reactors at it. So when you hearFukushima, I always try to make sure that I always add the fact of Daiichi so that I don’t really tag the prefecture, the state, but the nuclear site that’s in the state. So last year – my hat’s off to Mary Olsen and I’m sorry she’s not on the line right now, but Mary had the idea to have a trip over to Japan and she asked me to come and another fellow named Steve Leaper. So Mary, Steve and I spent a month in Japan. It was crowd sourced. Our flights were crowd sourced. The meals and the travel while were in Japan and the launching while we were in Japan was all crowd sourced. So Mary, thank you for the concept and to the people of Japan and American who crowd sourced our trip. I am sincerely grateful. I could give the next piece of the – I could have taped this a year ago – you ask what’s changed, what’s new. The fuel at Fukushima is still missing. No one has taken a picture of it. And unlike Chernobyl and unlike Three Mile Island where scientists knew what the condition of the fuel was within a year or two of the disaster, we’re six-plus years in and we don’t have a picture of it, let alone a method to solve it. We know it’s lying not in the nuclear reactor but on the floor of the building. People say this was a meltdown. When you go to nuclear engineering school, that’s not a real technical term, but when nuclear fuel gets hot, it melts down. It turns into lava. And that happened at all these reactors in these disasters. The next thing that happens, though, is it melts through the nuclear reactor, which is about 8 inches thick solid steel. So that happened at Fukushima. And then it was lying on the bottom of the containment surrounded by water, but lying as a molten blob on the bottom of the containment. And did it melt through the containment and into the groundwater? And that would be called China Syndrome, because the theory was that we keep melting into China. And I submit to you that that doesn’t matter because the containment is damaged and groundwater is coming into the nuclear fuel. So it doesn’t matter whether or not the nuclear fuel has left the containment. It’s irrelevant because it’s in direct contact with the groundwater, which of course is being released into the Pacific. The people have said, well, what about the heat, does it have to be cooled. It is much cooler now than it was at the time of the disaster, but it still has to be cooled. My guess is the blob at the bottom of the building is several hundred degrees hot. You can actually see when they send in robots the steam coming off. But it is not thousands of degrees hot like molten lava. And that’s because over time, the nuclear fuel loses its heat so that it’s probably one millionth as warm as it was on the day right after the disaster. So there’s lots of other information on the site, but really nothing’s changed. The soil is highly contaminated. When you see these workers all dressed up in their white garments with the face masks and all that stuff, that’s not normal. I’ve worked in nuclear power plant sites for 25 years and I never got dressed like that. What the difference of course is, that the site is so highly contaminated that they have to protect these workers, and that’s not going to go away anytime soon. The water continues to leak into the Pacific. And it’s not like they have a meter on this so they’re measuring how many gallons leave the plant. The original estimate was that there’s something on the order of 400 tons a day. I’ve heard numbers around 300 tons a day is still leaking out, and it’s highly radioactive. What the Japanese have tried to do – and it’s failed – they tried to build an ice wall on the land side of the power plant to prevent the water from coming through, but it’s a failure. It’s just not working. Fairewinds has been talking for years, it’s important to keep the water out. But the ice wall was the wrong way to do it. We’ve been contacted by drillers, people that work on oil wells throughout the world – Alaska and the Gulf and Texas, people experienced in drilling. And they say they have compounds that could seal the ground and keep the water out, and they could inject it into the ground essentially right where this ice wall is. And they are certain that it would seal it. And yet the Japanese continue to build this ice wall and there’s a not-invented-here mentality within the Japanese. They’ve been very reluctant to hear from me or other experts that there’s a heck of a lot better way than the ice wall to prevent the water from going in. Leakage into the Pacific is significant, but there’s a piece of this – there’s a misdirection being played by the Japanese government. They want everybody to focus on leakage into the Pacific from the Fukushima site. And if they build an ice wall or something else to prevent that water from moving off, they want you to believe that the problem is solved. But in fact, as much radiation is coming out of the mountains from the initial disaster and running down all the fresh water streams into the Pacific than is coming off that site. So even if the site were plugged, we’d still be contaminating the Pacific extensively. I’ve made a personal choice not to eat fish from the Pacific but I haven’t seen any really good data on the amount of radiation in fish in the Pacific. And until I do, I just refuse to take that risk. But that’s a personal decision because of lack of data. The Pacific’s a big place. It’s the biggest ocean on the planet. So there’s the comment, “Dilution is the solution to pollution.” So the radiation from Fukushima is getting diluted as it heads to the West Coast of the U.S. but it certainly has been detected offshore. And bottom-dwelling benthic organisms are going to pick that up. It’s not over. If the disaster had happened on the Mississippi River or on the Great Lakes, there’s not as much water to dilute it and you would be eliminating the drinking supply from 50 million people if this disaster were to happen on the Rhine or in China or wherever. So when we look at this, one of the lessons is that we are contaminating the Pacific, the biggest water source in the world. If it were on a smaller water source like the Missouri River or the Mississippi River or the Hudson River, like Indian Point, it would destroy the water source for New York City. And is that something we really want to live with? Is that something we’ve really factored into our calculations about how these plants should be allowed to operate. The conditions of the plant: really nothing’s changed on that plant site for a year. They are no closer to finding the cores and the radiation is extensive. Within the prefecture, within the state, there is contamination everywhere. And this is what I was studying while I was over there. And Mary was working with the local groups to talk about the effects of radiation on women and girls. Women and girls are more radiologically sensitive than men. So when you hear the International Council on Radiation Protection saying it’s okay to move back in, they’re using a model based on a standard man and not on women and girls and young boys. So that’s a major concern of mine is that they’re forcing people into areas that people should not be allowed to go back into. The agency behind all this is a place called the IAEA – the International Atomic Energy Agency. And their dose model is not correct. It’s very liberal and allows people to receive much more radiation than they should. If you go up and look at their charter at our UN agency, they’re actually chartered to promote nuclear power, but everybody calls them a nuclear watchdog, which is absolutely wrong. I found contamination everywhere. And we’re still working on a scientific report about that. If you go up on the site of Boston Chemical Data, we were able to get the suit of a worker who worked at one of these dumps that have all these millions of bags there, and we discovered that the worker was highly contaminated. So one of my concerns is that these people who are not very well compensated and not very well trained are being allowed to absorb way too much radiation. Again, the whole prefecture is leaking into the Pacific. Mary and I went to places that were cleaned and I found radiation on rooftops and in the street gutters and things like that, that were extraordinarily radioactive. What that means is it’s blowing in out of the mountains. Tokyo Electric swept the streets and allowed people to come back home, but 95 percent of the whole state has not been cleaned, so that radiation moves back in and jeopardizes especially the women and children and especially the young girls because they’re more radiosensitive. And I take my hats off to Mary for being the spokesperson for that issue. Nobody accounts for the physical sensitivity differences, especially not the Japanese. There’s a situation in the prefecture with people who voluntarily left. They weren’t forced to leave. They voluntarily left. And the Japanese have now taken away their stipend to live elsewhere and they’re saying, well, if you come back to your town, we’ll give you a stipend, but if you refuse to stay out of Fukushima prefecture, we’re not going to pay you any more, which is one of these gross – the approach of the Japanese towards its own population is dehumanizing. And I think the issue on these voluntary evacuees has been the most significant of that category. So in Japan, we’ve gone from the site to the state to all of Japan. I was in Tokyo and I found high levels of radiation on the streets, right in front of NETI, which is their nuclear regulator. And yet we’re having the Olympics there in a couple years. Financially, Japan is hobbled with an enormous debt to clean up the prefecture. I have said – four years ago, I was saying this is going to be half a trillion dollars. And now Tokyo Electric is saying $200 million, so we’ve got the same number of zeroes. And a think tank in Japan has come up with $650 billion. So I’m now in the middle of the pack as opposed to being an outlier on the high side. Of course, we were disparaged when we brought that up, but it looks like it’s going to be a half-a-trillion-dollar problem. So much for too cheap to meter. The other reactors in Japan, there were 54. Of course, the Fukushima reactors are never going to be started back up. Some other reactors are operating, about 3 or 4, and the possibility of another 10 to 15. So of the 50 nuclear reactors in Japan, perhaps 20 might get approval to operate in the next couple of years. What’s happening, or the force behind this, is money. The banks are paying for these plants to stay closed. They’re keeping a huge staff of 700 people employed. And there’s no power coming out. So think of your local Wal-Mart. Nobody comes to your Wal-Mart and yet we continue to pay the staff for 4, 5 or 6 years. That’s not the way you run a business. But the banks in the Abe administration are obviously applying pressure to start these plants back up so the banks can get paid off. You notice the emotional tolls between Japan that a schism between women and men. If Mary were on the line we could talk more about that, but the Japanese women do not want nuclear power – probably as much as 80 percent of the Japanese women feel that way – whereas the men are more focused on the hierarchy of control. And they say well, the government says it’s safe; therefore, it is. So it’s probably 40 or 50 percent of the men and 80 percent of the women. But a majority of Japanese don’t want these plants to start up. I’d like to talk briefly about the Olympics. I hear people say should we have the Olympics, and we would love to do some analysis of the Olympic venues to find the amount of radiation. Like I said, I found on a Tokyo street significant radiation. But that said, here we are worried about, should I go to the Olympics. I’m a world class athlete. Should I spend two weeks in Japan competing? What about the Japanese who’ve been there 24/7, 365, since 2011? If you’re worried about an Olympic athlete who has a choice of going, what about the people who have no choice? I really think we should turn that argument and focus on the fact that if you’re worried about Olympic athletes, we should be more worried about people who live there all the time. Around the world, nuclear power is failing financially. It just doesn’t make economic sense. The French program basically is in receivership to the state. Here in the United States, four reactors in Georgia and South Carolina are on the ropes financially. And a company with an American name, Westinghouse, which is not American any more – it’s owned by a Japanese company called Toshiba – and they’re facing a $10 billion bankruptcy. So this is not a business that Wall Street wants to be in. The only people who play this game are ones who have government subsidies. And I realize that the next NIRS seminar is going to be about subsidies, so I won’t spend a lot of time on that. But the condition of nuclear power in the world is that no one can afford to build these plants. I urge you to go up on the Fairewinds site. We’ve put up a two-minute video so this does not require a long attention span – certainly not the 45 minutes I’ve been talking – we have a two-minute video called Smokescreen. It took us 18 months to make. And it talks about the fact that the nuclear industry says we need 1,000 new nuclear power plants between now and 2050, which is a nuclear power plant every 12 days. Yet that will only make a 10 percent reduction in the CO2 footprint. If that money were spent on renewables, it could be spent in the next 10 years, we could build all of the equivalent renewables and make a huge dent in it. Economists call that argument the opportunity cost. And briefly, if you go up on the Fairewinds site and look at the two-minute video called Smokescreen, I think we’ve kind of condensed 18 months of analysis by quite a few doctors and people in the energy field into a piece that you can share – that you yourself can share with your friends about why are we doing this. So in closing, let me thank NIRS for hosting this event. I think there’s two takeaways. The first is that we all know when these disasters started, but when will they end? Tell me the day that Chernobyl will be a clean site. Tell me the day that Fukushima will be a clean site. Tell me the day when Three Mile Island will be a clean site or that river in England. We all know when they started, but no one knows when they end. That’s takeaway number one. Takeaway number two is that we have alternatives that are cheaper and more environmentally compatible right now and they don’t create waste that lasts a quarter of a million years, and there’s no risk of meltdown and contamination. I’ve said –when I gave a speech at Northwestern about a year and a half ago, that the nuclear industry would have you believe that they’re so smart – mankind is so smart that we can store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years. But that same nuclear industry would have you believe that mankind is so dumb we can’t store solar electricity overnight. And that’s really the second takeaway. First off, we all know these disasters, when they start, but nobody knows when they end. And the second half is that we have alternatives available right now. We don’t have to go down this road. All right. I think I’ll pass it back to Tim. Thank you very much, Tim.
TJ: (53:29) Thank you, Arnie, for that terrific presentation. And we’re going to go ahead and go into question and answers with the audience. And so Jasmine, can you switch us over to Q&A mode with the briefing. Just a recap, if you want to ask a question, dial *6 and then you’re going to be prompted to press 1 to confirm, and then you’ll be added to the queue. We’ll take questions in the order in which we receive them. And as people are getting queued up, I’ll take the liberty of asking Arnie a question. I’ve got so many. I may exercise my discretion later. But Arnie, the accidents that you’ve talked about, the one thing that they seem to have in common is that they have – is that they’re all different from one another. Three Mile Island, unit 2, was a brand new reactor when it melted down. Chernobyl was a reactor that had been online for awhile but was being operated in experimental condition. Fukushima obviously was three reactors subject to a natural disaster and a station blackout event. Kind of looking forward, we have some various predictions and estimates about how likely nuclear accidents like these are to happen in the future, but kind of how do you see it and what’s your thought on what we can expect in the future. What are some of the risk factors that you might look to? And what would it mean after all these series of accidents for yet another one to happen?
AG: (55:18) I am going to give Maggie some credit here, our Fairewinds founder. She says these aren’t accidents. An accident is when a deer runs in front of your car and you hit it. But these are disasters that are profoundly manmade, that no one anticipated but should have. The people that built Fukushima were General Electric engineers in California, and Ebasco (?55:49) engineers in Manhattan. And they had historical records that showed a 50 or 60 or 70-foot tsunami would hit, but yet they built a 12-foot-high tsunami wall. So these are manmade disasters. And I’m trying to use disaster more and accident less, because they are not random things like a deer running in front of your car. If you have a deck of cards and I tell you – I ask you what the odds of drawing an ace of spades. You’ve got 52 cards, you know there’s one ace of spades, so the odds are one in 52. Nuclear people say the odds are one in a million of a meltdown. And they think they know the million ways that a nuclear plant can fail. But I think this is your answer, Tim, that no one envisioned there’s another card in the deck for what happened at Three Mile Island. There’s a different card in the deck for what happened at Chernobyl; and there’s a different card in the deck for Fukushima, and on and on. So to get a bunch of smart engineers that think they know of all the ways a nuclear plant can fail, and Mother Nature just keeps finding new ways for them to fail. The other disturbing thing is that these disasters have gotten worse. The releases from TMI were whatever they are, and then Chernobyl was worse than that, and at lest the noble gases from Fukushima were three times worse than Chernobyl. The lesson is that the magnitude of these disasters is increasing, even if the gap between them widens when they happen; they’re worse. It’s called probabilistic risk assessment – PRA – but I always refer to it as pray because it’s really just a numbers game.
TJ: (57:50) Thanks for that Arnie, and we’ve got a bunch of people queued up to ask questions. And just as a reminder to everybody, because we have so many people who want to ask questions, if you could try to be short and direct with your question and refrain from giving long statements. We’ll go the first caller and I’ll meet you now.
F1: I live in Saskatchewan and we’re being told that small reactors are the answer, particularly for mines in the north; that they could be powered by small reactors. Could you please comment on that and tell us what the dangers are even with a small reactor?
AG: (58:29) Yeah. The acronym is an SMR – small modular reactor. And it’s interesting. I’m pretty ancient here and reactors used to be small. I have my nuclear reactor license on the ALCO reactor – American Locomotive Company Reactor. It was a small modular reactor. And we determined they weren’t economical. So they made them a little bigger and 200 megawatts like Shipping Port. And then they made them a little bigger – 600 megawatts, like Vermont Yankee. And then they made them a little bigger – 800 to 1,000 to 1,300, in a quest to make them economically competitive. So now the industry has come up with yet another gimmick and it’s going back in time to something they tried and failed at back in the 50’s and 60’s with these small modular reactors. At the end of the day, it’s still the same reaction that’s going on inside the reactor. Hold your hands together in two fists and that’s the uranium atom. And then pull them apart, and that’s what happens with it fissions. When you pull them apart, about 93 percent of the power in a nuclear reactor comes from that initial pop when those pieces separate. But 7 percent still remains and that’s radioactive heat. And no matter if it’s a small reactor or a big reactor, they’re still going to have the residual radioactive heat and they’re still going to have radiation that hangs around for a quarter of a million years. There’s nothing to change the basic physics inside it. When we talk about small modular reactors at Fairewinds, we talk about the money. Nobody’s made one of these and of course, when no one makes one of these, they can claim they’re perfectly safe and they’re perfectly cheap. But no reactor has ever come on line under budget and on time. And yet the industry’s latest gimmick is well, we’ve designed yet another one and it’s cheaper and it’s faster and it will solve all of the woes of the previous generations. But my experience is we knew about small modular reactors back when I was going to college and they didn’t work then because they were uneconomical. So the issues are the same: You’ve still got the same waste, and because there’s such caustic material inside it, you need all the safety systems, which drives up the cost. So when people talk about small modular reactors, just spin the phrase on them and talk about small modular renewables.
TJ: (1:01:17) Great, thanks, Arnie. We’ll go to our next question now.
M2: Arnie, Dennis Rajeski (?) in Vermont with the Sierra Club. Thanks again for you and for NIRS reporting this. My question is just simply, do you have any comments about the current situation and prospects at the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington? Thank you.
AG: (1:01:36) Yeah. The Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington is where the plutonium was generated for America’s bombs. The reactors have long been shut down but the site is heavily contaminated. There’s huge drums, huge tanks underground with the most toxic brew imaginable. It’s the same stuff that’s in the basement at Fukushima – incredibly radioactive stuff. And there’s gases that are flammable. One of my fears is an explosion at the Hanford site that could contaminate Washington state and downwind. So the next nuclear disaster may be at the Hanford site from a tank explosion. The tanks are also leaking and the Hanford site is near the Columbia River which is the historic heart of the Northwest. And to think that as a legacy to building bombs 70 years ago, we are facing the contamination of the Columbia River is just devastating. Congress isn’t spending enough money on it and they don’t really have a clear plan, either. But they’re talking about cleaning it up in 70 years. So it’ll be 140 years since the plant made its first radioactive waste before Congress is willing to commit to fixing it. They do have a great senator in Oregon who’s been pushing, but there’s not a lot of congressional support to fund a legacy cleanup, and that’s really what it’s going to take is congressional support to clean it up. It’s a frightening site because of the amount of radiation and the risk of an explosion.
TJ: Great. Moving onto our next question.
NF: (1:03:46) Hi. I’m Norma Field calling from Chicago. Thank you very much, Arnie, for all you and Maggie have been doing, and thanks to NIRS. I have – I appreciate very much that you refer to the disasters – the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and I have reason for that and wondering what you think and wanting to know your information, which is that calling it the Fukushima disaster makes it seem to people that it’s confined to Fukushima, and as well all know radiation isn’t confined to any administrative borders. I’ve heard that you found high levels of contamination in household vacuum cleaner dust as far west as Nebolia (?1:04:30) and wonder what your assessment is of more extensive contamination in Japan, (1), and (2), a question I haven’t had anyone able to answer me is that on recent visits, I’ve seen that those huge plastic garbage bags that hold the waste from so-called decontamination in some places now have little chimneys attached to them. I’m imagining that since this is often organic waste that’s been baking under the sun, there are gases that have to be releases. Now how effective are those bags at containing radionucleides (1:05:08) if they have to be off-gassed that way? Thank you.
AG: (1:05:16) You’re very observant. I noticed that when I was over there, too. I’ll let our other listeners know – when you think of these large fields of bags, they have organic matter in them. They have leaves and grass clippings and tree limbs and on and on, that as they decay, they give off methane gas, which of course is flammable. And the Japanese are terrified that they’ll get a fire – essentially spontaneous combustion in the center of these large piles, that could re-volutalize (1:05:49) a million bags of radioactive waste again. So they have pipes sticking out of the piles at predetermined locations in an attempt to allow the radioactive and non-radioactive gasses – the explosive gasses, to leak out. I just keep thinking that sooner or later a lightning strike is going to cause one of these dumps of perhaps a million bags of radioactive contaminants to go up in fire again. The bags themselves are designed for 3 to 5 years. They’re plastic. And plastic doesn’t hold up very well in the environment. So essentially, the first bags are right up against their time limit now and are beginning to break open and have to be re-bagged. What the Japanese are doing – and I witnessed this, we have some pictures up on the site about this – is they’re taking the bags with the least contamination – and they’re still contaminated – and burning them in incinerators that they’re building. No one is getting good data on what’s coming out those stacks, but I believe that the cesium is being released right up the stack again. We have plans – if we could get the funding, we have plans to measure that. We have techniques that we could go in and find what’s going up these incinerators. But they’re going to incinerate their way through the problem and hope that the ash retains the radioactivity. So now you’ve got perhaps 5 percent of the volume that was there. But that ash then is still highly radioactive. You’re actually concentrating the ash. And what are you going to do with that? You’ve got another dump that has to be established for this more contaminated ash. As I drove around, one of the lasting impressions as you turn around a corner, you’ll find in somebody’s yard 30 or 40 bags of cleaned-up material that’s waiting to be shipped somewhere. And the people are living right in the house. What I found is even though all these bags look to be a huge – and are a huge number and a huge volume – it really represents only about 5 percent of what they need to do. The mountainsides are highly contaminated. I was over in Minamisoma (1:08:27) at the town hall. And the town hall had put a solar collector on the roof when people moved back in about two years before I got there. And in the process, the roof had been cleaned. It had a nice squeaky, beautiful coat of paint on it. And I was up ?1:08:45 right by the solar collectors, and I noticed this pile of dust that had settled out in the corners. So I collected the dust. And it was highly radioactive. How did it get there? The question – Tokyo Electric came in and cleaned everything so everybody could go back home, but resettlement of this radioactive material from the mountains is contaminating it. And Mary, if you’re listening – watching little kids, little girls ride down the street on their bicycles through the same dust I was measuring as highly radioactive. And it was just appalling to think that’s getting into their lungs. So the recontamination of Japan is real and yes, the most highly radioactive particle we found was essentially a piece of nuclear fuel from Negoya which is 300 miles away, but forcing these people back into these areas is just wrong. We understand that the Japanese government has a policy in place that they’re not going to have anybody who’s going to be living in a resettlement community when the Olympics happens. They want the world to know that Fukushima is over with. And there’ll still be some towns that they can’t move people back into and those people will be given new homes and it won’t be called a resettlement any more. This is your new home. But for the hundreds of thousands of people who did resettle, the Japanese want them back on the land. And I just think that’s a travesty of immense proportions to have somebody go back into an area that’s still radioactive. And the particles in the air are not being measured by the Japanese government. I probably went on way too long a rant for that question, but my hat’s off to you for understanding that these piles of bags not only are radioactive but they’re potentially flammable.
DP: (1:10:52) Hey, Arnie. Don Pinkas, Washington, DC. If anything, Arnie, you rant too softly. A couple of suggestions I’d like to make and then a question. One is, I think, on the public relations side, we’ve really got to get somebody like Mishu Cocku (?1:11:12) back into this. Back in the early 80’s, he was giving brilliant speeches about the dangers of nuclear power. I don’t know if he’s changed his mind. He’s at City University of New York. I’m sure many of you folks on the line here have seen him or maybe read some of his books. He’s a theoretical physicist but he’s brilliant; I mean he and Helen Caldicott were just emotionally brilliant in the way they could evoke emotions. The other is, I’m sitting here crying over the people, the Ukrainians near Chernobyl and the Japanese folks near Fukushima Daiichi. And I’m glad you made that point about Daiichi because I didn’t know – I hadn’t really looked at a map of Japan, didn’t know there were other reactor complexes in Fukushima. We’ve got to come up with some kind of metering that flashes, makes noise, because this stuff is invisible. It’s like the carbon gasses. We can’t smell them, we can’t see them. If carbon gasses were purple, the deniers couldn’t get away with it. So if anything, you rant too softly. An eternal emitter inside your body is like a machinegun firing whatever particles it’s firing at the organic and genetic material around it. Using plutonium or uranium to boil water is like using a chainsaw to cut a stick of butter. Your little film, your little film Smokescreen, is brilliant. People, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it. It is really brilliant. So what are the ways that you can suggest for making these issues more emotionally compelling so people get on the phone and don’t take any crap from their senators and congressmen?
TJ: (1:13:44) Thanks, Don. (DP: You’re welcome)
AG: I’m an engineer and I fully admit that I run cold – cool, at least, not cold. Mishu Cocku and I were on CNN together and you’re right. He elicits an intensity that I don’t. You know, I think for the green community, NIRS and others, and Fairewinds, the big challenge is funding. And the example there is that when a network needs a talking head, they get Christie Whitman out who is former EPA and former governor and I used to be an environmentalist and now I’m a nuclear advocate. There are many others that the pro-nuclear industry runs out. By the way, Christie Whitman makes about a quarter of a million dollars a year to do those talking head pieces. And on our side of the argument, we don’t have that. Here I am, a nuclear executive that’s come to realize what a poor choice I made and what America made back in the last century and that we don’t need to do that again. And yet, we don’t have the financial clout to get to the networks to begin to make an argument. I can amp up the emotional content, but as an expert witness, I have a choice to make. I have to present in court and if I do a Mishu Cocku, the opposing attorney is not going to – is going to be able to eat me for lunch. So the problem is, I think, that on the green side on the community – NIRS, Fairewinds and others – that to get the financing to approach the networks with the same intensity that the nuclear advocates have, is a costly proposition. Tim, do you have any questions? You might answer that one better than me.
TJ: (1:16:09) Well, I mean I think that the advocacy community working on nuclear issues has been underfunded for a long time and I would second and expand on Arnie’s call for people to be financially supportive of Fairewinds especially for the tremendous service that Arnie and Maggie provide to the antinuclear movement and to states and public interest groups all over. But I think that we’ve got plenty of emotion to go around from the advocates and we need our experts to also be experts. And one of the things that we are constantly criticized for by the industry is being too emotional. And I think we wear our emotions proudly because the issues that we care about are about life and death and about truth and justice. But we also need to be able to factual and to be able to speak truthfully and calmly about what we know. So I think we need to take it from all sides. So moving onto our next question.
M2: (1:17:34) Yes. I was concerned about Prime Minister Abe’s order to dispose of the trillions of metric tons of blast debris by taking it to incinerators and basically launching it on the westerly winds, and most of it falling on California. What’s your take on that?
AG: (1:17:58) The Abe regime is very pro industry. And unfortunately so. Everything the Abe regime has done – oh, gosh since – they were the ones that declared that the plant was cold shutdown. That’s like George Bush saying mission accomplished. He’s been – the Abe regime has been a cheerleader for nuclear power since they came in, and mission, if not accomplished, the mission will never be accomplished. You are right that there’s still airborne contamination coming out of Fukushima prefecture from the incinerators, and also from the plant. The plant is still off-gassing radiation. But it is diluting in the wind and by the time it gets to – now by the time it gets to California, it’s not detectable as an airborne effluent. It is detectable as a liquid and that’s a different thing. In the first couple of months of the disaster, there was all sorts of radioactive gasses hitting as far north as Vancouver down through Seattle and Portland down into northern California and even southern California. And we have rainouts throughout America, too, when thunderstorms went up and brought down some of that. We’re not detecting radioactive gasses in the states right now that are coming from Fukushima.
TJ: (1:19:47) Okay, great. So everybody, we’ve got only a few minutes left to our schedule – stops at 9:30. We might be able to go a few minutes over if that’s okay with Arnie, but we’ve also got about a dozen questions left in the queue here, so we really need to encourage everyone to be as brief as possible and then we’ll get through as much as we can before we need to break. So our next question is coming up now.
RA: (1:20:12) This is R. Addison speaking from Medicine Bow, Wyoming. I have oftentimes emailed – all of us being antinuclear since I started in 1961. I’ve seen all the nuclear facilities, especially in 1977 before the completion of the Daiichi #2. So I was really taken back that General Electric didn’t win and Westinghouse did, but who needs a reactor that’s going to fall apart or isn’t built correctly? What I’m talking about is, you know in advance that these contaminations are going to continue to contaminate for millions of years. Or at least 240,000 for the first half life of plutonium 239. What is there regarding around Fukushima Daiichi, around Tokyo, that involves the actual phytoremediation and that is ?1:21:16 plants and removing the plants when they get too overburdened with absorbing hundreds of radio nucleides has been discussed in Japan with you and if you can’t comment on that, can you add something to your website, which is a fine site to read and relate to. I go back again and again. So I wanted to add that for all of us because phytoremediation has been around since oil spills on the Mississippi River in 1980 and 1981, that’s where I saw it actually happen.
AG: (1:21:54) Yeah, basically plant routes – thank you for that and thank you for your compliments to the Fairewinds site. When you were talking about Daiichi being built, we were contacted by a woman who was my age and her husband had been a start-up engineer for General Electric on Daiichi back in the 60’s and 70’s and he had worked for General Electric his whole life and after the disaster at Fukushima, he took his own life. He literally – his religion, the thing he lived by, safe nuclear power, was proven wrong and the guy committed suicide, which was a sad reminder of what a religious fervor the people on the other side of this argument have. I’m sorry I kind of detoured there, but plants do absorb cesium and take it out of the soil and into the plant. And if you cut down the plant and then burn the plant, you can then capture some of that radiation and then put it in some kind of an underground facility to keep it out of harm’s way. That’s – they’re not planning that right now in Japan but effectively, they’re doing it. A lot of the waste that’s in these large one-ton bags is lawn clippings and things like that that have absorbed the radiation. Another example is wild boars. When I was over there, a hunter gave me a hunk of wild boar meat and I put my radiation detector on it and I said thanks, but I’m not going to eat this. It was probably quadruple what the normal background was in the car I was in that was already radioactive from driving around in Japan. So the wild boar are eating these plants, which are then concentrating it as well. It doesn’t go – phytoremediation takes it out of the soil but then you’ve got to get rid of the tree or the plant or the sunflower plant. And when you burn that, some of that goes airborne out the sack and some of it winds up as a – the ashes left behind. So you still have the problem of, now you’ve got a smaller volume of more intense radiation that you’ve got to put somewhere. But yes, phytoremediation does work and you just need a plan then to burn the plants and isolate the material. Right now the Japanese are talking about throwing the stuff in ditches with a liner in it, but the liners leak. A one-inch hole in a liner will allow something like 80,000 gallons of water to leak through it every year. So placing it above ground in a liner is just reintroducing it back into the environment again after the plant has done all that hard work of sucking it up. So the Japanese need a plan to get this out of the environment once they’ve sucked it up from the environment.
(1:25:16 – recording is static to 1:26:08)
TJ: Hello? Arnie, sorry, this is Tim Judson. So do you have a few more minutes? Can we take one or two more questions?
AG: Sure, let’s go 10 more and then I’ve got to crash.
TJ: That sounds good. So we’ll go through these as quickly as possible. Again, everyone, please be as brief as possible – as brief as you can with your questions.
BD: Hello. This is Buzz Davies in Irwin, Tennessee. I’m a retired nuclear quality engineer. And I had the opportunity to visit Three Mile Island during its construction phase, at which point in time, we thought they’d never get a license for that plant. Regardless, I sent a rather long email to Mary about the conditions that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has created with the nuclear plants. Have you had the opportunity to read that?
TJ: I have not, Buzz. Arnie, did Mary forward it onto you by chance?
AG: (1:27:28) I haven’t seen it, either. I can certainly speak to the issue of Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight. Basically, they’re the handmaiden to the industry as opposed to the watchdog. My personal experience is just one indication of that. You can go up on the Fairewinds site and there’s several stories about the travails that Maggie and I went through as whistleblower and family back in the 90’s and how we were not supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s the great myth when you’re in the industry, and I appreciate that you were in it and you see the myth, but we have – the impression is that this regulator is tough and in fact, it’s toothless. And that goes back to how the commissioners are appointed. The Commission is five political appointees, all of which are appointed by congress and all of which are vetted by NEI, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is the lobbying firm for the nuclear industry. So unless it gets by the nuclear lobbyists, the commissioners are not approved. So you can’t expect tough oversight when the nuclear lobby vets the people that are running the commission.
TJ: Okay, moving quickly onto the next question.
M: (1:29:08) Arnie, this is Margaret from Burlington. And thank you, Arnie, for all the times you’ve been on the Nuclear Free Future program with your passionate and intense conversation with me and with the viewers. The question I have: are there epidemiological studies done by the U.S. Government at all?
AG: I don’t know of any. We could look. I don’t think – there’s the BEIR 7 – and it’s not beer like the drink – Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation – refers to some epidemiological studies. Most of the epidemiologists are very well paid industry shills and – which is what Steve Wing was able to disprove. There’s a cancer cluster in Apollo, Pennsylvania, as an example. And the epidemiologist clearly showed that there was a cancer cluster around the plant that built Navy nuclear fuel. And yet the industry brought in their shill who proved that there wasn’t. Yet the industry settles for millions of dollars in damage. But everybody who accepted the payment also had a clause that said they couldn’t talk about it. Like Three Mile Island, nobody died. The people that died or were injured signed waivers when they took the cash so they can’t be included in the database. So it’s a Catch-22. It’s very difficult to go back when the people who are injured have been paid off and have signed not to disclose agreements. It makes epidemiology very difficult.
TJ: (1:31:07) I think to underline your point, Arnie, I think it was a couple of years ago or a year or two ago that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission canceled a study that they had asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct, on cancer clusters near nuclear reactors and those kind of health impacts. And the NRC canceled the study because they said it was going to cost too much. And it only was going to cost about $7 or $8 million.
AG: (1:31:35) I’m good for one more question here.
S: Steve from Austin, Texas. I was wondering about this Thorium stuff. I was kind of thinking it might be snake oil. For one thing, I don’t think it’s fissionable. Is this just another version of a breeder reactor scheme? It’s the newest new nuke that I’ve heard about. I think it’s more gleam in their eye than anything else, but wanted to hear what you had to say about that.
AG: That’s a great analogy. Thank you. Thorium is not a new idea. It was an idea that was discarded back in the 50’s. And what happened is thorium is not fissionable by itself. If it absorbs a neutron, thorium becomes uranium, which then absorbs another neutron and can fission. So it’s less efficient than uranium as far as a nuclear fuel cycle. So in that way, it’s like a breeder. You’re taking something that’s not fissionable, adding a neutron, creating uranium and it becomes fissionable. There’s all sorts of proliferation risks because uranium 233 – you can make bombs from that. One country is seriously pursuing thorium right now and that’s India. India has an awful lot of thorium in its soil. As a matter of fact, if you get turmeric from India, it’s radioactive because it has thorium in Indian turmeric, whereas American turmeric does not. So the thorium is – yes, it’s another gimmick that was thought of 50 years ago and is now getting another chance to sing a solo because they’ve run out of options with uranium. But it’s costly and I keep coming back to, why would we do this when we can produce solar power for 2 cents a kilowatt. And the cost of alternatives are so much lower, I think that argument along should push the nuclear lobby into the dustbin of history.
TJ: Great. Thanks for that, Arnie, and thanks again for taking the time to share your views and your experiences with us tonight, and your expertise. And thanks to everyone who called in. I really want to urge everyone, if you can do it at all, to send some support to Fairewinds and to Arnie and Maggie Gundersen. Their work is tremendously helpful to the entire movement and they would really appreciate it if folks would share your support with Fairewinds at Fairewinds.org. And that’s Fairewinds with an “e” in the middle. And also, if you support NIRS’ work, we really appreciate that as well, and you can also make a contribution to NIRS at NIRS.org. And we hope that you’ll tune in sometime in the next 2 or 3 months for our next tele-briefing, and until then, feel free to contact us with any questions that you have. If your question didn’t get asked tonight, feel free to send it our way. You can write to us at NIRS.org. And we’ll get your question to the right person and make sure that you get a response. So thanks, everyone, and hope to hear from you soon.