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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 15, 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 participants are in listen-only mode. Later today, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will follow at that time. Finally, as a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. Now, I would like to introduce the host for today's conference, Elliott Negin.

MR. NEGIN: Thank you, Daniel. Good morning. I'm Elliott Negin. I'm the Media Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and thanks for joining our call this morning. The Union of Concerned Scientists is an independent, science-based advocacy group that has been watchdogging the nuclear power industry for 40 years. We are not for or against nuclear power. Our goal always has been to ensure that the industry operates in the safest manner possible. We plan to host these telepressors daily at 11:00 a.m., and we will confirm that every morning with an advisory that we will email you.

We have been overwhelmed with the requests over the last few days for interviews, and unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to honor all requests. If you have followup questions after this telepressor, please email us at media@ucsusa.org -- that's media@ucsusa.org -- and we will respond to your questions as soon as it's possible. We will also post MP3 tapes of this press conference, as well as an edited transcript, on our homepage as soon as we can.

This morning, we will hear from three of our nuclear experts, and then we will open the phones to your questions.

Our first speaker is David Lochbaum, the Director of our Nuclear Safety Program. Dave is a nuclear engineer, and he has worked at U.S. nuclear plants for 17 years. Three of those plants were similar to the General Electric plants in Japan. He also has trained nuclear industry staff to manage reactors for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Our second speaker is Dr. Edwin Lyman, who is a physicist with the UCS Global Security Program. Edwin is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation.

Finally, our third speaker is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change project manager. Before coming to UCS, Ellen worked for the electric utility industry for more than 25 years.

Now, I give you David Lochbaum.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Elliott. Good morning. The conditions in Japan were bad yesterday and seem to have gotten worse since then. Since yesterday's telepressor there have been accounts of a containment breach on the Unit 2 reactor. There was reports of an explosion and reports that the containment vessel had been breached. The indications of the breach were that the pressure inside containment could no longer be maintained, the pressure was decaying, which is indicative of that material going somewhere, most likely through a breach.

The reports indicated that the breach or the containment problem was in the pressure suppression chamber area. That's also called the torus in that type of reactor design. That primary containment features what looks like an inverted light bulb, called a dry well, which kind of sits within a large torus called the pressure suppression chamber. Collectively, they perform the primary containment that surrounds the reactor vessel housing the nuclear fuel.

There are also reports of fuel damage, and if so, collectively, the fuel damage, which has released radioactive material in the primary containment, coupled with the primary containment breach, provides a pathway for radioactivity to reach the environment.

In addition, there have been reports over the last day that the spent fuel pool temperatures in Units 4, 5, and 6 are rising, and those reactors were not running at the time of the earthquake, but their spent fuel pools had irradiated fuel in them. The spent fuel pools are located outside primary containment but within a secondary structure called secondary containment.

These fuel assemblies are in large concrete swimming pools where water must be circulated to remove the heat that they continue to generate. There are accounts that they are having difficulties pooling those three spent fuel pools, and they need to regain control of that or, as a minimum, need to be able to replace the water that may be evaporating or boiling away to prevent the water from dropping below the level for irradiated fuel in the bottom of those spent fuel pools, to prevent their damage from overheating as well. So, there was a list of challenges facing workers yesterday; that list only seems to have grown larger since then.

Thank you, Elliott.

MR. NEGIN: Our next speaker is Dr. Edwin Lyman.

DR. LYMAN: If I could comment briefly that the impacts of the dose rates that have been seen outside of the plants and downwind, last night, it was reported that a dose rate of as high as 40 REM per hour was observed near the Unit 3.

Now, to put that into perspective, acute radiation syndrome effects would probably show up after about 100 REM of absorption, which would mean about 2 1/2 hours at that particular rate. That's the highest rate that's been seen. That was temporary, that has gone down, but the levels are still on the order of tens of thousands of times background near the site boundary.

It's also been reported that elevated radiation levels have been detected as far away as Tokyo, you know, over 100 miles away from the site and not exactly in the direction of the primary prevailing winds. And there are continued reports of exposure to U.S. military personnel offshore.

These are troubling developments, but they do -- they are not unexpected, but they do demonstrate the mobility of the fission products that are being released from the site and their ability to travel large distances downwind, as we had previously anticipated, and should there be further degradation toward a core melt and breach of reactor vessel in any of the affected units, or a large-scale spent fuel fire in one of those affected units, you can see that those rates, which are already high and elevated in Tokyo, might even be considerably greater.

I would estimate far less than 1 percent of the radioactive inventory at the site has actually been released to the atmosphere, and we can expect an increase by a factor of ten or more should there be a core melt or container breach.

One other comment I'd like to make is the impact of radiation on the workers. I believe that most nonessential workers were sent away from the site. I'm very concerned that the ongoing activities may become more and more challenging if radiation levels continue to increase for the workers who are engaged in manual action at the site, and I don't know, if there had to be an evacuation of all workers, if the jerry-rigged cooling that they now have could be maintained. Perhaps Dave has a comment on that.

But this highlights an important issue with generic implications. For instance, in the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not required existing reactors to implement measures against aircraft attacks like we saw on September 11. What they have asked – required utilities to do is develop plans to deal with the aftermath of that accident, and that's considered sufficient to deal with the potential terrorist threat from an aircraft.

I think we need to reevaluate the realism of those plans in light of what we're seeing here, because they involve the reliance on heroic actions on the part of workers and possibly life-or-death decisions to protect larger scale releases that may simply not be realistic given what we're seeing. So, I would urge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to learn that lesson.

Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Thank you, Ed. Our next speaker is Ellen Vancko.

MS. VANCKO: Good morning, and thank you, Elliott. I don't have anything to add to what Dave or Ed just said regarding safety and security. Again, we've heard a lot of people continue to make declarations one way or another about the nuclear renaissance in the United States. Again, I believe that it's entirely premature to make those kinds of predictions.

Again, we've got to focus on the existing plants that are operating today. We still have to make sure that we thoroughly assess the safety and security requirements that apply to them now, ensure that they're adequate, ensure that they're being enforced, and ensure that we develop any new ones that we determine we don't have in place that could prevent this from happening here.

We continue to focus and learn from the situation in Japan. I'm sure the nuclear industry is doing the same thing in this country, and there's going to be a lot of lessons learned that we're going to have to take from this. We just don't know what they all are yet.

Thank you, Elliott.

MR. NEGIN: Thank you. We will now turn over the phone to your questions.

REPORTER: Thanks again for doing this. These are very helpful.

My question has to do with what it would take for the United States to address some of the major concerns that seem to be arising from the situation in Japan. If we were to address these issues of need for more backup power in an emergency situation, to address the spent fuel pools and perhaps some shifting toward a different form of storage, like dry cast storage, and the hardening or extra security of sites that Mr. Lyman mentioned, is that doable for the fleet that we have? And any idea at all what it would cost?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll take an early answer and Ed can supplement it as he sees fit. Since 9/11, one of the things we've been advocating that would help in this regard now is the way we manage the spent fuel risk at U.S. nuclear power plants. We basically wait until the spent fuel pools are filled with irradiated fuel, and then we slowly transfer fuel from the pools into dry cast storage on site, keeping the pools basically filled and incrementally adding dry cast on the site. It would be difficult to make that risk any higher than the way we do it.

The smarter way to do it would be to reduce the inventory of irradiated fuel in the spent fuel pools by accelerating the transfer into dry cast storage. That would result in more dry casts being stored on site, so the risk from dry cast storage would increase with this method, but the risk reduction you get in the spent fuel pools is so large that it more than offsets the increase on the dry cast storage side, resulting in a significant reduction in the threat profile from both safety events and security events.

By reducing the amount of irradiated fuel in the spent fuel pools, you're able to spread out the remaining spent fuel bundle in the spent fuel pool, kind of like spreading out the logs on a burning fire, to reduce the heat load that they represent. The heat load is the threat of spent fuel stored in the spent fuel pools.

By minimizing the heat load, by taking some of the spent fuel assemblies out of the pool and then spreading out the remainder, if something were to happen, either an accident or an act of malice, the workers would have as much time as possible to either put more water into the pool or recover to the cooling for the pool to prevent fuel damage from overheating.

Ed, is there anything you wanted to add to either that or the other topics?

DR. LYMAN: Well, just to follow onto that, the spent fuel pool that caught fire in Unit 4 was a full core reactor fuel that was offloaded about three months ago, and so it was fairly hot, but clearly, I think if it was -- it's below the capa city of the pool, but if it were spread out, it may have not been as great a challenge to -- for heat removal as it is now.

On the issue of how to get the NRC to actually implement reasonable changes, there's a very high bar that NRC has for actually making wholesale changes to plants for safety reasons, because their belief is that there's already adequate protection of public health and safety from the current fleet.

We think maybe the -- you know, their policies and procedures are going to have to be modified to take into account whether or not there are lessons to be learned from this event and whether or not their view of it, where we have adequate safety, is still appropriate. And that's going to take -- that will be a challenging thing to do.

There will be great resistance from the industry and probably from pro-nuclear members of Congress, but it will be the right thing to do.

REPORTER: And, Ms. Vancko, any thoughts on what are the costs or whether it's perceived as a -- something that's doable? How would it weigh on issues of, for example, relicensing some of the older facilities?

MS. VANCKO: I'd have to defer -- cost, I don't think anybody can tell you exactly what it would cost right now, but I defer to Dave on the impacts on older facilities. Dave?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I haven't actually calculated it up in dollars and cents what it would cost, but if that exercise were to be done, it's pretty clear that it would cost much less than the cost that Japan is facing by not having done that.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER:  Two questions. One is, do you know, is there a continuous release of radioactivity from the plants now or is it just kind of sporadic, start and stop? And I'll ask my other question after you answer that one.

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman.

I think the dose rates are highly variable in time. So, my impression is that it's not a continuous release at this point. A good deal of the radiation was deliberately released through controlled venting. The explosion at Unit 3 is reported to have released some particulate radiation, which could explain the higher doses.

However, the spent fuel pool at Unit 4, there is no reason why that would not be still emitting radiation continuously, because if there were a fire, even if the fire has been extinguished, the overheated fuel would probably still involve gaseous fission products for some period of time.

But right now, there is still no indication that the cores have completely melted; however, Unit 2, with the breach in the containment, could potentially be a source of a steady release at this point of those fission products that have already been released into the containment.

REPORTER: Okay. My other question -- first of all, you've cited reports of this and reports of that. Are you speaking of media reports or what reports are you talking about?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. The reports I was referring to were reports either issued by the company, TEPCO, or the Japanese government.

REPORTER: Ah, okay. Okay. And finally, I understand -- and maybe you can confirm this -- we've heard that the Japanese authorities have not been handing out potassium iodide pills to the populace there. Do you know whether that's true or not, and if it is true, why they are not doing it?

DR. LYMAN: Yeah, this is Ed Lyman. I have seen those reports, and if they're true, I think it's a concern. They're still stockpiling them. I think -- I may have said this yesterday, but you do need to take it several hours in advance of exposure for potassium iodide to be effective, and so it would be appropriate, I think, for them to start distributing it.

I think there's been concern in the past that people will not follow directions and take it inappropriately; they will take it immediately or they'll overdose. But I think at this point, the greater risk would be not making sure they have it so that they can administer it, and especially the children, at a moment's notice.      

REPORTER: Okay. Thank you very much.

 

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: I am going to ask a question that I know is probably not easy to answer, but I hope you can take a stab. Is there any way to make a stab at estimating the worker dosage to date, given what we know and don't know? And how long in this situation before workers would need to be withdrawn, assuming the correct levels of release are maintained?

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. I'm afraid, you know, there just isn't enough information to determine that. One issue would be if they need to dispatch workers to refill the spent fuel pool that may be partially drained, that would probably require a manual fire pump -- and I hope Dave will jump in if he hears something or if he cares to add something -- but that could require people actually going to the level of the spent fuel pool, which is already partially uncovered, and adding water manually, and that could potentially be -- the dose rates from the spent fuel, if they're uncovered even partially, could be extremely high. And so I'd question whether or not that would even be feasible.

So, as far as -- you know, it's too -- there isn't enough information to really answer that question. Thank you. Sorry.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll just add a little bit to Ed's piece. There were some studies done in the United States of what would happen if the water level in the spent fuel pools were to be drained away for whatever reason, and I recall one study for the plants in Connecticut that said if the water level dropped down to where the top of the fuel was -- that's even higher than it would be for a fire (inaudible) started -- the dose rates on the railing of the spent fuel pool, if you were looking down into the pool, would be high enough that you would receive a lethal dose in something like 16 seconds.

So, as Ed suggests, when the plant's in that configuration, the high dose rates preclude a lot of worker actions or turn them into suicide missions.

REPORTER: Apart from the question of the doses that would be received in that maneuver, the spent fuel pool replenishment, do you worry that we're getting to the outside of the window in which sustainable cumulative doses by the workers have been reached or will be reached?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, having worked at plants of a very similar design, if I was working at that facility, the two areas that would concern me the most at the moment would be the leaking containment on Unit 2, coupled with the fact that there is already reports of fuel damage on that reactor. So, anything I'd try to do to mitigate or slow down the leak or patch the leak would put me in harm's way. So, I think the workers are aware of that and so that would be a concern.

And as Ed -- I've talked about the burning -- the spent fuel pool in Unit 4, with Units 5 and 6 seemingly headed down the same path, the vapor coming off of the boiling spent fuel pool is radioactive, and if the water level drops, the radiation levels -- just the line of sight radiation levels are just awesome. So, those would be primary concerns that the workers must face.

REPORTER: So, is that a yes?

MR. LOCHBAUM: That's a yes.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER:  Could you -- how does a fire start in a spent fuel pool? And is it -- is it the case where -- is water continuously pumped into these pools and is there a backup system for that? Could you explain that, please?

DR. LYMAN: Dave, do you want to lead on that?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Yeah, I'll take it. This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll start on that. The situation in the spent fuel pools is if the water drains away or boils away and gets down to the lower third of -- well, let me start back.

The spent fuel pool is approximately 45-foot deep. The spent fuel is stored in the lower 15 feet of that 45-foot deep pool. The spent fuel is stored in metal racks that are approximately six inches off the bottom of the floor. They have little legs on them that hold the bottom of the rack, about six inches off the bottom. That allows water to circulate up through the bottom of the racks, past the fuel assemblies to cool them, and then that water is removed, cooled, and returned to the pool, when things are working right.

If the water boils away or drains away such that it drops down to about the lower -- the lower regions of the pool, what happens is you don't get enough water flow. You don't have water flow removing heat anymore, and the steam that's being boiled away from the surface of the pool isn't enough to cool the top portions of the exposed fuel bundles. So, they heat up, heat, and as they heat up, at some point, there is actually -- they reach the ignition temperature or the point at which the metal cladding catches on fire. When that occurs, the contents of the fuel rods are released into the airspace that's going around there.

The spent fuel pools, as I mentioned earlier, are located in secondary containment buildings that aren't as robust and aren't as effective at containing that radioactivity, so a lot of it does get to the environment. Does that answer your question?

REPORTER: It -- it does, Dave. Thank -- but -- thank you. And is that water -- and I apologize. Is that water circulated by a pump? How is that water circulated in the spent fuel pool?

MR. LOCHBAUM: The spent fuel pool has a system called a spent fuel pool cooling system that takes -- typically has two or three pumps that draw water out of the spent fuel pool, send it through two heat exchangers that -- where the hot water -- transfers its heat to cooler water, taken in this case from the sea, and then the cooled water is returned to the spent fuel pool and the warmed seawater is returned to the sea, so that -- but those two bits of water don't actually come into contact with each other. But that's used to cool the water that goes back to the pool.

When that system fails or if that system fails and those pumps are not powered off the emergency diesel generators, the batteries, and that power comes from the electrical grid when it's available, then the water just starts heating up, and as Ed pointed out in his remarks, that Unit 4 pool had been recently discharged into last December. So, there was an awful lot of heat, which meant that that water would heat up at a fairly fast rate.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Thank you for doing this. The question is for Ed Lyman. You mentioned that less than 1 percent of the core had probably degradable at the Japanese plant, and if there was greater degradation, radiation leaks would increase by a factor of ten or more. Could you elaborate on that?

I guess what I'm trying to figure out is, is it conceivable that 2 or 5 or 10 percent of material would degra -- you know, degrade? In what circumstances would those different levels of radiation be released?

DR. LYMAN: Yes. Thanks for your question. Actually, I believe that probably more than 1 percent has been released from the fuel in the reactor vessel; probably less than 1 percent has actually been released into the atmosphere. That's just a guess.

But in the worst case, if -- if the -- there's a full-scale core melt, it could be up to 100 percent of certain isotopes, like cesium 137, would actually be released from the fuel into the containment atmosphere. And then it's a matter of how effective the containment, or what's left of it, will be in preventing the release. So, there could be, conceivably, up to almost all the cesium in the fuel released in the environment.

Now, it's very complex. It depends on -- the cesium will cool and condense rapidly, may settle on cooler parts of the plant, but studies have shown that you must -- even industry studies, that 5, 10, or even 20 percent cesium would be released to the environment in that worst-case accident.

REPORTER: And just a follow-up question. So, if you do have these higher levels -- and, of course, there's a range, one doesn't know what might happen -- can you give us some idea of how far this radiation could spread in the environment, given the prevailing winds? Would it affect Tokyo? Other parts of Southeast Asia? Could it conceivably drift across the ocean to the U.S. West Coast? How far could this go if there is a full-scale melt and a significant amount of cesium and other nuclear materials are, I assume, released into the environment?

DR. LYMAN: Well, modeling generally shows that for that kind of event, you know, you can have significant dose rates several hundred miles downwind. I would think that on the order of thousands of miles, that the actual concentrations would have decreased to the extent they would not be a significantly higher dose to the public, although you might be able to detect that radiation.

From the weather maps I've seen, the prevailing winds would generally blow toward the north and east, so I don't think Southeast Asia is at great risk, but, again, I think Tokyo -- I think the fact that they've already detected elevated radiation levels in Tokyo is an indication that at least some part of the time, the wind is blowing and that it's toward the southwest. And so I think that is a an indication that if there is a larger plume, that there may be additional risk to Tokyo.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum -- oh, go ahead.

REPORTER: Oh, I just wondered, also along the spectrum of what might happen, the issue of whether the crack in the metal containment vessel or several cracks or whether there is actually some kind of explosion from the build-up of gases or whatever it might be that destroys the vessel, in which case you probably have a lot more materials, you know, expelled into the air.

I'm just trying to get a feel, again, under those range of circumstances, what's, you know, the least dangerous outcome and what are some of the more, you know, worrisome ones?

DR. LYMAN: Okay, just quickly, and then Dave has something he wants to say. The least dangerous outcome would be that all the cores are maintained in their current state until they can -- they go into cold shutdown. In that case, the reactor vessel, which is the first level of protection, would remain intact in each case, so that there would be, you know, a -- so that the radioactive gas that's already been released from the fuel into the vessel would not be released any further.

However, if the core does progress to a full-scale core melt, then it could drop to the bottom of the vessel, melt through the vessel, and enter the containment. In the case of Unit Number 2, if there is a breach in the containment, that would then lead to quite larger releases.

So, I think the fact -- at least the last dose readings I saw wouldn't indicate that that has happened yet, because I think we'd see a much greater increase in dose in a short period of time.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I just wanted to circle back to the earlier discussion about the radiation releases and who might be affected downwind. One of the challenges is that the energy -- the contamination levels aren't linear. So, you know, the further away you get doesn't necessarily mean that you get a lower dose rate.

The consequences of a Chernobyl in some places had areas a hundred miles away from the facility having significantly higher contamination levels than areas only 10 or 15 miles away. The winds would carry the radioactivity and then the rainfall would bring it down to the ground to contaminate where it was closer to where people were. So, there's a number of factors that can determine where it goes and who's in harm's way.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

MR. NEGIN: Next caller, please.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for holding the call. A few quick questions. David mentioned a study in Connecticut about dose ratings with the spent fuel pools. I was wondering if you could add more information about what that study was.

MR. LOCHBAUM: In I think it was 1982, the -- then the Connecticut Yankee plant was moving -- was in a refueling outage and was moving core from the reactor core into the spent fuel pool when the component failed and drained 200,000 gallons out of that area in about 20 minutes.

At the time, the workers stayed on post and got the fuel assembly that was being moved into a safe location before heading for the nearest exit. That led the NRC to say, well, what if the level had dropped further? So, many plant owners had to go back and analyze the what-ifs.

REPORTER: So, is that an NRC study?

MR. LOCHBAUM: No, the plant owners. It was an NRC requirement to do the studies; the plant owners did the math. The study was referred to as Millstone -- the owner of the Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut did an analysis of what happened if that would have occurred here, and their numbers showed very high dose rates at the spent fuel pool railing if the water level dropped.

Do you have a sense of how -- has it gone back up now, or if it didn't get it back up, why they're having problems? And if all the personnel who wasn't fighting the fire have been removed, who is actually there, like, dealing with the sort of water level issue right now?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. We had some accounts on what -- the problems they were facing yesterday. I'm not sure of the current status of the water level in the Unit 2 vessel right now.

Yesterday, it seemed like they were having trouble getting water in, because the pressure inside the reactor vessel was so high that the pumps they were using couldn't push against it. The way that you try to control pressure in the reactor vessel is to open up some valves that relieves that pressure. Those valves, when they're manually controlled, need nitrogen gas to provide pressure to open the valves against the springs that normally hold them closed.

We didn't hear, but it's from -- based on the way the plant's designed, it -- the valve that -- the gas accumulators are only sized to hold about five operations of the valves opened and closed. So, they might have used up the gas and, therefore, been unable to open up the valves that needed to move.

REPORTER: One more quick follow-up. With the advisement yesterday that there are some people who are now in the next boundary zone, 20 to 30 kilometers, to stay indoors, how long is that effective? I mean, is it really possible for people to avoid much contact just by staying in doors? I mean, do these people need to be evacuated as well?

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. I am not confident that sheltering in place, which is what that particular protective action is called, is appropriate. It depends a lot on the condition of the structures, whether or not they're leak-tight, you know, the nature of the building materials, the thickness of the walls. So, I'm not at all confident that that would be adequate and could well trap people in their houses for days or longer should there be a larger release.

So, I would urge, you know, the authorities to at this point be as realistic as possible in considering the potential outcomes and make recommendations supporting as opposed to still healing to their perhaps too complacent view of how this is going to pan out.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I agree with Ed. I'm old enough to remember the old duck-and-cover drills back when I was in school. So, I think the shelter in place concept is the 21st Century reincarnation of that duck-and-cover nonsense.

MS. VANCKO: And this is Ellen Vancko. Don't forget the duct tape and plastic we went through just a few years ago.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Yes, hi. I'd like to ask the panel, if I could, how effective could the helicopters be in the effort to pour water to cool the fuel rods in the nuclear reactors and what are the risks?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. The way the current configuration is, the helicopters or water addition or air water addition won't help core cooling on any of the units; however, some kind of delivery like that might help the situation with the spent fuel pools. On Units 1 and 3, it's pretty easy, because the spent fuel pools are now readily available.

The reactor buildings on the remaining units would interfere with that, but you still could use a helicopter to get a bunch of water up to that level, and then workers could then drain it into the pools, if necessary. So, I -- there is an application there for the spent fuel pools. It's less amenable to the cooling of the reactor core.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Hi. I have a question with respect to Unit 2. The reports were that there was a crack in the torus or the pool suppression. I would assume that that part of the containment is pressurized in normal operation, along with the reactor core. That's one question.

And the related -- I have a couple of -- a series of some long technical questions. If the reactor is no longer pressurized and they're just simply adding water in as the water boils off to keep the rods submerged, is a crack or a fissure in the suppression going to leak all that much material?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. On the first of those questions, normally, the torus volume and the dry well volume are slightly above atmospheric pressure, but not much, less than one pound per square inch pressure in both of those areas. In fact, if the pressure rises too much above that, the reactor automatically shuts down. The dry well and the torus space surround the reactor vessel but are not directly connected to it during normal operation.

In the configuration that the reactor vessel was, if the pressure is low, as they start adding water to the reactor vessel housing that hot reactor fuel, hot reactor core, the heat transfer causes the water to heat up, causes the pressure inside the reactor vessel to rise. That situation of pressurization, as you add water, only turns around when you have enough water in there that continuing to add water doesn't lead to appreciable heat-up of the water and resulting pressurization of the steam space above it.

REPORTER: Okay.

DR. LYMAN: I'm sorry. This is Ed Lyman, just to add. If the core were to breach the reactor vessel and fall to the floor of the -- or the basement of the containment, it will then react with the concrete, and that will generate additional gases that could cause an increase in pressure, as well as temperature, so...

REPORTER: Well, what would cause the torus to fissure before the reactor vessel would? I don't --

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. We heard a report of an explosion on Unit 2 and at around the same time there were reports of the crack in the pressure suppression chamber. We don't know if those two events are related or just that information came out at the same time.

There could be hydrogen gas formed inside the torus that when it was detonated could have cracked the torus. By the same token, Units 1 and 3 experienced hydrogen build-up and a detonation in the reactor building which surrounds the torus.

There are some devices on top of the torus that stick up to -- that allow pressure to be relieved and perform a number of other functions. If there was an explosion in the reactor building, the force or the blast wave from that explosion could have damaged some of those things that stick up, which would have opened a path to providing the crack in the torus.

So, it's not clear to me at this point whether the hydrogen explosion was inside the torus and damaged it, outside the torus and damaged it, or unrelated and that the torus was damaged in some other way. It's just not clear to me at this point.

REPORTER: Until the reactor vessel reaches and falls into the torus, is the torus normally a radioactive environment?

MR. LOCHBAUM: It's normally got detectable levels of radiation but not lethal, nowhere near lethal levels of radiation.

REPORTER: Okay. So, if there is a fissure in the torus, it doesn't mean, right now, that we have high-level waste products exiting into the environment.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, the one thing that would suggest that there may be a pathway is that there have been reports of fuel damage on Unit 2. There are some mechanisms -- I mentioned earlier there were efforts underway to try to relieve the pressure in the reactor vessel so that it would facilitate the injection of cooling water. Those relief valves or those valves I was talking about discharge into the torus.

So, if there's been fuel damage and they were able to get the valves open, then radioactive material would have flowed through those lines back into the torus, where it may now be leaking out.

REPORTER: Okay. Thank you.

DR. LYMAN: Dave, isn't that how hydrogen could have entered the torus as well? Is that a possibility?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Exactly. That's -- Ed's point about that, that's also a pathway for hydrogen to get there as well.

REPORTER: Can you tell me a little bit about, in normal operations, how highly pressurized is the reactor vessel and how highly pressurized would it be now?

MR. LOCHBAUM: During normal operations, the reactor operates at about a thousand pounds per square inch pressure. If the pressure rises about 20 percent, up to -- well, 10 percent. If it rises to about 1100 pounds per square inch, those relief valves I mentioned earlier will automatically open so that the pressure doesn't get too much above that.

Right now, the pressure will be much lower than the thousand pounds per square inch. The pumps they were using were very low pressure pumps, down in the order of 200 pounds per square inch. So, their reactor pressure had to be lower than that for them to be able to get water in. And when the pressure rose above that during heat-up and pressurization, then the pumps stopped being as effective.

So, they were using the relief valves manually to get the pressure down below that range.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Next questioner, please. Please keep your questions to a minimum, maybe a question and a follow-up. Thank you. A lot of people are in line.

REPORTER: Hello?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Hello.

REPORTER: Hi. I wanted to see if I could just get some more information about -- you were saying shelter-in-place is not sufficient. Can you describe what would be more effective and can you describe that in detail?

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. I mean, the options are limited. Either you stay or you get out of the way. Now, the decision is more difficult when the plume is passing overhead, because if you try to evacuate at that point, then you riskmore exposure, and especially if you get stuck in a traffic jam. So, now is the time really, if they are going to evacuate that area, they should evacuate. You know, you don't have too many options here.

REPORTER: Thanks.

DR. LYMAN: Does that answer your question?

REPORTER: Yes, it does. Thanks.

REPORTER: Yes, thank you very much for doing this. I guess for David, I wonder if you could just fort of recap a little bit the suspected sort of sequence on events on this spent fuel pool fire. I could understand how, as you described it, the fire can begin if the water level drops below, you know, the tops of the rods, but might there have been something else that triggered a fire that might have, I don't know, either created a leak in the pool or cut off power -- well, it was already cut off, but what was the sort of specific path of events that -- to the best of your knowledge, that led to this particular situation?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. The accounts to date have pretty much said what is happening. They have not been very detailed as to what caused that condition to be there. So, it's very difficult to actually answer that question, what the sequence of events was that led to that outcome. Pretty much the government's only announcing the outcomes.

And because of that, there's a number of paths that could lead to that outcome. So, I'd hate to speculate as to which of those is even most likely, because it -- I don't know that right now. So, I'm sorry.

REPORTER: No worries. Thanks.

REPORTER: Yeah. I apologize if you all went through this yesterday, but I'm just curious whether the actions that we have seen the Japanese -- Tokyo Electric take with the blackout shutdown, whether that's the same series of steps that are supposed to happen at a U.S. reactor or whether there are other safeguards.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll try to answer that. A year ago, I was teaching at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and one of the things we taught was the boiling water reactor owners' group's emergency procedures for dealing with an array of accidents, which would have included this one, and it's -- as we heard accounts coming out of the accident area by the company and the government, it seemed like the workers were taking steps per that playbook.

Seawater was on our list of -- or it depends on where the plant was located. Using a nearby water source was in the playbook. It's last on the list, but given what they had and what they lost from the earthquake and then the tsunami, you know, they didn't have a lot of options left, and it seemed like the options they chose and when they took them were consistent with the guidance developed by the boiling water reactors owners' group and used in this country and at BWRs around the world.

REPORTER: Is that then -- now that we see that the battery life for these cooling systems is brief, does that suggest that the backup conditions for BWRs aren't sufficient? I mean, could this happen without an earthquake or a tsunami?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum again. Certainly, it could. The nuclear industry looked at what's called station blackout, which is what the Japanese reactors faced. Station blackout is when you lose all your alternating current, electricity, that -- from the electrical grid and that's supplied by the emergency diesel generators, and the only thing you have left are the DC power from the batteries.

Station blackout events for many of our plants represent close to 90 percent of the risk of core damage. Even though you don't get into a station blackout using the same scenario of earthquake/tsunami that Japan did, our plants can get to that same station blackout condition through other mechanisms: hurricanes for the plants in the Gulf, Florida; earthquakes for the plants out in California; ice storms up in the Northeast; tornados in the Midwest; and so on.

So, having gotten into station blackouts by however means you did, the risk is pretty high that studies have shown, and I think one of the lessons learned from Japan will be we need to revisit that situation, take what -- I'm not going to say that increasing battery power or capacity is the only fix. There is a vulnerability there. We need to look at -- recognize that vulnerability and take steps that are appropriate to lessen the risk here in the States.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER: Thanks. It sort of gets back to the duck-and-cover question, and in previous instances like this involving crises at civilian power reactors, the release of public information has been a -- obviously a real issue.

And I'm just wondering if you can give us your -- any one of you -- give us your assessment of how the Japanese government, U.S. military, and the Obama Administration have done in terms of providing accurate information to citizens without, you know, provoking panic.

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman.

I think there's clearly a kind of erratic quality of the information that's coming out by the Japanese. That could be explained by the fact that they themselves don't know what's going on, but our main concern is that the industry here in the United States and elsewhere doesn't try to continue to whitewash this event and pretend that it isn't something which it is, which is one of the most serious accidents that has occurred at a nuclear power plant in the history of nuclear power.

And I think everyone has to keep an open mind, but trying to spin this or -- you know, this early in the process doesn't do a service to the public here or elsewhere.

MS. VANCKO: And this is Ellen Vancko. The U.S. Government most likely only has access to the information the Japanese government has, and given the fact that as the immediate unfolding of this disaster, it's clear that first-responders in the area of these plants were likely wiped out, and it took a long time to set up anything resembling the kind of incident command system we have in this country under FEMA.

It not only takes time to set up their command structure, but they have to gather their information. They have to get infra organized and they have to ensure that they have all the information they need before they can share it with others. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be doing a better job and they shouldn't have done it more quickly, but there is just a staggering amount of confusion on the ground that apparently is still occurring in some instances.

DR. LYMAN: Ed Lyman. Just one more point, that you -- I think as members of the press, you may want to investigate whether the story that is coming out of TEPCO and the Japanese government is fully consistent with their own picture of the situation or if they're still trying to cloud the picture.

I understand that even this morning, there was anger among the press corps at the TEPCO briefing because they weren't getting their questions answered, and some of the briefings are becoming less and less transparent. So, we urge you to continue pressing them for the real story.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Thank you for the briefing. You may have partly answered this with your last discussion of the partial quality of the information, but I wonder if we look back in the big picture now, the succession of events really from Friday, if it's possible to say anything meaningful about decisions that were made that could have led to different outcomes or whether we simply don't have enough information to make that call.

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I spoke to that topic a little bit earlier, and I think your question makes me want me want to go back to shore that up a little bit. I said we were monitoring events and I hadn't seen anything that looked like the officials or workers deviated from the BWR owners' group emergency procedures.

To be fair, I'm not sure I -- well, I do know I don't have the full picture, but -- so, I'm looking at a few isolated docs, and they don't seem to be contradictory from what the emergency procedures is. The full picture hopefully will reinforce that, but I do admit that I, you know, don't have the full story yet.

I haven't seen anything that contradicts with them following the procedures the way they're written, but since I don't have the full picture, that may not be the right way to connect those dots.

REPORTER: Okay. If I could, just as a follow-up, then, perhaps that's even more worrying then if we have this result and the procedures were followed to the book.

MR. LOCHBAUM: If the procedures were followed and it didn't help, then -- either way, we are going to have to beef up the procedures, either to make it clear that -- you know, so people take the right paths when they reach a crossroads or develop new crossroads that will lead you in the right direction.

You know, the procedures are designed to prevent having to leave the area. That didn't work here. So, the procedures will have to be addressed so that the chances of this happening again are reduced.

REPORTER: Okay. Thank you.

REPORTER: Hello. Thanks for the conference. Two questions. How certain is it that the fire in Unit 4 started or involved the spent fuel pool? Are there any conflicting reports about what -- the source of the fire and the involvement of the spent fuel pool?

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. I don't see any information that would be inconsistent with that picture, so there's no reason to believe there was any other origin, but, you know, again --

REPORTER: Well, the question is a little bit different, and that is, is there any information that -- is it -- has it been announced or confirmed that the fire was actually in the spent fuel pool or is it just an inference, based on what's sketchy information, that that's probably what happened?

DR. LYMAN: Well, given there was a hydrogen explosion that took out a huge chunk of the wall, you know, that was presumably hydrogen that was generated by zirconium water reactions in the fuel pool, and that wouldn't have occurred if zirconium hadn't reached the ignition temperature. So, you know, the --

REPORTER: So, it is somewhat of a surmise based on the evidence as far as any absolute confirmation that there was a fire (inaudible)?

DR. LYMAN: (Inaudible) you know, yeah, it's a surmise.

REPORTER: And the second question is, the NRC in 2006 recommended accelerated transfer of the fuel units into dry cast storage, and I gather the NRC said that this was reviewed on a case-by-case basis with each reactor. Why wasn't there a generic rule to follow the recommendation of the National Research Council in this regard?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. I can partially address that, because we were campaigning along that time to try to make that happen. Part of the reluctance or part of the inertia that must be overcome is to -- if that were to actually happen, then people like us would use it to say, well -- try to egg on those who hadn't done it yet, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a little reluctant to indicate that anything is unsafe. Everything is safe; you can do it; you can not do it; everything is safe; they're all safe.

So, they don't want to issue mandates, because that implies that the status -- where you are now is not as safe as it could be. So, unfortunately, the agency is sometimes worried more about PR than public safety, and they don't want to look like they've made mistakes in the past, and some of the fixes would implicitly concede that maybe past decisions were wrong. I wish they would get past their ego and focus more on public safety.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER: Yes, hello. This question is for Mr. Lyman. First of all, thanks so much for doing this.

Mr. Lyman, could you be a little more specific about what kind of health threats in a worst case scenario we could be dealing with, both long term and short term?

And the second question is, what is the likelihood that people in Tokyo could be at some risk? You discussed that a bit earlier. Could you go into a little more detail?

DR. LYMAN: Well, you know, it's hard to speak in specific terms, because, you know, everything we said about the site-specific nature of this type of analysis, the meteorological conditions, the population, density, and other factors, but in generic terms, from modeling I've done for typical population densities in the United States, a large-scale radiological release, based on NRC's own estimates of the magnitude of fission products that could be released given a containment breach, could result in exposures on the orders of -- to tens of thousands of people that would lead to tens of thousands of excess latent cancers.

The other risk has to do with acute radiation syndrome, which would require doses of -- much higher than those that would be encountered, probably 30 or 40 kilometers from the site, and in this case, I think we can say that because they did evacuate the close-in area and they did have ample time to do that, that there will probably be no fatalities from early radiation exposure among the public. I think it's too early to say whether among the workers.

And with regard to Tokyo, you know, there will be significant dispersal of the plume. Dave pointed out correctly that Chernobyl's emission pattern was quite erratic and hard to predict. Part of the reason for that is the Chernobyl plume was very, very high, because of the nature of the reactor and the graphite fire and the fact that it was a prolonged emission over 10 or 12 days, where there were ample changes in weather.

It's unlikely the plume would rise as high in this case, so there would be more deposition closer, and that may spare Tokyo from seeing the worst of this.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Hi, guys. Thank you all for taking the time to do this. My question -- we sort of nibbled around the edge of it, but I wanted to ask directly. In terms of the U.S.'s nuclear safety infrastructure, there have been budget cuts proposed in Congress for the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear -- or Nuclear Office for Nonproliferation Efforts and a bunch of other sort of first-responder related things.

Can you give me a sense of how robust our infrastructure around nuclear safety is right now and how budget cuts might affect it? Is this an area where there's a lot of sort of (inaudible) or is this something that could be problematic?

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. Let me just clarify -- and maybe Dave will want to chime in -- but the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy doesn't serve any nuclear safety function. It's an office for the promotion of nucl

ear energy and nuclear energy research and development. So, budget cuts to the Office of Nuclear Energy will have no impact on nuclear safety. Nonproliferation is a separate issue which I don't think we have time to get into here.

So, the real issue is the budget of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whether they have adequate resources for the work that they need to do, and to that, I'll ask Dave if he has a comment.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Thanks, Ed. Over the last five or six years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's budget has increased, allowing its staff to rise from approximately 2800 people to over 4000 people this year. A large part of that was driven by the talk about new reactors and the need to staff up to do the licensing reviews, the application reviews, et cetera.

But there's also been -- after 9/11, there was a boost on the security side. Right now, in talking to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- last year, I was actually performing recall training for a lot of the NRC inspectors and initial training for the new hires. Lack of people and lack of budget doesn't seem to be a hindrance in what they do and how they do it.

Earlier in the call, we made some inferences into the will and the backbone and some of the vigilance issues, so I don't think it's a lack of resources as a -- they just need to buckle down and become a little bit more aggressive and apply those resources a little bit more smartly.

REPORTER: And just to follow-up, aside from the DOE, where you were just talking about the Nuclear Energy Office, what about cuts in funding towards nuclear waste, cleanup and storage efforts here in the United States that are separate from the NRC?

DR. LYMAN: I think that's really outside the scope of what we have time to deal with today, but if you want to contact us separately, we can address that.

REPORTER: Okay. Thanks, guys.

REPORTER: Good morning. Thanks for taking the question. Dave, the particular design of the Mark I BWR here with the pressure suppression pool and containment, would you say it was particularly vulnerable to some kind of breach because it's smaller or a little less robust than some of the later designs and some of the BWR designs?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I would have to address that in general. I would say it's true, without exactly knowing why the containment was breached, I -- I guess I'll put a caveat on there.

REPORTER: Sure, or if it was breached.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Yeah, that's true. Well, it's pretty clear it was breached in terms of the nature of this, but, you know, if it turns out it was breached because it was corroded, then, you know, that kind of problem could happen at another one. So, I've got to -- but in general, yes, because it's smaller, the margins are a little bit less. If it's challenged and -- in pressure and things like that, it tends to be more vulnerable to this.

Also, as Ed mentioned yesterday, we extend that to the ice condenser designs in the United States, of which there are, I think, eight reactors operating, are of similar design. They also use pressure suppression using ice rather than water, but the end result is the same. There are less margins, less robust, a little bit more vulnerable to certain kinds of events.

REPORTER: And to follow up, are there hydrogen igniters at all in any of these designs and would they have perhaps prevented some of the hydrogen explosions we've seen?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum again. The reactor primary containment, the dry well, is inerted with nitrogen gas during normal operation as a protection against hydrogen. Since that's not assumed to be 100 percent reliable, there are hydrogen igniters installed into the dry well part of the primary containment. There are also hydrogen igniters located in the torus part of primary containment.

In addition, there are instrumentation to measure the hydrogen concentration in those spaces. The whole concept of the igniters is to burn off the hydrogen that may collect before it builds to explosive mixture levels. The appearance we saw from Units 1 and 3 were the hydrogen collected in the reactor building or the secondary containment outside of the dry well and outside of the torus. There are no igniters and there are no instrumentation installed in the dry -- or in the -- excuse me, in the reactor building to look for hydrogen collection and to deal with it. I still haven't figured out how the hydrogen got into those locations, though it's pretty evident that it did.

REPORTER: Hmm, interesting. All right, thank you.

MR. NEGIN: This is Elliott Negin. We have time for one more question. If we weren't able to get to your question or you have follow-ups please email us at media@ucsusa.org, and we will do what we can to get back to you as soon as possible.

Transcripts of this press event and yesterday's press event will be on our Web site as soon as we can get those up, as well as MP3 tapes, so you can listen to it again if that's what you want to do.

The last questioner, please.

REPORTER: Hi, everyone.  I was wondering if you could just talk to us about -- this came up somewhat yesterday, how -- oh, and thanks very, very much for doing this, it's (inaudible).

How long is -- how long -- you know, how fast heat is going to taper off and how long, if they can keep things from going into full disaster mode, you know, for the next few days, the next week? Is there any time line here where you would say there -- you know, I expect we're going to be watching this for X amount of time and then the (inaudible) is going to start dropping off? Does that make sense?

MR. LOCHBAUM: This is Dave Lochbaum. The question makes sense. I think the delay was trying to predict those answers. My sense is that if they're successfully continuing to cool the pools on 1 and 3 -- or, excuse me, the reactor cores on Units 1 and 3, then it will take a matter of days, a handful of days, to get down to a more stable condition. The spent fuel pools, they don't -- all they really need to do for the spent fuel pools is to provide enough water to make up for that which is evaporating or boiling away, and that's a relatively modest amount, on the order of a hundred gallons or more, so it's not a huge demand.

They should at least be able to do that, which would give them time to restore cooling. That could take a little bit longer, but the heat loads in the spent fuel pools are a little bit less than the reactor core anyway. But I think their major challenges are -- currently right now are on Unit 2 with core cooling and on Unit 4 with spent fuel pool cooling or spent fuel pool water inventory. So, I think those are more pressing issues. If they get those under control, they have about five days to a week before things get back to a stable level.

REPORTER: So, would you say by the end of this week or beginning of next week that, you know, if we have haven't seen a full-scale core melting at Reactor 2, we would feel fairly confident that we wouldn't see it?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I'd say that's a fair statement, but again, they're right now operating with such razor-thin margins that one more component failure, one more explosion, one more, you know, damage due to the aftershocks that keep occurring could easily change that. So, I'd say it's yes now, but it's conditional on a lot of, you know, bad -- more bad things down the road not happening.

REPORTER: Okay. Thanks a lot.

DR. LYMAN: This is Ed Lyman. Just one indication of why, if you look at the spent fuel pool in Unit 4, that fuel has been out of the reactor core for over three months, yet it still provided a heat removal challenge that has led to potentially some damage and hydrogen explosion.

So, I think that just illustrates that there still will be challenges possibly even months down the line. If Dave thinks that's wrong, he will tell me.

MR. LOCHBAUM: No. I agree with you. That's good.

MR. NEGIN: Well, thank you all for calling in this morning. We'll be back on with a new installment tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. We will send you -- in case that's -- it's still tentative, but we're planning to do it, depending on what happens in Japan.

We will send you an advisory tomorrow morning to remind you about the press event tomorrow. Thank you very much. Same phone number, by the way, to call into. Thank you.
     

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