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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 17, 2011, 11:00 A.M., P R O C E E D I N G S


OPERATOR:  Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Japan Nuclear Reactor Update.  At this time, all lines are in a listen-only mode.  Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will follow at that time.  If anyone should require assistance during the conference, you may press star, then zero, on your telephone. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.I would now like to turn the conference over to your host for today, Elliott Negin, Media Director for Union of Concerned Scientists.Please begin.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you.

Good morning, everyone, I'm the Media Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.Thanks so much for joining our call this morning. The Union of Concerned Scientists is an independent science-based advocacy group that has been a nuclear industry watchdog for 40 years.  We are not for or against nuclear power. Our goal is to ensure that the industry operates in the safest manner possible.

If we do not get to your question today, please email us at media@ucsusa.org.  We will respond as quickly as possible.  Please do not contact your experts directly.  We have been overwhelmed with requests for interviews, and unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to respond to everybody.

We have been hosting these telepressers daily at 11:00 a.m., and we will post a transcript and audio file of this press briefing on our website later today.

Now, a little housekeeping.  When asking a question, please state your name and news organization.  Please ask only one question and, if necessary, one follow-up.  And please mute your phone after you ask your question; otherwise, the noise from your typing will make it hard for everyone else to hear.

After the presentation today, we will have a Q&A, and let me just tell you who we have on the line today.  This morning, we will be hearing first from Dr. Edwin Lyman, who is a physicist in the UCS Global Security Program. Dr. Lyman is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation.  He will talk very briefly about the latest developments in Japan.

Dr. Lyman will be followed by the codirector of our Global Security Program, Dr. David Wright, whose last name is spelled W-R-I-G-H-T.  David Wright will present a statement written by the author of our new report, David Lochbaum, the Director of our Nuclear Safety Program.  Under normal circumstances, David Lochbaum would have presented his own findings, but he unfortunately is losing his voice from doing rounds of interviews this week.  So, David Wright is stepping in to present a statement written by Dave Lochbaum.

Dave Lochbaum, fortunately, is on the phone this morning and will do his very best to answer questions during the question-and-answer period.

Before I turn the line over to Dr. Edwin Lyman, I also want to note that we had made plans to write and release this report months before just what happened in Japan.  In fact, last Friday, we hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to present the top findings of this report to Congressional staff, the very same day the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

The report, which is the first of an annual series, is a snapshot of safety problems at U.S. nuclear plants last year and the NRC's response to them.  Given the heightened interest in nuclear power safety in the United States as a result of the events in Japan, we thought it was especially appropriate for us to keep to our planned schedule and release this information publicly this week.

Now, I give you Edwin Lyman, who will update us on the situation in Japan. Ed?

DR. LYMAN:  Good morning.Today, we face a continued crisis in the spent fuel pools in Reactors 3 and 4.  There is information about the current status of the partially molten reactor cores in 1, 2, and 3, but I don't think there's any indication that the situation has improved in those reactors. The spent fuel pools in Number 5 and 6 also report rising temperatures.

There were attempts yesterday to add more water to the pools of 3 and 4 using helicopters, using water cannons.  Everything I've seen have indicated those attempts have failed.  And so we may be faced with potential continued loss of coolant in most pools through evaporation and exposure of fuel and potential releases from the spent fuel pools as well.

What I want to focus on today is the NRC.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a recommendation to Americans living in Japan that they evacuate from the 50-mile radius around the Fukushima site.  This is based on dose estimates that the NRC has generated that are available on its website that show that even at 50 miles downwind, people could be exposed to radiation doses that would exceed what are known as the Environmental Protection Agency's Protective Action Guides.

These are EPA recommendations for evacuation after a radiological release, and they are a little uncertain.  Generally, if the dose -- projected dose would exceed one REM, which was 100 times the recommendation for exposure to the members of the public over the course of a year, they would recommend evacuation.

The NRC's calculations indicate that even at 50 miles out, this EPA Protection Guide Limit would be exceeded by a factor of ten.

Now, this is not a surprise.  We've -- UCS has done similar analysis dating back several years and have consistently found that a large radiological release from a reactor could cause significant hazard, requiring protective actions like evacuation or potassium iodide administration well beyond the ten-mile zone, which is currently the legal limit in the United States.
And so this data and information is not a surprise to us, but it is a surprise that the NRC is now saying the 50-mile evacuation is appropriate after -- or the -- given the potential for large radiological release, when back here in the United States, the regulations still require only protective actions to be planned for a ten-mile zone.

If, let's say, we had an accident of this magnitude in the United States, there would be no plans in place for evacuating beyond the ten-mile zone, and depending on the plant, the idea of a spontaneous, unplanned evacuation of a region of up to 50 miles around some nuclear plants, like the Indian Point Plant, which is only 25 miles from New York City, it's utterly unrealistic to expect there would be any kind of effective evacuation in that 50-mile zone.  So, the NRC should not be utilizing different standards for Americans abroad and Americans at home.

And I will stop there.  Thanks.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, Ed.
We will now hear from David Wright. David is the codirector of our Global Security Program.  David will be reading a statement that was written by the author of the report we're releasing today, Dave Lochbaum, who's the director of our Nuclear Safety Program.  I give you David Wright.


Transcript of statement regarding new UCS report on NRC (PDF)

 

Thank you.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, David Wright.
That was a statement that David Wright gave that was written by the author of the report, David Lochbaum.  The transcript of that statement will be available on our website shortly on our -- shortly today.

We now will open up the phones to questions.  Fielding questions this morning will be Dr. Edwin Lyman, Dave Lochbaum, and also joining the call is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change project manager, who worked in the utility industry for more than 25 years.

Do you want to tell people how they can get into the queue?

OPERATOR:  Absolutely.  Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, you may simply press star, then one, on your touchtone telephone.  If your question has been answered or you wish to remove yourself from the queue, you may press the pound key.

Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press star, then one, on your touchtone keypad.

MR. NEGIN:  Can I just interrupt for just one second?

I want to remind people to just ask one question and one follow-up, if necessary. Please state your name and news organization, and please mute your phone to -- as a courtesy so we don't hear your typing when you're asking your question.  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  It looks like our first Question.

REPORTER:  Yeah.  I'd like to ask since you -- you're well aware that Duke Energy, which owns the Oconee plant and had one of your near-misses, has proposed to buy Progress, which had four of them.  One of the arguments for this deal was that it would improve nuclear operations.
Do you have an opinion on whether it's good or bad or indifferent when nuclear ownership gets consolidated in this way?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

It's hard to predict what kind of results will come out of mergers like that. There have been several in the past.  Rather than try to predict forward what might happen, we rely on the NRC's reactor oversight process to accurately reflect what performance levels are.  If they trend upwards, that's great.  If they turn downwards for whatever reason, we want the reactor oversight process to step in and stem that decline and turn it around.  That's the best check against unexpected expectations coming out of mergers or problems of any other nature.

So, we -- we strive very hard to have the NRC's reactor oversight process to be a very effective indicator, litmus test, of what reactor safety levels are and try to detect problems as early as possible, again, regardless of what caused them.  The important thing is to flag them and fix them before they go to epidemic proportions.

OPERATOR: Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thanks again for doing these briefings.  They are enormously helpful.

Kind of following on the last question, focusing on the apparent trend here with Progress Energy and wondering if -- what do we know about that company's general track record, say, from years past?

I'm also wondering if you noticed any relationship between near-misses or other safety problems and the age of the facilities.  The H.B. Robinson one that you mentioned, for example, I think is a -- one of the older ones, approaching 40 years old, I think.

Thanks.


MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum again.

The first part of that question was what is the track record of the Progress Energy plants.  If you go back a long ways, to the late eighties, the Brunswick plant, which is one of the Progress Energy facilities, was shut down for longer than a year due to fixing a series of safety problems.  Once that time-out was over and the plant restarted, the Robinson plant, the Brunswick plant, the Crystal River plant and the Harris plant have all operated reasonably well; not at the very top, in fact, definitely not at the very bottom either.

This last year was a little bit of a surprise party for everybody.  If you had asked me in 2009 if I thought that was going to happen, I wouldn't have given it much credence. I don't think -- I'm sure the plant owner didn't, because they didn't want to make those kind of headlines and pay for those kind of repairs.

But I think, again, going back to sort of the first question, it's good that the NRC's looking into what caused those problems.  As a result of both events and the NRC's attention, there's been significant management changes at Progress Energy, and considerably more resources are being made available to fix these problems and also the factors that caused them.  So that's probably the silver lining in that, and that's what the NRC's role is, to induce those that don't heed the messenger or hear the message to get back on the right side of the line.

The second part of that question was about the aging-related.  We did look for common denominators, whether it was aging, plant owners, region of the country, type of reactors, municipal utilities versus privately owned.  We didn't identify any factors -- well, we definitely didn't identify aging as being a common denominator in the events.  The problem at H.B. Robinson was just a mistake, and they probably could have made that in their first or second year as well.

REPORTER:  All right.  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.  I noticed in the summary you said that some information -- some information was not made available to the public.  Can you comment on that?  And can you also compare this year's data to previous years' data?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The information that I mentioned was not being made available was information on what security problems those two facilities had.  In the old days, prior to 9/11, the NRC's letter would have said that the Springfield Nuclear Plant had some security problems in the area of access control or in the areas of weapons usage and control or in the area of defending ^  targets from potential.

Nowadays, with 9/11, the NRC doesn't want to send any signal to anybody wishing us harm as to what a potential vulnerability might be at facilities, and now they'll tell you that Springfield Nuclear Power Plant has a security problem, but they're withholding the nature of that problem.  So, that's what I was alluding to there.

And could you repeat again the second part of that question?  And I'll get to it.

REPORTER:  Sure.  Thanks.

This year, there were 14 near-misses. Could you talk a little bit about the last couple of years if this has gone up or down?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  We didn't actually do a trend like that.  We expect once we get going, we will try to draw a trend -- do any kind of trend analysis.  We didn't go back.  It's a little bit higher than the number of (inaudible), not far out of line, so it wasn't a particularly bad year.  Again, there were slightly more than (inaudible) had suggested, that, you know, all the wheels are falling off the cart.

OPERATOR:  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.  You haven't commented on kind of the root cause of plant managers, you know, ignoring or being reluctant to solve these problems when they're identified, and I was wondering if you could say something as to why that might be the case.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yeah, I think that's a good question.

Part of the reason we can't is we have -- the information that's publicly available is the NRC's inspection records, what their inspectors see and record when their tours are done, and also, we see the company's responses saying, here's what we did to fix your inspection findings or here's what we did to fix the roof and stuff like that.

We don't have access to the company's internal documents that kind of explain, you know, exactly why they would get into this trap. That information is almost always at the company level and not transmitted to the NRC.  So, we don't have access to that information.

However, in general, looking at past events -- and sometimes we are able to get the company's internal reports when something big happens, like Davis-Besse -- a common trap they fall into is what's called normalization of deviance.

We had the Calvert Cliffs plant that had rainwater leaking in over many, many months, almost two years prior to their big event, but when it happens first and doesn't cause a problem, you can get sucked in with the false belief that it will never get any worse, and because I've experienced it in the past, and it's been as annoying as all get-out, I don't have to do anything to fix it.

Again, it's annoying, but it's not mission-critical, doesn't cause a ^  scram, doesn't cause a safety problem.  Then all of a sudden you get a heavier rainfall than in the past or the roof leaks in a location that you didn't have before, then what used to be tolerated now becomes intolerable.  So, I think it's an easy trap to do.

These plant owners deal with a number of challenges, not just leaking roofs, and the better owners are able to prioritize what they need to fix.  So, they fix it before it bites them.  The owners that are having some problems are on the NRC's list here.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Please go ahead with your question.

REPORTER:  Thanks very much. 

I was wondering if you had any perspective -- and this might be for Dr. Lyman -- just on how things look today in Japan, what you see sort of as the end game, looking ahead, most likely, how this is looking like it's going to turn out, the way things are going now.

MR. NEGIN:  Please unmute his line, please.

OPERATOR:  Sure, one moment.  Your line is reopened.

DR. LYMAN:  Okay.

The Japanese have been characterizing themselves what they're doing with regard to the emergency.  The attempt to put more water in the spent fuel pools is a desperate and last-ditch attempt.  So, I think all the signs are -- I mean, if their own conclusion is they're last-ditch attempts, if these fail, I think they're out of tricks.

There were reports that they were going to try to establish -- reestablish offsite power to the electric pumps, and I haven't heard any update on that status.  So, all indications are that the crisis is still unfolding.

It is quite amazing, I think, that they have been able to sustain the situation this long without having larger radiological releases than have been reported.  I think these efforts are heroic, but, you know, radiation levels are only going to continue to increase and continue to make the challenges of getting personnel close enough to carry out actions even greater. So, I think there's still a considerable cause for concern in the world.

The fact that the State Department is now providing airlifts for Americans who want to leave Japan, these are indications, I think, of the concern authorities have.

OPERATOR:  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hey, I'll ask Dave this first, because I know his voice is going, and then I've got one for Ed.

But I'm wondering, since you've focused on near-misses in your report, was the rapid deterioration of Davis-Besse's replacement head considered a near-miss or -- it's material -- a serious case of material degradation, but do you consider that a near-miss, and if so, why not -- or why or why not?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Thanks for asking that question, because I wanted to clarify one thing. We didn't -- we didn't apply the near-miss label, so it's not our estimation of risk ^ . What we did is any time the NRC dispatches a special inspection team or an augmented inspection team to a site to look at an event that occurred or a degraded condition that was discovered, then that was our threshold.  When the NRC determined it rose to that level, we are going to look at it and see what we could learn from it.

In that light, they did send a team to Davis-Besse to look at this Davis-Besse degradation ^  dejavu, so that it was summarized on the report, because the NRC did send a special inspection team out to look at that event.

REPORTER:  Okay.  And the other thing I was going to ask Ed was, I know it's early -- too early for lessons learned, of course, but do you have -- the fact that the NRC -- and maybe you can just expand a little bit on what you said.  The fact that they are recommending a 50-mile radius, how could they justify not recommending a 50-mile radius in the United States, and wouldn't that change virtually every emergency -- well, it would change every emergency plan, but here in the Toledo area, I mean, you're talking about the difference of whether you include Metropolitan Toledo or not in the evacuation of Davis-Besse, or ^ , too, for that matter.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, this is Ed.  Can you hear me?

REPORTER:  Yeah.  I would imagine there are many other areas, metropolitan areas, not just New York, but other cities would be included in evacuation plans.

DR. LYMAN:  Yes, you're absolutely right, and I think this is -- you're going to have to ask the NRC that question, because we've been advocating for quite some time that they need to look at expanded emergency evacuation zones; ever since I ran the NRC's codes to study the potential impact of the severe accident, saw what the potential doses could be 60 or even 100 miles away.  So, it's astounding and shocking.

And, I mean, we're in a situation now where even the Obama Administration has not reversed the Bush Administration's decision that would allow provision of potassium iodide tablets to 20 miles away as opposed to 10 miles away.  That's been in abeyance for eight years, an actual law that was passed, but it's been waived.  So, I mean, the level of complacency here at home is appalling.

And when I heard the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying that we're just doing the same in Japan as we do here at home, I couldn't believe he was saying that. So, this contradiction is going to need to be resolved.  I suspect their answer is going to be our plants are much safer and we're not going to have to worry about it, but the point is if you wait until after the event occurs to suddenly say we're going to have an unplanned, spontaneous evacuation of an additional -- you know, from 10 to 50 miles, that would include large metropolitan areas, we're going to have panic and chaos.  So, they're going to have to get their act together.

REPORTER:  Well, the point is here,  recently -- recently and throughout the hearings
that were going on with the Davis-Besse debacle from a few years ago, there's always been almost an indifference to people outside of the home county.

I mean, I -- I mean, I had a hallway chat with somebody from the NRC who -- recently who said -- you know, was making some comment about the -- you know, the support they get from ^  Ottawa County, which is the local county for Davis-Besse.  And, you know, my point was, well, if you have a -- if you live downwind in Cleveland, you can see why the plan was -- or west of the plant in Toledo or closer to it, I don't understand how the -- and then they kind of backed down a little and said, well, they don't give more weight to people's comments who live next-door.

You know, and throughout the hearings, the people would say, you know, I'm from Ottawa County, therefore, listen to me; don't listen to these people from -- you know, these activists from Cleveland or these people from Toledo.

Doesn't that almost, like, you know,
blow away a lot of those -- you know, kind of the -- that -- that home advantage that some of the locals within the immediate vicinity claiming to have more credibility because they live closest to the plant if you're going to, you know, really honestly look at the effect being 50 miles out?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, there's a larger issue here, and that's the fact that the impacts of nuclear power could be felt in a much larger area, you know, in fact, globally, yet benefits accrue maybe locally, and -- and that's why greater -- you know, internationalization, greater national attention to this problem needs to be addressed.

I mean, you have, you know, nuclear plants that are on the border of one state, and there are different policies in place, you know, with regards to potassium iodide distribution, which side of the border you're on, and it makes no sense.  So, I agree with you.

OPERATOR:  Go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi, thank you.

I was wondering if anyone can tell us about the -- tell us about the licensing process in the Commission.  Are they strict enough in renewing these licenses?  Do they have -- these safety problems, have they prevented any renewal of licenses?

And, for instance, I can think of the license of Vermont Yankee, where the state had decided to close it down, and it was apparently renewed.  Can you address this issue of the licenses?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Hi, this is David Lochbaum.

The NRC has so far approved every license requested that it has reviewed, 62 for 62 so far, and about another 20 in the queue. That sounds almost like a rubber-stamping, but to be fair, the NRC is not -- that's not what's going on.

The NRC's license renewal process is very narrowly crafted to be just how well the owners are looking at aging management issues, how well they monitor the condition of piping and walls and things like that, and either replace or repair things before safety margins are compromised.

Many of the other issues that are being contested at nuclear power plants, like whether the plants will survive airline impacts, whether there's sufficient storage for spent fuel, waste disposal issues, the NRC has in the past carved out of their purview.  So, with their narrow focus, it's easy for them to come to a decision that things are okay.

We for many years have said that what they do is okay, but what they do is not enough, and what the NRC should do to expand that and get it right would be to also look at the aging of the regulations themselves.

Vermont Yankee and many other nuclear power plants in the United States do not meet today's safety regulations.  The reason for that is when a new safety regulation came about, either as a result of the Three Mile Island accident, the Chernobyl accident, or other discoveries that don't rise to the accident level, the NRC will develop a new regulation to
  protect against that thing from occurring again in the future.

Many of the old plants in the United -- [off mic].

MR. NEGIN:  Hello?

OPERATOR:  We're still connected.  I believe he either lost his connection or muted himself.

REPORTER:  Hello?

MR. NEGIN:  We will get David back on the line as soon as we can.  I'm sorry for the technical difficulties.

REPORTER:  Oh, okay.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  This question is for Ed, and thank you very much for doing these calls, because they're really helpful. Ed, is there anything else they can do at Fukushima 1?  And if there is nothing else, how long before we see a major release of radioactivity and how long could that major release of radioactivity go on?

DR. LYMAN:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

MR. NEGIN:  Yes.

OPERATOR:  We can hear you.

DR. LYMAN:  You know, I mean, the measures -- as long as they can keep carrying out the jerry-rig measures that they're carrying out, I think with regard to the reactor cores, they may be able to, you know, continue or prolong the situation, but I think the issue with the spent fuel pools is that their efforts to refill them so far seem to have been unsuccessful, and then it could only be a matter of days if they stop any attempt at refilling.

And I hope Dave's on the line.  He may have another insight.

But I think it's extraordinary that
  they have managed to, like I said before, keep situation where it is now, but, you know, each time they have to vent them, they're going to increase the radiation levels and I think the -- you know, the challenge to the health of the workers.  So, you know, it's hard to predict, because I'm surprised that they have managed to keep things where they are to this point.

So, maybe I'm too pessimistic and the wrong person to ask that question, but, you know, I think a few more days, we'll really know what's going to happen.

REPORTER:  Ed, and then if -- if it -- if they can't replenish those spent fuel pools and we do start to see a meltdown, how long could radiation be put into the environment?  Is this a one-time event or is it something that could go on and on and on?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, I think the type of radiation that would be emitted to the environment, so things that would be released first would be those fission products that are in gaseous form, like cesium, and I think prolonged heating would drive most of the cesium out of the fuel and into the environment.

Another troubling thing, if you have degradation of spent fuel and air, is that the uranium dioxide -- and I'm going to get technical here for a second -- is not stable and it can get oxidized, and if you oxidize the pellets themselves, then they will expand and essentially crumble, and then you have the potential for particulate matter, in other words, the uranium fuel itself, that has other fission products that are not generally that volatile.  So, if you have degradation of spent fuel in air, you could have additional radioactive emissions that would change the calculations to some extent.

But, you know, I can't say how -- generally, the volatiles, I think, would be gone within a matter of hours, and particulate matter would probably remain mostly in the pool, and they would probably need to try to get a cover over that, as -- you know, as we saw in Chernobyl, to prevent any more distribution of the fuel particles themselves.

But once -- you know, cesium has a 30-year half-life.  So, once it's distributed in the environment, you need a -- it has to be remediated, which is an expensive proposition, and it's, again, the cesium 137 that's primarily responsible for why the areas around Chernobyl in the exclusion zone are places not you or I would want to live.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Oh, excuse me.  Hi.

Just following up on that a little, I wondered if I could ask two related questions, seeing if there are any links to what's happening in Japan.One is, could I ask you, Ed, about whether the pools -- you mentioned they're more filled in the United States than the ones at Fukushima, but are they also covered in the ^ attic in the same way?

And secondly, were any of the near-misses that you-all wrote about in the report Mark I reactors and are there any links in that respect?

Thank you.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, I'll address the first part and then the second.

There are about 30 boiling water reactors in the United States that have elevated spent fuel pools out of the, you know, 60-odd plants that we have, but even those plants that are at ground level or slightly below grade, which is the case in most pressurized water reactors, which are the majority of the plants in the United States, those don't have significantly greater containment, although they are at ground level or slightly below ground level, but that may rule out certain ways that those pools could lose water, depending on their location, but should they lose water, again, they're not in the containment building, and so there would be communication or release to the environment even in a pressurized water reactor.

It's also a misnomer to think -- I think some spent fuel pools, even if they're at
ground level, there are areas below.  They are not embedded in the earth.  And so there is still potential for leakage from those pools if there were damage to the thick concrete walls or floor.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  And this is Dave Lochbaum.

The second part of that question, one of the near-misses last year occurred at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant in North Carolina.  It's a Mark I containment similar to that in Japan, but the event itself, while it involved an actual emergency condition, was not really a factor.  The containment design wasn't really a factor.

What had happened is that they had to declare an emergency at the plant, and it occurred during off normal hours, and so the emergency plan had them -- directed them to call in workers at home to staff up all the response centers that were -- that needed to handle that event.

They'd put in a -- apparently put in a fairly new system that automatically notified people, but nobody knew how to turn it on.  So, it took them twice as long to staff up those response centers, because they -- it took them well over an hour to figure out how to turn on the call-in system.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Good morning. And I hope you're feeling better, David.

Ed and David, whoever feels comfortable with it, I'm curious about the rationale for the ten-mile limit for emergency planning.  There were extensive reviews of that in the New York area, and the state hired ^  James Wood, who concluded that the existing plan won't work, primarily because everybody else in the region is going to be self-evacuating.

And I was wondering if you could talk about how this ten-mile limit came about and why the industry, in speeches, gives false and the distinct impression that contaminants can't travel any further than that.

DR. LYMAN:  Hi, this is Ed.  I can start off.  Can you hear me?

REPORTER:  Yes.

DR. LYMAN:  Okay. 

The ten-mile limit was set originally to protect people from acute radiation effects; that is, doses that are so high that you would have the potential for acute radiation syndrome, which is a -- an early onset and potentially life-threatening illness, or other severe effects from high doses of radiation that actually kill cells as opposed to just damaging their DNA.  And that -- you go back to the original planning basis for the emergency planning zones, that was the goal.

The goal was never to protect people from exposure that might increase their risk of cancer, without causing immediate effects, and so that is the origin of the ten-mile zone.  The only exception to that is the later addition of the potassium iodide requirement, which came much later than that original planning in the late seventies.  Potassium iodide is designed to protect against cancer, but only one type of cancer, and, again, that's only for ten miles.

So, you know, it was never the intent to protect people from doses on the order of 10, 20, even 50 REM, where you might not have acute effects, but would have a significantly increased risk of cancer.

OPERATOR:  The next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks. 

I'm just wondering if you have any -- UCS has any concerns about the -- and you may have addressed part of this with the spent fuel pools, but if you have any concerns about the spent fuel stored at plant sites all around the country, the lack of a national solution for long-term storage, and whether the current events in Japan are causing any reconsideration of your views on that.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed.  I can take a crack at that.

I think it's a separate issue what to do with spent fuel with regard to centralization or final disposal.  Our position is that we do need a geologic repository.  We don't know what that is and where it should be.  All we know is that the process for choosing it has to be much better than the overtly political process that was -- influenced the choice of Yucca Mountain, but to deal with the acute crisis in the spent
  fuel storage that we have here, which is namely that most of our spent fuel pools are filled to really beyond the capacity where cooling can be assured in the event of a serious loss or a rapid release of coolant from those pools, thatan be mitigated on-site through procurement of dry casks and simply thinning out the pools.

So, we don't have to make a decision about the national spent fuel policy to begin addressing those.  That would just depend on the expense, which is not that great, of spent fuel cask -- dry cask procurement.  So, it's important to keep those two separate, I think.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, hi.  I wonder – you know, the industry has applied for a -- I forget exactly how many new reactors, but there are a new generation of construction that the -- Westinghouse, for instance, touts these designs as 100 times safer than the current NRC regs.  I wonder -- and yet, you know, we have a lot of environmental groups opposing construction of new plants, which would leave, you know, 40-year-old ones operating.

Can you talk about if the -- these new designs, if they might have prevented some of the things that happened in Japan, and if they are, indeed, safer?

DR. LYMAN:  We don't believe that -- there may be some superficial areas where there might be improvements, but overall, I don't think any of the new plant designs that are seriously being considered here, with the possible exception of the Areva EPR, but we come to that with a lot of caveats.

We don't think new plant designs are significantly safer than current ones, and, in fact, it's NRC's policy that new designs do not have to be safer than current ones.  Their recommendation is they should be, and we want them to be, but current plants are safe enough, so the new ones don't have to be any safer.  We think that's a misguided policy.

But with regard to numbers showing that the risk of an accident is only -- is a hundred times lower than current plants, those typically only are true if you address what are called internal events; that is, events where there's a pipe break or an equipment failure that occurs spontaneously in the plant.  Those do not typically include external events, like earthquakes.

In fact, there are very few, if any, what are called seismic probabilistic risk assessments for the new plants that would put earthquake risk in the same terms as the other risks.

So, I -- there's evidence that if plants -- even new plants were to do that, then those earthquake risks would be much, much greater than these internal event risks, so the overall risk is not going to be any different.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll just add a little bit to that.

Looking at the designs as they were developed, any time somebody came out with some way to reduce the likelihood of an accident, the -- they traded that off by making the containment walls thinner, or if the chances of an accident smaller, I can spend less on defending against that accident should it occur, because it's less likely it will occur.

So, the overall risk, which is probability of an accident times its consequences, pretty much stayed the same.  You lessened the likelihood of an accident, but you increased the consequences, how many people are hurt, should it occur.  So, the new reactors are really at the same risk as existing reactors.

Backing that up is that the Westinghouse and the other plant owners or reactor vendors would not sell their products unless the Federal Government extended federal liability protection under the Price-Anderson Act for new reactors.  If Westinghouse truly thought that the new reactors were safer, then it should be able to go down and get its own liability insurance from State Farm or whoever, but they still rely on federal liability protection to cover their marketing slogans.

MR. NEGIN:  Next.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you. 

This goes back to the situation in Japan.  I'm still trying to get a handle on as to what could happen as they continue to fail to cool these reactors because of the high radiation levels.  I mean, is it -- is it possible that we could see a loss of containment, and if so, could -- could they end up with contaminated groundwater?

Are there any estimates as to how much contamination and how wide an area of contamination they might see there?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed.

There's already been a reported breach of contaminant in the Unit 2 reactor.

REPORTER:  Okay.

DR. LYMAN:  Now, that has not yet translated into the kinds of radiation levels that you would expect if that were a really significant breach and there were already a large amount of radioactive material that's escaped from the fuel.  At least the last numbers I saw, I think radiation levels in that case would really skyrocket, but it is a serious concern if fuel continues to degrade in Unit Number 2.

The consequences of a containment breach in any of the reactors would be -- actually, it would vent, because a lot of the fission products are gaseous, and they're hot, and so if there were a breach in the containment, those gases would vent in a plume to the atmosphere.  So, it would be far greater than just contamination of groundwater.

Contamination of groundwater would be an after-effect when the plume settled down, and the surface water, and also the -- you know, the fission products -- the products on the ground could eventually make their way into groundwater, but, you know, you would have a variety of exposure pathways.

And I would just point to the NRC's own calculations that are on their website thatindicate, you know, significant doses downwind 50 miles.  I would say that you could also expect, you know, sporadic areas of contamination even further away than that.  So, we're talking about a zone which would be at least 50 miles downwind, possibly even more.

REPORTER:  How long would an area like that likely remain contaminated?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, as we've seen in
 Chernobyl, if you don't spend the money that it would take to actually remediate, then some fission products would be very hard to remove, and the half-life of one isotope, cesium 137, is 30 years, meaning it persists in the environment really for several hundred years.  And so it really ends up as a decision whether it's more cost-effective to remediate land or to condemn it.

And, you know, in the case of the Ukraine, they decided really to condemn that exclusion zone, and dose rates there today are still unacceptable for habitation, even though there are some people who are living there.  So, you could expect some areas that -- again, depending on the amount of money one wanted to spend, could remain inaccessible for a hundred years or more.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, hi.  Thank you.

I just wondered, in watching all this media coverage of what's going on in Japan, if there's been any of the reporting, just in general or any specifics you've seen, that you've been disturbed by, anything that's been particularly misleading or you think distracting from what -- what really should be the focus.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

From the media reports I've seen, both in TV, radio, and news, I -- there has been some variation here or there that's not unexpected. I think the biggest problem has been the spigot, you know, the faucet's turned off.  There's not much information coming out of the company or the Japanese Government, and with a very little amount of data out there, people are having to fill in the blanks, and that's -- that's the challenge.

So, I don't think -- I think the blame or the -- not the blame, the reason for it lies with the lack -- just a -- just sheer lack of information out there, rather than people are connecting the dots in the wrong way.  I think -- anyway, that's the way I look at the thing.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thanks for doing these calls.

I actually wanted to follow up back before when Dave got cut off.  Going back to this question of the relicensing process and sort of new regulations that may come into effect about how those new NRC rules or regulations -- I mean, are they retroactively applied, like all plants have to come into compliance with those, or would these only apply to new plants that are getting new licenses?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yeah, thanks for the opportunity to go back and finish off that question.

The way it works is when a new regulation comes out, the NRC does an analysis of whether it should be applied retroactively or whether certain plants should be exempted or grandfathered from the new regulation, and sometimes regulations, like the 9/11 ones, apply to everybody, regardless of plant age and plant condition, but sometimes regulations apply to some and not to others.

Frequently, that -- the difference between it is based on economics.  A plant may only be scheduled to run for eight more years. The cost of coming into compliance with the new regulation that you only meet for, at most, eight more years is thought to be too high, so you're grandfathered or exempted from the regulation.

What we would like the NRC to do is if they are looking at renewing a license for 20 more years, go back and look at all those exemptions and grandfathered cases and waivers and redo the analysis.  Instead of for eight years, it's now for 28 years.  If the answer is still the same, fine.  If the answer is not, then ask the owner to, you know, meet the new regulation or do something different so that the public is afforded an equal level of protection.

That seems like a simple thing, but the NRC to date hasn't done that in nose 62 approvals, and the rest that are scheduled to go through.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  I've got a quick question on the spent fuel pools again.

I'm trying to understand the sequence of events that would lead to a high amount of radiation coming off of them or a fire.  Do you have to get down to where the rods -- the spent fuel rods are actually exposed to air to start emitting high levels of radioactivity, while there's still water above it, and at what point would you actually have a fire?

DR. LYMAN:  I can take that.

I think there's no significant chance of overheating until the rods are uncovered, but once the water level drops below the tops of the rods, then the ^  will heat up, and the first stage is that the fuel cladding, made of zirconium, as the temperature gets elevated, starts reacting with air and with water vapor and starts to oxidize and releases more heat in that process, causing further heat-up.

And so the gas within the fuel will start to heat up as well, ^  pressure will increase, and the rods will balloon and eventually rupture.  And that occurs before the fuel pellets themselves actually start to melt. That occurs at a lower temperature.  And then there is some radioactivity within that space between the rods and the cladding that will be released first, but then it would take some further period of time for the fuel itself to start to melt.

And as it heats up, ^  diffusion of certain fission products increases, so you have a steady increase in the release of certain fission products, like cesium from fuel, before there's large-scale melting.  I don't have a clear sense of the timing of this.  You know, it's highly dependent on the -- on the conditions, but -- you know, there have been experiments that do demonstrate a significant release of cesium from the fuel before enlarge-scale melting occurs.

REPORTER:  Okay.  But it has to be exposed to the atmosphere before that will happen.  It has to be exposed to air.

DR. LYMAN:  I believe that process -- well, oxidation wouldn't occur until there was actually air in contact, yes.

REPORTER:  Thanks a lot.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Again, let me thank – add my thanks to you gentlemen.  I know you-all have been working hard, and we appreciate your help. This is probably for Ed.

Can you tell me if any of the fuel, either in the reactor vessels or in the spent fuel pools, particularly those pools that now are exposed and are being bombarded with water, contain MOX?  There is some indication that there is some MOX fuel somewhere on that site.

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.  There is no MOX in the spent fuel pools, because of the one reactor that has MOX fuel, which is Number 3, that was the MOX was loaded in September 2010.

REPORTER:  Ah.

DR. LYMAN:  I believe it was probably kept in the spent fuel pool before that for ten years.  It was sitting there for ten years because the Japanese couldn't get the necessary approvals to actually use it, and I'm not sure, but the current practice is typically to store unradiated MOX fuel in the spent fuel pools because the radiation barrier from the other assemblies provides some physical protection.

MOX  contains plutonium, and plutonium is a ^  material that requires a greater level of security.  So, my guess is that the MOX was probably in the spent fuel pool since September, and ironically, it may be better off in the reactor at this point.  But it is a concern wherever it is, because there's several hundred kilograms of plutonium in that MOX fuel, and -- which wouldn't actually be present -- well, it would probably double the amount of plutonium that's actually in the reactor.

REPORTER:  And could you remind us of the condition of Reactor 3?  Is that one where there's concerns that the containment vessel may be breached?

DR. LYMAN:  There's no evidence the containment vessel was breached, but Reactor 3 -- or at least the primary containment. Reactor 3 had a hydrogen explosion that affected the reactor building and so-called secondary containment, which has a significant containment function anyway, but no indication yet that the primary containment was breached.

I haven't seen any estimates of the fuel damage of Reactor Number 3.  Although there are Japanese reports that 1 and 2 have significant levels of damage, I haven't seen a similar number for 3.

REPORTER:  All right.  Thank you, Ed.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, thank you.  Just a couple of questions.

One was, there was a reference recently to the dry cask storage, and, of course, we have dry casks here in Maine, but there's been some concern -- from the former Maine Yankee plant, that there are concerns about the safety of that and what might happen.  I wonder if you first could address -- someone could address sort of the relatively safety of dry cask storage of spent fuel.

And secondly, there have been a lot of reports in which the industry has been saying that U.S. plants are built to withstand a earthquake magnitude 6.5, and so we're not -- you know, which is worse -- beyond the worst case scenario.  I wonder if someone could address the accuracy of that assessment.  Thank you.

DR. LYMAN:  Dave, I can take this if you want me to.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Go ahead, Ed.  Thanks. I appreciate it.

DR. LYMAN:  With regard to dry cask storage, there is -- of course, there is risk associated with spent fuel in various conditions, but dry casks have certain safety advantages compared to wet pool storage.  So, certainly in a relative sense, moving spent fuel to dry cask, when it's cool enough to do so, would result in a reduced safety burden.

Each cask holds much less fuel than a spent fuel pool, so you would have to breach a multiple casks to get the kind of radiation release that you might get in a single kind of spent fuel pool accident.  So, it does confer some advantages.

There are concerns primarily about security of spent fuel in dry casks, because they are not invulnerable to certain types of terrorist attacks, and this is actually an issue that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is dealing with right now, because there is some evidence there that's been reported on that certain types of weaponry could actually lead to release of dry cask fuels under current guidelines, and so they may -- they're considering strengthening security regulations for dry casks.

But that has to -- in the current context, there has to be regarded as a secondary instrument, and so our recommendation here is to -- that there would be a significant risk reduction by cleaning out the spent fuel pools, employing dry casks, and I think that's being borne out by what we're seeing in Japan.

With regard to the second question, I think it's -- it is an accurate -- I believe, accurate today, the only licensed seismic conditions typically of the site and certain, you know, safety margin, but it's site-dependent, so I don't think there's one uniform standard on that.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

I just want to point out in our report that we released today, one of the bad marks that we identified for the NRC was -- involved a
  seismic issue at the Indian Point Plant.  That plant in its original license application had promised to have a leak-tight steel liner for the refilling cavity to prevent leakage in case of an earthquake.

Since 1993, it's been known that that leak-tight membrane leaks every time they fill it with water, but neither the company nor the NRC have fixed it.  So, promising to protect against seismic events doesn't provide protection against seismic events.  It's actually doing what you say you do that provides the protection.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi, Ed.  I've got a couple of questions about the spent fuel pools.

I think earlier in this week you guys said that there was roughly a little more than 200 tons of spent fuel in three of the reactor spent fuel pools.  I was wondering if you have any update on exactly what's there in each of the six reactor spent fuel pools.

And it doesn't seem -- second, it doesn't seem like the amount that you said early in the week would represent the full 40-year production of spent fuel at Fukushima.

And three, if that's true, if they sent that somewhere for reprocessing, because I know Japan reprocesses it.

And four -- and I'll just get all my questions out of the way -- you had indicated that even at the 50-mile or the NRC has said even at the 50-mile exclusion or evacuation zone, radiation levels would be at about 10 REM, which is way above their one REM standard.  So, should they be advising American standards to move even further away than 50 miles if they really want to protect their health?

Those are all my questions.

DR. LYMAN:  Okay, thanks.

With regard to the spent fuel, there are pretty good numbers now on the inventories in the pools.  I don't have it in front of me, but they are generally below 100 tons.  I think 3 and 4 have -- yeah, they're roughly around 100, a little more.  And these are below the capacity of the pools and much lower than the amount of fuel in typical U.S. pools.  And the reason for that is the Japanese, for over 20 years, did ship spent fuel abroad for reprocessing.

In exchange, they had to take back high-level waste and some of the plutonium that was generated in that high-level waste went to storage in the facility in the north, called row cash show.  So, spent fuel is not continuously piling up at those plants.

Now, they stopped shipping them abroad a few years ago, and they have a couple of interim storage facilities, which they're now using.  One is a large spent fuel pool at row cash show, and there's also a consolidated spent fuel pool at Fukushima, which is separated from the six reactors, which has a fairly large inventory of fuel in it.  I have not heard that that -- the integrity of that pool has been compromised in any way.

With regard to the 50-mile, yes, I would think that, according to EPA Protective Action Guides and the worst case accident, that they would be exceeding further than 50 miles, consistent with my own calculations.

REPORTER:  Okay, just if you have the time, can you just give me the tonnage figures for each of those spent fuel pools?

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, I'll send those to you.

REPORTER:  Okay, great.  Appreciate it, Ed.  Thank you very much.

MR. NEGIN:  We can only take a couple more questions.  We have to wrap up.

OPERATOR:  Okay, we have two in queue.

MR. NEGIN:  We will take two more questioners, and that's it.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, and thanks very much.

Going back to the report, it had asked about the uneven performance by the NRC that you described, do you conclude that some regional offices are more diligent than others or possibly some inspectors are more diligent or is it a question of the NRC is more reluctant to make changes the more expensive the problems are to solve?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  That's a good question, because we didn't --

MR. NEGIN:  Peter, please mute your phone.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  We did notice that the three positive outcomes that we identified, none of those occurred in NRC Region I, yet all three of the bud outcomes that we identified all occurred in Region -- NRC Region I, which is the Northeast.  At the moment, we just pointed that out.  We didn't try to say that that was because Region I is somehow inferior or different -- operates differently than the other regions.

This year was our first year of the report.  We only had one data point.  It's really dangerous to extrapolate from one data point.  So, we're trying to avoid that.  It is definitely something on our radar screen to see if it follows up next year as well and in succeeding years.  But at the moment, it's a curiosity, it's an observation, but we're not going to draw tremendous conclusions from it.

One of the things we're -- we would like to encourage is that the NRC starts competing against itself to get the positive outcomes next year and in succeeding years and tries not to become the things that we point out as bad things next year.  It sure would be great if the NRC took it in that vein and tried to -- competed for our cue doze list.  That would -- that would be a good thing for everybody.

MR. NEGIN:  One last question, please.

OPERATOR:  Our final question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, just real quick on the spent fuel pool dry cask storage issue.  It seems like there's a lot of ways people could go with this.  I know, Dave, you've talked before about putting -- putting more of the spent fuel as a precaution in the dry cask, but then there's -- there's a terrorism risk there.  A retired engineer has told me you could potentially have a dirty bomb by somebody crashing into the -- you know, the storage pad outdoors and having the jet fuel put the -- you know, the outdoor volts on fire.

Is this an argument?  Do you feel -- you know, trying to -- trying to mitigate the potential for a disaster by reducing the waste in the spent fuel, is it an argument for or against reprocessing?  Is it an argument for a Yucca Mile or a Yucca-style repository?  Is it an argument for no more nukes?  I mean, there -- it's -- it's a classic anymore by issue, and you can kind of look at it a lot of different ways, I think.

DR. LYMAN:  I can take that, if you like.


 Again, I think the key issue on -- clearly, you can't ignore the vulnerability completely by moving to dry casks, and we think current dry cask storage could be enhanced, rather than leaving dry casks sitting on an open air or concrete pad, that there are additional safeguards that might increase the cost, and to some extent, that would be prudent, but I do think that there would be significant risk reduction by accelerating the dry casks, and in the long run, sure, you don't want to have spent fuel sitting around at that point, you know, in facilities that require some level of maintenance, and our policy is that there will need to be a repository.  Reprocessing won't help -- in fact, it makes things worse by not only ending up with a whole lot of high-level waste that also requires geologic disposal, but you generate all sorts of other types of waste as well, and you also separate plutonium, so you increase the proliferation risk, in exchange for not doing anything, the nuclear waste risk.  The potential consequences of the effects of plutonium by terrorists, with nuclear bombs, would be worse than even what we're seeing in Fukushima.  So, reprocessing is not the answer, but, again, it -- I would -- I think -- what we're thinking now illustrates an acute public health risk to have central storage pools and the other issues are really secondary.

MR. NEGIN:  Okay.  Well, thank you very much for participating in our phone call this morning.  We will be back tomorrow at 11:00 in the morning to discuss the developments in Japan overnight, and if you have any other questions, please direct them to media@ucsusa.org, and we will respond as quickly as we can.

Thank you very much, everybody.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your participation in today's conference.  This does conclude the conference.  You may now disconnect.  Good day.

(Whereupon, the telepress conference was concluded.)
 

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