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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 18, 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 a listen-only mode. Later today, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will follow at that time. If you should require assistance during today's conference, you may press star, then zero on your touchtone telephone to speak with an operator. Finally, as a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. Now, I would like to introduce your host for today's conference, Elliott Negin.

MR. NEGIN: Thank you. Good morning.This is Elliott Negin. I'm the Media Director here at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks for joining our call this morning. Just to remind you, 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 has always been to ensure that the industry operates in the safest manner possible.

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

If you have trouble getting down everything that you need from today's briefing, there will be a transcript and audio file on our website later today. I wanted to give you a heads-up for this weekend. We will host a telephone briefing on Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, featuring one or more of our experts, but because we have been working seven days and nights straight, we are cutting back media availability over the weekend.

As I said, we will host a briefing at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, but our experts will not be available otherwise until Monday. So, we will not be taking media requests this weekend. Next week, we will continue to hold 11:00 a.m. telephone briefings until further notice, and on Monday, we will resume handling your requests throughout the day.

Now, as for today's press briefing, when asking a question this morning, 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 sound of your typing will make it difficult for everyone else to hear.

Today, we are featuring David Lochbaum to talk about the latest developments in Japan. David is the Director of our Nuclear Safety Program. He is a nuclear engineer, worked at U.S. nuclear plants for 17 years, including three that are similar to the General Electric plants in Japan. He has also worked as a safety trainer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Yesterday, we released a new report by David on the safety record of the U.S. nuclear industry in 2010.

Also on the line is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project Manager. Ellen has more than 25 years of experience working in the electric utility industry, and she can answer your questions on the impact this disaster could have on the nuclear industry here in the United States.

We also hope that Dr. Edwin Lyman, a Senior Scientist in the U.S. Global Security Program, will be able to join us. Ed has been delayed, unfortunately, and we hope he'll be able to join us later for your questions. Ed has a doctorate in physics and is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation.

I now give you Dave Lochbaum.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Thank you, Elliott, and good morning. The information I'll be covering in my presentation today has been posted to our website and should be available to supplement what I'll say this morning. I'd like to talk this morning about the possible causes of the reactor building explosions in Japan. Dramatic videos have shown the explosions have severely damaged the reactor buildings at, first, Unit 1 and then Unit 3 at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Japan. The explosions are attributed to the ignition of hydrogen gas that collected within the reactor buildings. The hydrogen was most likely produced by damaged fuel rods in the reactor core.

To reduce pressure in the reactor vessel, some of that hydrogen was released from the vessel into the primary containment structure around the reactor. A key, unsolved riddle is how a significant amount of hydrogen escaped from the primary containment into the reactor building and how this low-probability event could have happened twice in two different reactors. The Japanese reactors are boiling water reactors that feature Mark I containment designs.

In this design, the reactor core is housed within a metal reactor vessel. The reactor vessel is enclosed within the primary containment structure, and the reactor building completely surrounds the containment structure. The reactor building walls are made of 18- to 30-inch-thick concrete up to the elevation of the refueling platform. The walls are made of metal from that elevation to the building's roof. The hydrogen gas most likely came from a chemical reaction between the water and the metal cladding of the fuel rods within the reactor cores, when the water level inside the reactor vessels dropped low enough to expose at least the upper core regions. The hydrogen gas initially collected in the reactor vessel itself.

To cool the fuel inside the reactor, workers attempted to pump seawater into the reactor vessel. As pressure inside the reactor vessel increased, it kept water from flowing easily into the reactor. Periodically, then, workers opened valves to vent steam and gas from the reactor vessel into the pressure suppression chamber, also called the torus. The gas, including hydrogen, collected in the airspace above the torus water, and was periodically equalized with the airspace in the drywell, the other portion of the primary containment structure.

When the pressure in the containment, which was the combination of the drywell and the torus, rose too high, workers vented the containment to the atmosphere. This vent piping passed through the reactor building but discharged outside of it. The destruction of the Unit 1 and Unit 3 reactor buildings appear to have been caused by hydrogen explosions. As
noted above, an unanswered question is how the hydrogen got into the reactor building.

A little known test, performed decades ago at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant in North Carolina, may be the answer to that question. In the seventies, in order to satisfy a requirement in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Code for prototype containment designs, workers performed a structural integrity test on the reactor at Brunswick. The primary containment structure at Brunswick was designed to withstand an internal pressure of 62 pounds per square inch, PSI. The ASME Code required it to be tested at 71 pounds per square inch to show margin to what the design called for. It's important to note that this test was only performed on the prototype containments. Subsequent containment designs were only tested to the design pressure, not to higher pressure level. The test involved pumping air into the containment structure until the pressure rose to 71 pounds per square inch.

The pumps were then turned off and the pressure monitored for several hours to verify that it didn't drop off, which would demonstrate that the containment was intact. During that time, workers would also record data from strain gauges and other instruments to verify that the structural loads were properly distributed within the containment. But as workers increased the containment pressure, they encountered a problem at Brunswick. The pressure stopped increasing and remained constant at 70 pounds per square inch. The pumps continued to push air into the containment, but its pressure just stopped increasing. This unexpected plateau started a hunt for air leaking from the containment building somewhere. Workers heard a hissing sound at the top of the containment structure. They found air leaking through the drywell flange area.

The drywell head is made of metal, and it's bolted to the metal top of the drywell bottom, the bottom half of it. These two metal parts come together and are sealed by a rubber O-ring at the flange to provide a good fit when it's bolted to the top of the dry we will.

What workers found was that the containment pressure of 70 pounds per square inch was pushing upward against the inner dome of the drywell head and lifting it off of the drywell flange, up against the bolts, and that was providing a pathway for air to leak out of containment. This air leaked into an area called the refueling cavity, which is just above the drywell head. This refueling cavity is located inside the reactor building, outside of primary containment.

At Brunswick, the workers tightened down the drywell head bolts to more securely fit the reactor vessel or the drywell head to the top of the drywell bottom. That reduced the leak rate and allowed the test pressure to go up to 71 pounds per square inch. The test was successfully completed.

While other plants conducted tests initially, and periodically thereafter, to verify the containment integrity, those tests are not performed at such a high pressure. They are performed at the lower design pressure. As at Brunswick, with the pressure at the design pressure, the drywell head did not lift off the flange, and this leakage path was not created. So, this was a very unique test performed in Brunswick, and the lessons learned from that test experience were not widely shared with the rest of the industry here in the United States and elsewhere. But how does this Brunswick containment testing experience relate to the reactor building explosions experienced in Japan?

Workers at those reactors faced significant problems cooling the reactor cores. The combined effects of the earthquake and tsunami left the reactor without its normal electrical power and the backup.  When the third backup, the batteries, were lost, all cooling systems were exhausted, and workers turned to the only remaining option: injecting seawater into the reactor vessels to try to cool the reactor cores. The pumps used to send seawater into the reactor vessel operated at low pressure.

When seawater entered the reactor vessel, it was heated up by the hot reactor cores to the point of boiling. Steam produced by the boiling increased the pressure inside the reactor vessel. To prevent this rising pressure from hindering the seawater make-up rates, workers periodically vented the reactor vessel. This carried steam and gas, including hydrogen, into the containment. This flow, in turn, increased the pressure inside the containment. When the containment pressure rose too high, workers vented the containment to the atmosphere.

The workers properly sought to minimize the containment venting to the atmosphere to lessen the amount of radioactivity that was being released from the containment structure. Therefore, they were waiting as long as possible before venting. They allowed the pressure to rise up close to 70 pounds per square inch. It is possible that the containment pressures rose high enough to replicate the Brunswick experience by lifting the drywell head enough to allow hydrogen and other gases to leak into the refueling cavity and reactor building. If so, hydrogens could very easily have built up to explosive mixtures.

This tragedy will be closely examined for its causes, what happened and why. That scrutiny must determine how hydrogen got into the reactor buildings to cause the catastrophic explosions. The drywell head pathway may be that answer. We need to stress that we're not putting this forward as the only answer for this question, but it's the most plausible explanation that we've heard to date. Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Thank you, David. I guess we will now answer—we will open up the floor to questions. Will you please tell people how to get into the queue?

OPERATOR: Certainly. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question at this time, please press the star and then the number one key on your touch tone telephone. If your question is later answered or you wish to remove yourself from the queue for any reason, you may press the pound key to do so. Once again, to ask a question, please press star, then one. Our first question.

REPORTER: Hello. I wanted to ask about the storage of the spent fuel rods in the Fukushima reactors, and specifically, them being stored above the reactor unit. I want to know your thoughts on, A, if that maximized the risk here, and B, if there was any good reason to do it that way, other than as a cost control measure.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Yes. This is Dave Lochbaum. I was going to say the good news, but there is so much bad news in Japan. Things could have been worse in Japan. The spent fuel pools had a lot of spent fuel in it, irradiated fuel, but not as much as—they weren't filled to capacity. Japan, a few years ago, decided to go to reprocessing of its spent fuel, and some of the spent fuel had been shipped from Fukushima to that reprocessing center, thinning out or reducing the amount of spent fuel in the pools.

Having said that, there was still a lot of spent fuel in those pools. The problem with that situation is that, unlike the reactor core, if cooling is lost, there are a number of safety systems to correct that situation or mitigate that situation, and there's a very thick four-foot, five-foot-thick concrete wall encasing the reactor vessel should the cooling fail to prevent fuel damage.

The spent fuel pools have basically one system to cool them and a very flimsy, nonreliable structure around them in case radioactivity is released. So, you have more fuel that sits in the reactor core in a place where you have one system and no reliable barriers in case something happens. It's a recipe for disaster, and that disaster is now unfolding in Japan. In the United States, we're even worse off, because our spent fuel pools are more filled than in Japan, and we're in the same risk level. So, we need to do something rapidly to better protect Americans.

REPORTER: And in terms of the physical configuration of the pools being over the reactor, A, is that a common design, and is there a reason to do that, other than a cost reason?

MR. LOCHBAUM: It's a very common design. It's a common design. Thirty-one of our reactors are very similar. It wasn't a cost consideration as much as an oversight. When the plants were originally designed, it was thought that the spent fuel would remain on the sites only two or three months after they came out of a reactor, during refueling outage, and then the fuel would be shipped off-site for reprocessing and disposal. When those plans changed, we just filled the pools up to capacity without ever rethinking whether we should provide more safety and better barriers.

REPORTER: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi, fellows. Thanks for handling this, and I'm glad Dave's got some of his voice back. I wanted to ask again, given the circumstances, as we know them now, what—sort of worst case scenarios and how we might see them unfold at this point.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, there are six spent fuel pools in Japan that need to be cooled or they could follow the pathways that Unit 3 and Unit 4 went through. In addition, there are three reactor cores that need to be cooled. The priority would be the spent fuel pools, because they're more exposed and more likely the radiation would get out if they're not properly managed.You can't forget about the reactor cores, because there's a lot of radioactivity there, and they can also get out.

Without knowing exactly the extent of the damage in Japan and what options they have, if any, it's kind of hard to speculate what the time lines might be. They're facing an unprecedented challenge. They're mobilizing the resources that they have available. As I said, there is not many options. There's a lot of material that could be released. There's not a lot of barriers between that material and the environment. And so it doesn't look like it's going to come to a good outcome.

REPORTER: If containment were to fail, there's conflicting reports about whether there's any water in the Number 4 pool at all. How long does it take for a serious release to happen once that fuel is exposed?

MR. LOCHBAUM: We're talking hours. Once that condition is reached, it's hours before you start getting the radioactive cloud.

REPORTER: And this would be mostly cesium?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Cesium would be the worst, but there's an awful lot of other radioisotopes that would follow along. You have krypton. There's just a whole litany of things that are in that spent fuel that are posing the risk. You have to remember, the reason it's in the spent fuel pools in the United States and elsewhere is that no one has come up with a repository to safely isolate that material for 10,000 years into the future. The material—it's not just the cesium; it's a bunch of other things that have that hazard for that length of time. So, that radioactive cloud will contain cesium and a bunch of other things that people downwind need to be protected from.

REPORTER: Would you expect, absent some sort of extraordinary weather event, that this would tend to fall within the 30-kilometer zone?

MR. LOCHBAUM: The challenge there is that the most likely outcome of a spent fuel problem of this nature is a fire, and a fire tends to propel the radionuclides higher up into the atmosphere than if it was just the metal rods breaking and the gases leaking out. Because of the mode of force of the smoke carrying materials higher into the air, they tend to get spread further and over a wider area [by the jet stream] and other winds, and further complicating that situation is the meteorological conditions. [NOTE: See clarification later in the call regarding the jet stream.] Rainfall tends to bring things back down to earth quicker; no rainfall means that the winds carry the materials further. It's very difficult to predict.

REPORTER: So, you could get—

MR. NEGIN: Excuse me. We are going to have to go to the next questioner.

REPORTER: Sure.

MR. NEGIN: We have got to go to the next questioner. I'm sorry.

REPORTER: Sure.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. I would like to follow up a little bit on that, two things: One, do you see any evidence that the spent fuel pools are actually—I mean, it's a little bit hard to tell how low the water is or isn't. And then you seem to be suggesting that if there is a fire, it could be much broader than, you know, 30 kilometers or 60 kilometers, whatever the number is. Can you comment about both of those things, please?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Yes. On the first part of that, it is pretty evident the water level is below the top of the fuel in the spent fuel pools. The problems that the workers are facing are very high radiation levels, which are restricting their abilities to get the water canons in close or even do drops from helicopters overhead. If the water level was above the fuel in the spent fuel pools, the water would provide some shielding, and the radiation levels would not be as high as they've been reported. Whether it's all the way to the bottom or one-third from the bottom might be interesting for post-event inquiries, but right now, it's pretty evident that fuel is uncovered and that high radiation levels are restricting worker options.

The second part of that, you know, the smoke and the fire does propel stuff high, and so it can be carried far and wide. You know, depending on the wind conditions, how fast they're blowing and where—if they're blowing out to sea, great. If they're blowing inland, depending on how fast they're blowing, you know, radiation knows no magic fences. The winds will carry it as far as the winds want to go.

REPORTER: Does this suggest to you that people in California, for instance, who are worried now ought to be more worried if there is a fire in the spent fuel pools?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I think the people in California, even if the worst case occurs in Japan, don't need to shelter or head east. That's a much further distance than 30 kilometers.

REPORTER: Right.

MR. LOCHBAUM: I don't think the people in California need to be overly concerned with it, other than the fact that the people in Japan are facing disaster.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thank you for taking the question. There's been talk about this idea of burying the spent fuel rods with sand and soil laced with lead and boron. Have you developed any information on that option? Does that seem like a realistic strategy at this point, or is the best strategy just to continue with trying to get water around those rods?

MR. LOCHBAUM: The preferred strategy would be to try to get water to cover up the rods. Once you do that, you reduce the radiation levels and allow workers to go more freely throughout the site and could expand your options, particularly when they got the power back to the site, as of yesterday. So, if you can somehow reduce the radiation levels, allow workers more access to the plant, you've increased your options. If you're not successful in doing that and you only have one option left, I'd use it, and that would be the sand and soil and putting a blanket over the material, try to put out the fire, try to blanket the radiation so it doesn't get into the atmosphere more than it already has.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to follow up on something I read in the papers this morning that U.S. officials have been telling reporters, I think, that they're concerned that they're just not getting good information from Japanese officials; they're not—they're saying they're not getting the full picture of what's happening. Are you—I mean, is it time—are you guys getting the full picture from the Japanese officials or do you feel that they should be doing more in that regard?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, I think we're not getting the full picture, but to be fair to the Japanese officials, I'm not sure they're getting the full picture. After the Three Mile Island accident here in the States back in 1979, the NRC required all plant owners to establish computer links between their facilities and the NRC headquarters so they could more reliably monitor what's going on in the event of an accident.

During that Three Mile Island accident, the NRC had somebody on the phone back to headquarters, one person trying to relate information by phone, and it didn't work. I don't know that Japan has that same situation; in fact, I have reason to believe they don't, and, therefore, the Japanese officials aren't getting information about temperatures, pressures, water levels, et cetera. So, I don't believe they have the full picture.

To be fair to the company, their priority is trying to save themselves from a huge disaster. It's not that they have necessarily the—having not preplanned how to convey that information, it's very difficult to develop it ad hoc. So, I think it was a lesson we learned in 1979. It doesn't seem to have been picked up across the world.

REPORTER: Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks very much. I just wanted to follow up a little bit about what you were saying earlier about how it's a common design, 31 of our reactors to be similar to the ones in Japan. Would dry casking be—more of the spent fuel rods be the answer, or is it the design of the plants that should be changed? Have these plants really reached the end of their lives in terms of being safe enough? Thanks.

MR. LOCHBAUM: That's a good question. I should have followed up on that when I pointed that out. Ever since 9/11, we've recognized the hazard posed by the spent fuel pools being nearly filled up in the attics of the plant, and you can't wave a magic wand and all of a sudden have the spent fuel pool be at ground level, but what you can do is accelerate the transfer of spent fuel from the pools into dry casks.

You will have more dry casks out back on a concrete pad than you do today if you choose that option, and because you have more dry casks, the dry cask risk goes up, but the risk reduction you get in the pool is so much larger than the risk increase you get on the cask side that you significantly reduce the threat profile both from a safety standpoint and a security standpoint. With these spent fuel pools up in the air, if you look back to 9/11 and somebody who's at the controls of a suicide aircraft, those pools are very inviting targets.

We need to reduce that hazard regardless of the threat. And the other thing you get is you reduce the amount of inventory in the spent fuel pools. You can spread it out, kind of like spreading out the logs in a fire, significantly reduce the heat load, give workers much more time to restore cooling or add water, which the more time they have, the more likely they are to be successful.

Even if they fail, with less fuel in the spent fuel pools, the size of the radioactive cloud that can come out in the event of an accident is significantly reduced. It's the cheapest insurance we can possibly pay, and yet we haven't taken those steps in the United States.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Thanks again for doing this. I want to follow up on that question. I know that at some of the decommissioned plants, there have been even more drawn-out plans to move the spent fuel into these dry casks. What's taking so long? You can get online and see all of these diagrams and reports about it. Why haven't they done it, especially after 9/11?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I wish I knew the answer to that. It's not for lack of trying. We testified last August to the President's—the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future that we need to do this. The National Academy of Sciences has come out with studies that says this needs to happen; it's not hazard we're not addressing.

I think in America, we're the best barn door closers in the world, but we're not necessarily the best barn door—we don't notice that the barn doors are open enough.So, we have to wait until something like Japan happens here. That's just too late to wait. We know the hazard. We know what the fix is. If something like that were to happen here, every other plant would have to do it. Why don't we just do it now and just skip the step where a bunch of Americans get killed?

REPORTER: And if I could follow up about the design of the spent fuel pools, is there any evidence that—after 9/11, for example, that U.S. utilities did anything to improve the safety of those, as you put it, "up in the attic" spent fuel pools, to shield them better somehow, or is it essentially the same as what's going on in Japan with the design?

MR. LOCHBAUM: There were steps taken to reduce the hazard in light of 9/11. Those steps did reduce the hazard, but only very small amounts. The biggest fix was not taken, which was to transfer the fuel into dry casks. What they did do was the fuel that comes right out of the reactors is the hottest fuel, both from a temperature standpoint and a radiation standpoint. So, plant owners have checker-boarded old and new fuel in the spent fuel pools, which does reduce the hazard a little bit.

In addition, after 9/11, workers, mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, have posted more water movement, temporary hoses, temporary pumps, et cetera, so that if an aircraft were to arrive to cause damage to a lot of equipment, start a lot of fires, they have more assets on the ground to try to deal with that, and some of those assets can be used to get water into the spent fuel pools. So, we are better off than 9/11, but we're not better off than what Japan went through today. So, we need to solve both of those problems as quickly as we can.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. Looking at the U.S., is there a way to know—looking at station blackout, is there a way to know what a plant's coping duration is rather than what it's supposed to be or required to be? And can you relate that sort of backup and coping concept to the problem of the large amount of spent fuel in the pools?

MR. LOCHBAUM: The answer to the first part of that question is yes, there was a report the NRC, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, published in 2003 or 2004 that listed every plant in the country and what their coping duration was. We have a copy of that table. We'll try to post it up on our website. Ninety-three of the plants in the United States—93 of the reactors in the United States have four-hour coping durations; 11 plants have eight-hour coping durations. Japan had eight hours. So, most of our plants have far less than what the Japanese had.

The relationship of that—no matter what the coping duration is, even eight hours, the cooling systems for the majority of the spent fuel pools in the United States do not get power from either the emergency diesel generators or the batteries. So, even if you had batteries that lasted indefinitely, right now, they're not connected to the equipment that cools the spent fuel pool. So, that doesn't provide a huge benefit. Most of our cooling systems on spent fuel pools can only be powered from the electrical grid, which is the first line of defense.

MR. NEGIN: This is Elliott Negin. I want to mention that Dr. Lyman has joined the call. Are there any other questions?

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thanks very much. I just wanted to spend a little bit more time on the option of using the sand and potentially concrete that we touched on earlier. I mean, if you could just explain how that would work and, you know, what the longer-term consequences of that action look like, that would be great. Thanks.

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, the situation—when you turn to that option, there are two problems you're trying to deal with: One is the heat that's continuing to be generated, so you're trying to use materials that blanket the heat but also allow the heat to be carried away as best as possible. Water's, you know, ideal for that purpose. If you can't have water, for whatever reason, then you try to use other materials, like sand and other materials that allow you to carry away the heat as best as possible.

The other situation you face is that in a normal configuration, the spent fuel pools is kept from a critical reaction by its configuration. If the fire, meltdown, and the fact that you're throwing a lot of heavy
material on top of it causes that geometry of that configuration to change—it collapses, it gets pressed together—you could conceivably reachieve a critical mass and restart the nuclear chain reaction that powers the reactor core. So, that's why you mix in with that material boron and other materials that lessen the likelihood that you'll somehow achieve a critical reaction.

If you would—you know, it doesn't do much to solve one problem if you create another. So, you're trying to use a mix of materials that can both deal with the heat issue and also deal with the criticality issue. Ed, do you have anything to add to that.

REPORTER: Sorry. I'm also just wondering, then, you know, based on the situation as it currently stands, the fact that, you know, they are attempting to restore power and continuing to dump water, but don't seem to be having a massive amount of success. Are you able to, you know, to give some sense of a time line as to when they would actually start to really consider the secondary option? Is it something that they would be looking at now or, you know, do we still have a couple of days before we get to that situation?

MR. LOCHBAUM: Well, they should be considering that option right now, because it's not something that you—you know, you need to prestage that material and get those ducks in a row so that you can employ it as quickly as possible when that moment comes. As far as what the trigger point will be for that decision, again, I don't know the exact extent of damage at the site and what options they may have left in the quiver. So, it's hard to speculate when that moment will arrive. I'm sorry.

REPORTER: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Hi. Thank you for holding this call. I was wondering, my impression is the spent fuel pools at Indian Point in New York, one of the pools has a constant leak and requires leaking liquid to be pumped back into the fuel pool. Does that put it at higher risk?

MR. LOCHBAUM: There is one pool that has a small leak, a relatively small leak. That leak isn't so much of an issue, because that leak rate is well handled by the pumps that they have available. If they were to face something like Japan did where there's an extended loss of power, they're not able to cool the pools, and the water boils away, that leak rate would make it incrementally worse, but the boil-off rate would be the primary challenge that both of the reactors at Indian Point would have to deal with. So, that small leak would be overwhelmed by the much larger boil-off rate.

REPORTER: And one other question. In all of the pictures that we're seeing on—the people from Japan are wearing masks, and my impression is that it's far from the site and not necessarily to do with debris, but that they feel that it helps diminish their exposure to the radiation. Does it have any efficacy at all in that respect?

MR. LOCHBAUM: The masks are basically trying to filter materials out of the air that's being breathed. The far better protection in that scenario would be taking potassium iodide pills. So that the masks provide some help; it's more of a placebo, though, than an actual defense measure.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

OPERATOR: Our next question.

REPORTER: Yeah, sorry to double up, but I wanted to make sure, especially since Edwin is now there, what the potential is for a high level of radioactivity getting high into the atmosphere and being spread. I was a little confused by Dave's comment earlier about it hitting the jet stream.

DR. LYMAN: I'm afraid I didn't hear his comment, but, you know, my understanding is that unlike Chernobyl, I think it's unlikely that there would be a prolonged hot fire that would cause a very high, lofting plume. I think it's much more likely in this situation that the plume, which is elevated by the heat that's generated by the chemical reaction and the decay heat, that that heat is what would drive the elevation of the plume. And so I don't think you'd see those kind of characteristics. So, I don't know what Dave said, but it's still my judgment that most of the fall-out would be within several hundred miles of the site. There would be hot spots, you know, potentially further away, like we did see in Chernobyl, but still, the dilution over the course of thousands of mile would be significant.

REPORTER: Dave, you mentioned fire. Is this all consistent?

MR. LOCHBAUM: I'm sorry, what? I missed the question.

REPORTER: You had said earlier that there was a possibility of a fire that could loft radiation into the atmosphere. Ed's saying he doesn't see a Chernobyl-type fire. I'm just trying to get a sense of what's likely here and what the potential is.

DR. LYMAN: I could clarify. I think that the heat generated in the combustion of zirconium is a limited and understandable quantity. So, it has to do with the total amount of heat that's generated during that reaction. And I think that current studies, for instance, by the NRC, Sandia National Laboratories already considered that heat in their estimates of plume rise, which the basis for my understanding.

REPORTER: So, how far do you think the plume would rise?

DR. LYMAN: I would have to get back to you on that.

REPORTER: Okay, thanks.

MR. NEGIN: I think that—do we have any other questions in the queue?

OPERATOR: At this time, I see no further questions in the queue.

MR. NEGIN: Okay. I just wanted to remind everyone—thank you for joining our call this morning. That concludes our briefing this morning. We will have a telephone press briefing on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. If you have further questions today, please email us at media@ucsusa.org, and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you very much, and, you know, good luck on getting your stories done today. Thank you.

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