It Could Have Been Worse

It Could Have Been Worse

Fairewinds analysis of the triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi determined that other Japanese reactor sites were also in jeopardy because their cooling water systems were destroyed by the same tsunami. In this film, Fairewinds provides evidence that cooling systems for 24 out of 37 diesel generators were shut down by the tsunami and that 14 additional nuclear reactors were impacted. Finally, Fairewinds also recommends that the criteria of the international nuclear accident scale have a Level 8 added. The addition of a Level 8 would reflect the nuclear accident scenario at a multi-reactor site that significantly changes the risk factors to the general public and emergency evacuation procedures.

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Are Regulators And The Nuclear Industry Applying The Valuable Lessons Learned From Fukushima?

Fairewinds Energy - Fukushima Daiichi Valuable Lessons

About This Video

Fairewinds Presentation to the San Clemente City Council

Fairewinds chief engineer Arnie Gundersen discusses three nuclear safety problems uncovered during the Fukushima accident that nuclear regulators and the nuclear industry wish they could ignore. Why isn't the industry designing nuclear plants to withstand the worst natural events? Why aren't nuclear regulators, governments, and citizens who live and work near a nuclear plant prepared for a nuclear accident? How much does the NRC value human life? Finally, Fairewinds' Gundersen concludes that the NRC is not implementing adequate safety changes because the NRC believes that a serious accident is impossible.

Video Transcript

Arnie Gundersen: Hi, I'm Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds and I would like to thank the San Clemente City Council for having me make this presentation to you.  I have to apologize, my voice is a little squeeky today.  With the change of seasons here in Vermont, I appear to have picked up a virus.  But I will be O.K.

I would like to talk to you today about the lessons that Fukushima should have taught us but did not.  The first one of those is something called the design bases.  Now what that means is:  what do we expect Mother Nature can throw at us?  For instance, a plant built in California is built for a stronger earthquake than a plant built in Vermont.  A plant built in Florida is built for a stronger hurricane than a plant in upstate New York.  So that is called a design basis:  what do we think Mother Nature can throw at us?  Now in law, that comes from 10 CFR: 10 Code of Federal Regulations part 50 appendix A which is something called a general design criteria.  And general design criteria number 2 talks about design bases.

But it is interesting, it is deliberately vague.  There is no mathematical number to support the fact that an earthquake must be this strong or a hurricane wind must be this strong.  It is not in law.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission takes that general design criteria and basically says we believe it is a good thing to build a plant for the worst thing that Mother Nature can throw at us in about a thousand years.  They go back over the historical record and they are supposed to find the worst thing that Mother Nature can do over the last thousand years of the geologic record.  Now, I do not think that has happened.  The first lesson of Fukushima, that we are not really learning, is we need to look at again, what we think is the worst thing Mother Nature can throw at us.

For example, The tsunami at Fukushima was well outside the design basis.  And so was the earthquake at Fukushima and some equipment at Unit 1 appears to have been damaged from the earthquake before the tsunami.

And two other events in the last 6 months also bump right up against the design bases.  One is the flood out in the Midwest at Fort Calhoun and the other is the earthquake on the east coast at North Anna.  Now all of these were right at or over what we thought the worst Mother Nature could do to us in a thousand years.  Now that four of these:  two earthquakes, Japan and Virginia, a flood and a tsunami, that all of them occurred in 6 months, tells me that we really have not anticipated what Mother Nature can really do.

Now let's do the math here.  The math is that, you know once in a thousand years sounds like a long time.  But really, if a nuclear plant runs for 60 years, put 60 in the numerator and in the denominator put 1,000 and you wind up with a 6% chance that any nuclear plant, over it's lifetime, will see an event as bad or worse than the design bases.  6% for San Onofre, 6% for Diablo Canyon, 6% for plants here in Vermont.  Well on top of that, there are about 60 nuclear sites.  So if you take that 6% and multiply by 60 sites, you get about 360%.

In other words, it is a near certainty that some plant in the United Sates over it's lifetime will experience an event worse than designers anticipated.  Matter of fact, more like 3 or 4 plants in the United States over the their 60 year life, will experience an event worse than the designers anticipated.  Now it is interesting though, that what the designers anticipate and what independent science anticipates are two different things.

It really boils down to cost.  The stronger you make a plant, the more costly it becomes.  So a plant in California costs more than a plant on the East Coast because earthquakes are stronger in California.  But a plant in Florida anticipates that it will get hit by a stronger hurricane than the winds you might anticipate in upstate New York.

Now outside independent experts actually have anticipated that we really have not designed for the worst case.  There were experts in Japan who said that the geologic record indicated 3 tsunamis as bad or worse than the one that hit them over a 2000 year period.  So experts in Japan, outside of the utility that owned the plant, were predicting that a tsunami could hit that was not just a 45 foot tsunami, but could even be higher, based on the record.  Those experts were ignored.  So as much as the design bases probably had been missed at least 4 times by industry experts, I think if you talk to independent experts, they will tell you that it is highly likely that a much worse event than what we have anticipated could occur.

For instance, San Onofre is designed for a one foot tsunami.  Now, on top of that San Anofre has added a margin so they can withstand about a 6' tsunami.  But on the other side of the ocean, they had a 45 foot tsunami.  I think there are experts who would say that a 6' tsunami is probably not adequate for San Anofre.

There are two things we can do to avoid this problem, neither of which is being done.  We can set a higher threshhold.  Rather than once in a thousand years, we can say once in a 10,000 year event.  Or we can listen to independent experts as opposed to industry experts when we are designing the plant.  But whatever we do on design bases, I think it is important to remember that it boils down to money.  The stronger the plant is to withstand what Mother Nature throws at us, the more likely it is to become cost prohibitive.

The second thing that I think we need to learn, and have not, has to do with emergency planning.  And within that, there are two parts.  If there is an accident, who pays?  And if there is an accident, who is in charge?  Tokyo Electric is worth about 100 billion dollars.  The event in Japan is going to cost about 250 billion dollars.  So Tokyo Electric is probably going to be driven into bankruptcy as they pay for this.  They are going to have to sell their assets and the rest is going to have to be borne by the Japanese people.

Now in the United States, it is different.  We have something called Price-Anderson.  And that limits the liability to the company that has the accident to about 10 billion dollars and the remainder, 240 billion dollars would be borne by taxpayers.  It would be the biggest industrial accident that has ever occurred within the United States.

Now, within the United States the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed something to happen which actually minimizes costs.  Makes it impossible to go back at most of the utilities that own power plants.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed them to become limited liability corporations.  Now what that means is, let's take Illinois for example:   Excelon has 17 power plants, most in Illinois.  And each individual power plant is a limited liability corporation.  So if a power plant has an accident, it has no more assets and the other power plants are not the cause of the accident, therefore they do not have to carry the bill.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed this to happen by changing the licenses of power plants. They used to be owned by utility companies and there were assets behind them.  Now each nuclear plant is a limited liability corporation.  "Who pays?" is a really good question.

The second question is who is in charge?  In Japan I think you have noticed the confusion about who is in charge.  And I would submit to you that the Japanese are the best prepared in the event of an emergency.  They really took emergency planning seriously for years because they had earthquakes frequently.  And even now clearly, no one really knows who is in charge of cleaning up Northern Japan and who is in charge of cleaning up the site.

It is interesting, I have noticed as I have studied accidents over time that when an accident happens, the plant management recognizes really quickly that things are really bad.  At Three Mile Island the plant manager at 7:30 in the morning wanted to declare an emergency and evacuate.  Now he called the people at the home office about 150 miles away and they talked him down from that.

At Chernobyl, the same thing happened.  The plant management understood that things were really bad.  But yet the bureaucracy did not really recognize it and did not spread the word.  Of course at Fukushima we have exactly the same problem.  Plant management wanted to inject salt water.  They needed to inject salt water.  And yet higher ups in the chain of command in Tokyo told the plant manager not to.  He is a hero, he did what had to be done, despite the fact that the government told him not to.  You get this situation where the people on the ground (at the scene of the accident) know how bad things are, but yet further up the chain of command people do not make the right decisions.

In Japan the Fukushima Prefecture (like a state), had potassium iodine pills available.  What they do is they block the radiation that goes to your thyroid.   They were stocked and they were ready to be used.  But the state was prohibited from using them by the national government in Tokyo.  It was not for 7 days until the national government realized that they should release these potassium iodide pills.

Again the people on the ground (at the scene of the accident)  really recognize the severity of the problem.  But when larger organizations get involved, the time to respond lengthens and puts lives at risk.

Now in the United States the situation is probably even worse.  The Japanese understood how to do emergency planning and they still did not do it right.  Here we probably have 5 different entities that would be perhaps in charge.  First would be the utility.  Second would be the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Environmental Protection Agency.  FEMA.  And then also it is possible that the state could also say, "It is our job."  So we have 5 different organizations.  FEMA cannot do it, FEMA is prohibited by law to be involved for more than 30 days, something called the Stafford Act.  12:29  So they are out of the picture.

After Three Mile Island the utility was in charge briefly, and then the Nuclear Regulatory Commission came in and reported directly to the President of the United States.  Now that is not part of any law or any plan.  And I would submit to you that allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be in charge is not the best thing to do if you are concerned about the health and welfare of the people surrounding San Clemente and the San Anofre plant.

The reason is that right now there is a battle between the EPA and the NRC over the exposure to people after an accident.  The NRC wants 100 times higher exposures to the population after an accident than does the EPA.  To get an idea about what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission really plans to do after a severe accident, it is a good idea to look at a computer code they use called the MACCS2 computer program.  It is used to determine the costs and benefits to society and whether or not a utility has to implement changes to the design in order to minimize the costs to you and I.

It was designed not for a nuclear power plant accident but for a dirty bomb.  And the designer has actually renounced the program for the use the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is using.

What are some of the assumptions they have in the code?  They only look at some forms of cancer, not all, and they also do not look at other health effects caused by radiation, for instance, cesium attacks children's hearts.  And it does not cause cancer but it causes heart attacks and heart ailments.

The code does not evaluate that.  They assume that the radiation that lands on a field will be plowed under.  There is no attempt by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to clean the fields after a nuclear accident.  They hose down the houses and let that water run into the rivers, and interestingly, if it lands on a forest, they do not plan to touch the forest.  The contamination will stay there until it decays in 300 years.  This MACCS2 program takes into account no storage of radioactive material.   There is no attempt to put radioactive material into drums and store it until it decays away.  Basically the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is assuming that it stays on the ground and in the ground, until 300 years are up and the Cesium has disappeared.

The program assumes that all the radiation stays on the ground and does not get resuspended.  A car on a dusty road throwing up dust is not included in the calculation.  Probably the most illogical assumption in the computer program is that they assume the accident lasts for two and a half hours.  Yes, two and a half hours.  Now Fukushima has been releasing radiation for 7 months but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in their severe accident code assumes the releases occur for 2 1/2 hours.

They also assume that not much fuel is damaged, so the releases are no where near as severe as Fukushima.  They assume that the wind blows in a straight line.  As you look at the maps of contamination that came out of Fukushima, that is clearly not true either.

And last but not least, they give the owner, the plant owner, the option of paying compensation or cleaning up.  Compensation is always cheaper than clean up.  And so when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission runs this program, compensating someone for their loss is always much cheaper than cleaning up and that always turns out to be the direction the decisions are made.

So this MACCS2 program is designed to talk about costs and benefits to society.  Now even with all these assumptions which minimize the benefits to society, the MACCS2 code has actually predicted some changes should be made.  At Indian Point, it was discovered by the State of New York that 14 times the MACCS2 code said, "These changes are cost beneficial."  The state wrote to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about this and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission responded by saying they are required by law to evaluate, to consider the changes, but even if they are cost beneficial, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not required to implement the changes.

I teach math at the local college here in Burlington and one of the things I teach is GIGO, garbage in, garbage out.  What that means is that the output of a computer program is only as good as the information going into it.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts the lowest value on a human life of any agency in Washington.  It assumes a human life is worth 3 million dollars.  Other agencies are 5 to 9 million dollars.  So with all the assumptions I just talked about plus a low value of a human life, it is very unlikely that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will force a utility to make modifications and it is very unlikely that you would really want them to be the agency in charge in the event of a nuclear accident.

The person who wrote the MACCS2 code is a guy named David Chanin and he has renounced it.  I wanted to share with you his own words about the code and how it is being improperly used:   "Even in 1975 the cost numbers were underestimated to a significant degree.  The underestimation is much more significant today." ... "There are quite a few things that never made sense to me, but Sandia National Labs was directed by the NRC to continue using the prior approach."  And the final quote is:  "It seems to me that the code's Quality Assurance shortcomings and the lack of input justifications are again being ignored."

This MACCS2 computer program is the key decision making tool that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses when they make decisions about whether a plant should be licensed for the next 20 years or when they make decisions about when a safety modification is necessary.

As I said before, GIGO, garbage in garbage out,  The code is only as good as the assumptions that go into it.  Minimize a human life or assume the cleanup is minimal, and you will justify very, very few safety modifications, which is what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does pretty routinely.  Interestingly though, as I said in New York State, a letter to the State of New York from the NRC says that there have been 50 times when the MACCS2 computer code has determined that a safety modification would be beneficial.  And yet the NRC has ignored it even when it's code shows that a safety modification is necessary.

The real problem then lies with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and how it implements safety modifications.  Not only does the Nuclear Regulatory Commission see no accidents, hear no accidents, speak about no accidents, but I think there is a fourth monkey too.  And that is that they believe no accident can occur.  And if that is the case, I submit to you that an accident is likely to happen because our regulator is not enforcing the regulations that are on the books.

I would like to thank the San Clemente City Council for having me tonight.  If you have any further questions or would like to study this even more, there are other videos on the Fairewinds website.

Thank you.


Gundersen Discusses the Situation at the flooded Ft. Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Power Plants.

Fairewinds Energy - Flooded Ft Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Power Plants

About This Video

Gundersen says "sandbags and nuclear power shouldn't be put in the same sentence, but it is a lot better than Fukushima." Gundersen explains that Ft. Calhoun was already shut down and has much less decay heat. He stresses that the auxiliary building and containment building are not his major concern. A small building, the intake structure, which contains the emergency service water pumps is needed for cooling the nuclear fuel and should be protected. Another Nuclear Plant, Cooper (about 90 miles south of Ft. Calhoun), is still running and poses a bigger threat because of it's decay heat. Gundersen believes that both Nuclear Plants will "ride out" this problem, as long as an upstream dam does not break. If an upstream dam were to break, he says, "All bets are off".

 Video Transcript

YELLIN: Let's get some perspective now on the safety of nuclear power plants in the U.S. and look at some possible worst case scenarios.

We're joined by nuclear safety advocate Arnie Gundersen. Arnie, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the situation at Ft. Calhoun is under control, that this will not be a repeat of what we saw in Japan. In your view, case closed?

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, NUCLEAR SAFETY ADVOCATE: Well, sandbags and nuclear power shouldn't be put in the same sentence, but it is a lot better than Fukushima. The real reason why is, they were shut down in April and their management decided not to start them back up.

Now, nuclear atoms split, and these split pieces give off a lot of heat. But after two months, there's not anywhere near as much heat.

So, to compare it to Fukushima is wrong. It's a real problem, but it's not a Fukushima level problem at all.

YELLIN: We're looking at pictures right now -- I don't know if you can see them. But when you take a look, are you already concerned about the emergency pumps possibly flooding? I mean, they are covered in water. What happens after that?

GUNDERSEN: Well, I think the focus has been on those two big buildings. The auxiliary building and the containment. Really, it's not those buildings I'm concerned about.

There's a little building out by the water and it's called the intake structure. And in there is an emergency service water pump. That's the pump that cools the nuclear fuel. So, it's important that that building not flood any more because if the emergency service pumps get flooded, they won't be able to cool that nuclear reactor.

YELLIN: OK. Now, Ft. Calhoun as you point out, it's been shut down since April. Then there's Cooper Nuclear Plant, which is about 90 miles south of Ft. Calhoun, it's a different story.

So, why are you more concerned about Cooper?

GUNDERSEN: Well, Cooper's still running, and again, those pieces -- if Cooper were to shut down now, the heat produced would be 100 times more than the heat at Ft. Calhoun, a lot more heat to get rid of.

Now, it's also the identical reactor to Fukushima. It's a boiling water reactor, just like it.

If I were the management of Cooper, I'd really think about shutting down so that you get ahead of the problem, so that there's less of those decayed products to generate heat.

YELLIN: Do you have any immediate concern for the people who are living nearby?

GUNDERSEN: You know, short of an upstream dam failure, I think they'll ride this one out. If an upstream dam were to fail, all bets are off. So, I think the key is to keep an eye on the upstream dams.

YELLIN: Now, if you were consulting a team at Ft. Calhoun and Cooper right now, what advice would you give them?

GUNDERSEN: Well, Ft. Calhoun, you know, they got taken to the woodshed about 18 months ago and have made a lot of modification since. Now, why the NRC waited 30 years to do that is a question.

But, right now, with the modifications they've made and being shut down for two months, I don't really think they can do much more except wait and hope the water doesn't get high.

Down at Cooper, though, my advice would be to shut down now and ride it out.

YELLIN: All right. Arnie Gundersen, thank you so much. Let's hope all goes well there and continues as it has.

GUNDERSEN: Thanks for having me.

Arnie Gundersen Discusses Radioactive Water Leaking Into the Pacific Ocean with CNN's John King

About The Video

Gundersen discusses the radioactive water which is sitting in trenches and leaking into the ocean. He explains how the hydrogen explosion in reactor 2 caused a breeched containment. Gundersen puts into perspective the level of radiation being released into the ocean.



KING: Here to help us better understand the situation is Arne Gundersen, a nuclear safety advocate who consults with Vermont state government about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Mr. Gundersen, let's start with Tokyo Electric Power saying it has plugged the big leak in reactor number two by using 1,500 liters apparently of water glass or sodium silicate. Help us understand the significance.

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, CHIEF NUCLEAR ENGINEER, FAIREWINDS ASSOCIATES: Well, there are trenches outside the building. And one of those trenches had an eight-inch hole in it. And that led directly into the ocean. So, they plugged that leak. And that's good news for the ocean.

The trench, however, is still getting radioactive liquid from the unit to containment building itself because there is -- the containment has been damaged. So, radioactive water is leaking out into the trench now. But now, the trench is not leaking out into the ocean.

KING: Well, I've come over here to the wall to pull out the photos here. I want to strip this down just a little bit. What makes this interesting to the naked eye, anyway, if you look at from the out, it's four heavily damaged, three, destroyed, two seems from the outside to be the most intact of the buildings. You see the steam coming out here. I assume that's from the water they're pouring to cool it.

But explain to the layman why the building being in pretty good shape does not tell you anything about the severity of the problem inside.

GUNDERSEN: Yes, the building, that box is called a reactor building. And inside that is the containment. And as pressure started to build up in unit one and unit three, they vented the hydrogen gases into the reactor building. That's what blew up. And the dramatic pictures of the explosion were of the reactor building.

Underneath that rubble is the containment. But in the building underneath that's intact, they didn't vent it time. And they had a hydrogen detonation inside the containment. And that's kind of like sneezing with your mouth closed and your nose pinched. It's going to pop your eardrums.

Well, what happened in unit two is that, as a result of the explosion, the containment itself broke. And so, now, radioactive liquids are leaking out of the containment into that trench.

KING: I'm going to shrink this down for a second. I'm going to come back to the pictures in a minute. But, for now, I just want to talk about how much water -- because the company says 11,500 tons of radioactive water. We're not minimizing this at all going into the Pacific Ocean. That's enough water to fill five large swimming pools.

The Pacific Ocean, as you can see -- this is -- in term of the volume of the Pacific Ocean, Mr. Gundersen, this is literally a drop in the bucket. However, you think the company is understating the concern here about the radioactivity?

GUNDERSEN: Well, they pumped -- they needed to empty tanks onsite because the tanks had concentrations of liquid that were 500 times what was permissible. But the stuff they needed to put in them was much more radioactive than that. So, the 11,000 tons that they pumped overboard today was to clear tanks so that more radioactive liquid could come behind it.

The leak that they just fixed, though, for the last couple of weeks has been leaking something on the order of seven tons a day, not of the 500-time concentration but of the much more concentrated radioactivity into the ocean. So, there's a lot of radiation in the ocean.

KING: A lot of radiation in the ocean. And you don't think this is a one-time affair. I want you to explain why as I pull out another one of these satellite images. We've talked about this a bit in the past. You're seeing it now from another angle. I'd switch it around -- it's four, three, two, one here.

But as you see these blue pumps here, these are backup pumps, right? Safety pumps along here. And you can see if you come in close -- and I'll bring it up a little bit -- they have been severely damaged if not debilitated. Help us understand the significance.

GUNDERSEN: Yes. No one ever thought that you'd be pumping water into a nuclear reactor and letting it run out of the bottom called "feed and bleed." That was not the plan in the case of an accident. The plan was you'd circulate water inside the reactor and there would be a heat exchanger and you'd circulate ocean water through the other side of the reactor.

And those pumps that are destroyed are called service order pumps, and we talked about them about two weeks ago. They were to cool that heat exchanger so that you didn't have to feed and bleed the reactor. So, until the service water system gets re-established, they're going to be feed and bleeding, which is still going to create more waste.

KING: And so, help us understand. I want to ask you a seafood safety question in a minute. But looking at another one of these images and the level of destruction, if one was where we started on the earthquake and tsunami day, and 10 is relative containment to the point where everybody can take a breath and go from the emergency containment challenge to the long-term challenge -- where are we?

GUNDERSEN: I guess we're -- one was bad, 10 was good?

KING: Yes. Ten would be where you could probably deal with the long term challenge and not a day of emergency.

GUNDERSEN: Yes. I'd say we're between a three and a four. The worst is behind us because the reactor cores are down now to where they're generating only about 1 percent of the heat that they did when they ran. So, there's less of this decay heat to deal with. And then, still the best news of all is that the wind has been blowing out to sea.

KING: The wind keeps blowing out, and we're thankful for that.

I want to bring up one more thing here and take a look. We'll call this the life cycle here, with the photos out of the way. You're having radioactivity get into the water. This is oversimplified but it will help people understand.

So, radioactivity gets into the coral, gets down to any grass and sea life there, obviously eaten by little fish which become food for larger fish which often end up on your table.

And again, we're not trying to alarm people, Mr. Gundersen, but in the sense of how long -- how long, once this gets in there, you're talking about cesium and you're talking about other radioactive material as well, once it's in there, how long is it there?

GUNDERSEN: Well, I think -- there's two isotopes, there's iodine, and iodine goes away in about 90 days. That's going to be in seaweed and the Japanese use seaweed a lot for cooking. So, I wouldn't use seaweed within 100 miles of the plant for 90 days.

But the nasty isotope is cesium 137, and that hangs around for 300 years. So, I'm not suggesting it's a 300-year problem, but it will dilute over time and it will reduce.

But, you know, in Germany, they are still experiencing cesium 137 in the wild boars that ate mushrooms from Chernobyl, and that was 25 years ago.

So, it's -- I think, within 100 miles from the plant, you're going to be watching the fish a good 25 years.

KING: You say within 100 miles of the plant -- again, I want to close this down and bring this up. You say within 100 miles of the plant, because most of the discussion from the Japanese government has been 12 and the United States government has said maybe a 50-mile radius. You think it goes well beyond this.

GUNDERSEN: Out in the ocean, I think it will. You know, the fish move, the currents move, and it will push that cesium out into the deep ocean -- and also, more importantly, laterally along the coast.

KING: Arnie Gundersen -- as always, appreciate your insights. We'll keep in touch. We hope -- we hope this announcement tonight they believe they've stopped the more dramatic of the leaks from reactor two is good news. We'll keep on top of that to make sure, sometimes we get word from TEPCO, it turns the next day, we step back. We'll stay on top of that one.

Mr. Gundersen, thanks again.