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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 20, 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, but 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. Also, 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: Good morning, everyone. This is Elliott Negin. I am the Media Director here at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks for joining our call this morning. Just to remind you again, the Union of Concerned Scientists is an independent, science-based advocacy group that has been a nuclear industry watchdog for 40 years. We are not for or against nuclear power. Our goal is to ensure that the industry operates in the safest manner possible.

Because it's the weekend and we've been working for days without a break, we are taking some time off. So, that means that we will not be able to reply to media requests today beyond the questions you ask during the briefing this morning.

Tomorrow, Monday, we will resume handling your requests, which you should email to media@ucsusa.org. Please do not contact our experts directly. They have been overwhelmed with requests for interviews. If you have trouble getting everything down that you need from today's briefing, there will be a transcript and an audio file on our website later today.

After our speaker is done this morning and we open up the phone to your questions, 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.

This morning, our speaker is Dr. Edwin Lyman, who will update us on the latest developments in Japan. We will then open the phone to questions.

Dr. Lyman is a Senior Scientist in the UCS Global Security Program, and he has a doctorate in physics. Ed is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation. I will now turn over the phone to Ed.

DR. LYMAN: Thank you, Elliott, and good morning.

A brief update about what we know with regard to the status of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi facility. The Japanese have announced that Units 5 and 6 are now stable. These two plants were in the least amount of trouble to begin with, but this is still one bit of good news. It also suggests that if they have actually been able to reestablish off-site power and the pumps are functioning well, that means that at least there's the potential that they will be able to reestablish cooling to the more severely affected units, although since they experienced hydrogen explosions that may have caused further damage, it's still not assured. My understanding is that power has still not been supplied to any of the other units, off-site power, and they've delayed their -- they originally planned to have power to at least Unit 2 by yesterday afternoon, and they've changed their deadline. Overnight, there were announcements that the pressure in Unit 3 containment was rising and that they may have to do another controlled venting, but then that order was cancelled based on a report that it had stabilized, although at a high level. So, the situation is still quite uncertain.

I understand that Energy Secretary Steven Chu made statements on CNN this morning that he believes the situation is improving, or I don't want to characterize what he said, but I think our own assessment is that it's premature to make any conclusions about the most severely affected reactors, 1 through 4. I would like to explain a little bit why we still have a concern. The IEA and others have reported that Units 1, 2, and 3 have had their cores at least or approximately half uncovered, and this has probably been the case since shortly after the initiation of the accident. So, it's been at least several days that at least 50 percent or the upper half of these cores have been uncovered. Now, that's a longer period of time for the situation than the core at Three Mile Island experienced, and the upper parts of the cores may have experienced significant damage. What may have happened is a swelling of the fuel rods that could cause a potential -- reduce the ability of coolant to actually get between those rods if the core is reflooded. So, the situation may not be -- these cores may not be as easily cooled as they would have been if they were undamaged.

Another issue that may have come up is the embrittlement of the zirconium cladding. When the zirconium becomes uncovered, after it expands and balloons, it can become oxidized and eventually becomes embrittled. If the core is then reflooded with water, that could cause cracking of the zirconium and release of fuel particles in what's called the debris bed. This was seen at Three Mile Island. The debris could then sink to the bottom of the reactor vessel, where it might then begin an attack on the steel of the reactor vessel. Also, it makes the configuration of the core, again, harder to cool.

One should also note that if part of the core fuses into a single mass, that it is, again, harder to cool the entire mass, and even if you get coolant on the outside of this mass, the central line may continue to heat up and eventually liquefy at the center and then drip down, again, to the bottom of the vessel. So, the fact that the cores have experienced some damage raises questions about the efficacy, even if the cooling is restored and they're reflooded.

The next issue I wanted to bring up was the issue of evacuation. It was Wednesday when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission advised Americans to evacuate within a 50-mile zone of Fukushima. The Japanese are still maintaining their current order, which was evacuation only to about 12 miles, between 12 and about 18, and just shelter in place. They have maintained that even though several days have elapsed since the U.S.'s own order.

Our assessment is that this is a delayed response and the Japanese are squandering the opportunity to be able to initiate an orderly evacuation, especially of sensitive populations, like children and pregnant women, from the site. And we are concerned that they are, again, wasting valuable, precious moments by delaying this evacuation order.

There were reports today that the Japanese have admitted that they delayed distribution of potassium iodide because of an incorrect assessment of the severity of the accident, and they should have distributed them sooner, and so I don't understand why they don't take a lesson from that and, again, accelerate emergency evacuations of the zone. The third issue I wanted to raise has to do with a domestic review of nuclear power plants in light of the Fukushima disaster. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Jaczko said on C-SPAN this morning, he reiterated that the NRC is going to undertake what's called a systematic and methodical review of all U.S. safety regulations and procedures in light of Fukushima.

This, we certainly think, is completely appropriate, but I just wanted to point out that the NRC undertook a similar effort after the 9/11 attacks, what they called the top-to-bottom review of security procedures at U.S. nuclear power plants. That effort was stymied by opposition from the industry, slowed down NRC's attempts to seriously address the security vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants, and as a result, even as we're approaching the 10th anniversary of September 11th, there are still some nuclear plants that have not fully implemented security measures that originally grew out of changes made after September 11th. So, the lesson here is that, sure, the NRC should be systematic and methodical, but not so methodical as to delay implementation of necessary measures for another ten years. That would be irresponsible. And I think I will stop there and take your questions.

REPORTER: Thanks very much. Thanks for taking questions. First, can anyone say how you see the reports some of radiation affecting food in Japan? Is this a serious thing? Is this too sporadic at this point to comment on or how do you see it?

The other thing is, could you comment a little further maybe, Dr. Lyman, on what the incident says about the disposition of spent fuel, how you see it in the U.S.? You know, should we be doing more dry casking rather than these swimming pools for the spent fuel rods?


DR. LYMAN: Thank you for your questions.

With regard to the first, there are reports of contamination, especially with iodine 131 showing up in milk and vegetables, like spinach, as far away as Ibaraki Prefecture, which is between Fukushima and Tokyo. I understand that those limits have already exceeded Japanese legal limits in some instances, and so according to law, Japan will have to destroy those foods. My concern is the contamination of food that's below legal limits and would not be required to be destroyed. Obviously, those limits are going to have -- people are going to have to understand the basis for those limits now and how they're justified. These are set by theoretically assuming someone consumes contaminated produce for a certain period of time and over a year, say, that the dose they get from that will be below international recommendations for radiation exposure from artificial sources. So, it certainly is going to pose a dilemma for people to be able to trust the food they're eating, knowing that there may be radioactive contamination, the government tells them that, even so, it's safe. So, I think there will be a dilemma for a lot of consumers in Japan. I don't think it's a surprise that this contamination has appeared, and I think it will certainly -- levels will increase for some period of time. I still do not believe that the U.S. will see any significant contamination of produce, certainly anywhere near legal limits. With regard to the second issue, we have said repeatedly now that we believe the current status of wet pool storage in this country is unacceptable because of the dense packing of spent fuel pools and the potential that if there is a rapid loss of coolant, that these pools could experience a more rapid heat-up than what we're seeing in Japan, where the pools are generally not as full as U.S. pools, and we will continue to press that point. Again, NRC Chairman Jaczko on C-SPAN was asked this question, and he, once again, reasserted the NRC's belief that there's no safety issue with the spent fuel storage in this country, but he does concede, you know, everything is on the table now in their systematic and methodical review.

REPORTER: Thank you. If I could just ask, is the iodine, does that have to come from the interior of the reactor rather than the spent fuel rods? Does that mean it has to come from within or --

DR. LYMAN: Yes. The iodine 131 has a half-life of eight days. So, after three months or so, there wouldn't be any measurable levels. So, even in the spent fuel pool that has the spent fuel that's been most recently discharged, which is Unit 4, that was still early December, so it was more than three months ago. So, I expect the iodine is a signature of the vented release of radioactive gas from the threereactors with damaged cores.

REPORTER: Very good. I appreciate it. Thank you.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

I wanted to ask you what your ideas might be on parts of the AP1000 design or the other new designs that need to be reevaluated in light of this accident.

DR. LYMAN: Thank you for the question.

The AP1000 and other so-called passive designs, in particular, we believe will need to undergo further scrutiny by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the assumptions they've made regarding the likelihood of severe accidents.

Just by way of background, the AP1000 and other passive designs are like any other reactor design, developed to satisfy what are called design basis accidents. So, it's a set of accidents specified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that should be considered in the design of the reactor.

And what we're seeing in Fukushima right now is well beyond design basis space, even for the AP1000. So, how the AP1000 performs with regard to a design basis accident is not directly relevant to how it would perform in the event of a severe accident, and in the event of a severe accident, when you're beyond the period of time when the passive systems are expected to function, active systems are going to be required in the AP1000.

The AP1000 will require refilling of the storage tank that supplies gravity-driven water to the core. That will require restoration of off-site power or emergency diesels. The AP1000 needs hydrogen igniters to burn off hydrogen concentrations that may develop in a severe accident, because the containment itself can't be assured to survive a hydrogen explosion. These hydrogen igniters also require AC power.

So, we think there needs to be a reconsideration of the level of safety for all reactors, including new reactors, and that will determine whether additional safety features will have to be added to the AP1000.

MR. NEGIN: Next question, please.

REPORTER: Good morning. How are you?

DR. LYMAN: Fine. Thank you, [name].

REPORTER: You had talked about -- you had mentioned a plant -- a couple of plants where security systems had not been fully implemented or improvements had not been implemented in the last ten years.

Would you elaborate a bit on that and what plants are we talking about and what is the NRC culpability here?

DR. LYMAN: Yes, thank you.

The process of revising procedures and regulations to improve security against terrorist threats has been a long story. It took two years after September 11th for the NRC to actually issue formal and final orders increasing what's called the design basis threat; that is, the nature of the attack that nuclear power plant operators have to assume will be made against their plant and leads to a determination for what security procedures and equipment need to be put into place, how many guards you have, and other factors.

Some of those involve actual modifications to plant infrastructure, which can be very expensive, but the NRC issued orders to all plants to make those modifications in 2003; gave them two years, I think, to actually implement them. But it took another several years before the NRC actually changed its regulations as opposed to just issuing orders, which amend licenses. Changing the regulation means it's a generic change.

And after it finally issued those changes to the regulations in 2009, it gave -- no, actually, it was -- I am going to have to check on the date. It provided a year for those final changes to be made, and many utilities -- in fact, more than half of the nuclear power plants -- submitted letters asking for an extension from that deadline.

Now, the strange thing about this was NRC had maintained that the regulations were just paperwork to codify the orders that it issued several years before. So, it's not clear why the utilities hadn't made all the changes they needed anyway, but a number of them said that the cost of these infrastructure modifications, the time it takes, the fact that there are only a limited number of vendors, and there are supply issues, forced them to seek additional extensions, and the NRC has granted all of those extensions.

I believe the last couple of plants are the Tennessee Valley Authority plants. I would have to double-check which ones are still outstanding, but they are concentrated in the Southeast, and they will not -- the last one, I believe, has been granted an extension past the 10-year anniversary of September 11th.

REPORTER: But the NRC and the industry have been touting, in advertisements and everything else, how many billions they have spent in upgrading and how all of these plants are now secure from terrorist attacks. Is that simply PR and false?

DR. LYMAN: Well, you just have to judge those claims in light of all the letters that the licensees sent to the NRC asking for a delay in implementing these regulations. I need to double-check the exact date. I think it was in the spring of 2009 when the regulations were issued and utilities were originally given one year to comply, and many of them asked for extensions of 6 to 18 months. So, you know, you do the math, [name].

If they were really prepared -- if they were really fully prepared immediately after
September 11th, as many in the industry claimed, I just can't square that with these extensive delays in meeting these requirements that we've seen.

REPORTER: Okay.

REPORTER: Thank you for doing this call. Thanks. I have two questions.

The Japanese authorities have talked about decontaminating workers who received high doses of radiation. Exactly what is done and how effective is it? And can it be done for large numbers of people?

DR. LYMAN: Thank you for your question.

The workers at the site are working in an environment that's, overall, at high radiation. There is different components that have different effects.

Now, if you're talking about particulate matter that contains, let's say, what are called alpha and beta emitters, these are radioisotopes that really are most hazardous if they're taken internally or are in direct contact with the skin.

So, when workers get into radiation suits and they wear masks, they're protecting their skin against getting contamination, that if not removed, could lead to a chronic exposure and then deliver radiation to skin tissue, and if inhaled or ingested, could potentially lead to what's called a body burden, where you carry it in your body for a long time, being irradiated potentially for your whole life. So, the primary objective is to prevent inhalation of long-lived radioactive isotopes and to keep it off your skin. So, decontamination typically involves just washing off the contamination that may have accumulated on your skin.

However, there are isotopes, like cesium 137, which provide an external radiation hazard. They emit gamma rays, which can go through your skin. So, if there's cesium 137 or other isotopes that are gamma emitters, there's no effective countermeasure against that except limiting where you are. And so decontamination can be expected to have only a limited effect in reducing radiation doses to these workers.

REPORTER: Thank you. Could I ask one further question?

DR. LYMAN: Yes.

REPORTER: At the Senate hearing earlier this week, Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he was worried about the relicensing of the Vermont Yankee, and it has been suspended. Does he have anything substantive to worry about?

DR. LYMAN: He says it was -- well, actually, NRC Chairman Jaczko on the television this morning said the decision has already been made so, we are going to have to square -- I think NRC's position is still that they've made the decision on Vermont Yankee.

However, they have said there needs to
be this systematic and methodical review, and we would expect that must include a review of license renewals, especially for Mark I boiling water reactors like at Vermont Yankee. We do believe that Vermont Yankee and other aging plants may pose risks that may not have been fully considered, especially in light of Fukushima, and I will just say that we would expect that everything needs to be on the table at this point. Nothing should be sacrosanct, including license renewals, even those that have already been granted.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER: Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

I wanted to ask, you know, in the aftermath of this accident, the narrative that's emerged is that the NRC has basically been, you know, captured by the industry; that a lot of the reforms that went in place after Three Mile Island have been watered down, and that basically, you know, that it's going to be -- it's been tough to really get meaningful changes through.

You know, if that's true, what can Chairman Jaczko do, as one vote on the Commission, to really, you know, implement changes and implement reform? And what kind of confidence, you know, ought the public to have in this agency at this point?

DR. LYMAN: Thank you for that question.

It's true that Chairman Jaczko is only one vote on the Commission, and there have been a number of votes in which he's been on the losing end for measures that might actually strengthen safety. So, I think we've had a long-standing concern that the agency -- it's under tremendous pressure from the Hill, as well as from industry, to accelerate licensing actions.


We saw, only in the weeks before the crisis in Fukushima, increased pressure from Congress to accelerate those license renewals or the handful -- or you can actually count them on two fingers -- that have lasted longer than anticipated because of serious issues that did arise in the context of their relicensing, including degraded underground piping, which is not originally even considered in license renewal, and also the fact that they were being held up because of very persuasive public intervention, which is leading to long consideration and deliberation of issues in the adjudicatory proceedings. But Congress seemed to be unhappy with this pace, also with the pace of certification of new reactor designs.

Now, we commend the NRC for actually raising design issues that slowed down the amendment to the design certification of the AP1000, for example. Under tremendous pressure, the NRC did identify defects in the shield building and that it's supposed to protect those reactors from external events, including earthquakes, and in the face of enormous industry and congressional pressure, held its ground for some time, although it did recently vote to let the certification be published in the Federal Register.

So, I think there's a great tension, and we just hope that the balance is going to shift now. A lot of the deregulatory effort has been focused on the fact that we haven't had a severe accident in this country since Three Mile Island, and that's led to an accelerated effort to weaken regulations that are not seen as what's called safety-significant; in other words, if you're spending money on a system that you may never actually need because the type of accident that would cause it to come into play might never happen. So, we think that there's been a lot of reduction in safety margin based on increasing confidence that we're not going to see another Three Mile Island in this country.

Again, I think what we've seen at Fukushima, the number of core damage accidents worldwide has now increased -- you know, in water reactors has now increased from one to four. So, we think that's going to throw a monkey wrench in a lot of the NRC's calculations of risk.

Did I answer your question?

REPORTER: Yes, you did. Thank you. I know, it's a tough -- it was a tough question.

DR. LYMAN: Yeah, yeah.

REPORTER: I guess let me just follow up real quick.

On the example that you gave on the design issues for -- that had to do with the shield --

DR. LYMAN: Yes.

REPORTER: -- the shield building. So, that was something that, in your mind, the NRC basically tried to hold its ground on, but eventually, gave in? Is that how that went?

DR. LYMAN: Yes.

REPORTER: Okay.

DR. LYMAN: Just to explain, Westinghouse changed the way it wanted to construct that shield building from essentially a monolithic, reinforced concrete structure, which is the way containment buildings in current-generation plants are built, to a novel approach that would use modules, essentially concrete-filled steel shelves that would be assembled and then filled on-site.

That led to questions about whether the way those modules were being held together would actually satisfy NRC requirements in the event of an external impact or an earthquake, forcing additional testing and analysis by Westinghouse.

But then an issue came up in the shield building. There was an NRC technical staff member who issued what's called a nonconcurrence, is that he disagreed with the consensus that the shield building was safe, and this was based on the fact that two-thirds of the shield building modules actually would be of a type that failed what's called a ductility test.

In other words, they had the potential to be brittle. If struck, they could shatter instead of just -- you know, breaking instead of bending. And the NRC concluded that, yes, we understand that, but those -- the two-thirds of the building that would be potentially brittle wouldn't be in places where you have to worry that they're brittle. So, overall, we're not concerned about the integrity of the building.

As far as I know, that nonconcurrence was not resolved, but the Commission voted to go forward on the basis that it was a dispute of regulatory philosophy and how safe is safe, and, of course, we think the pre-Fukushima judgment of how safe is safe has to be shifted now.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER: Good morning, Ed. Thanks for doing the briefing.

Chairman Jaczko on C-SPAN just now
declined a few times to address possible what he called worst case scenarios, and, of course, the Japanese officials don't want to discuss those either. But can you give us -- I mean, without -- no one knows exactly what might happen, but can you give us -- I mean, how -- I think a lot of people are asking, how long can this go on?

If they're not able to restore power to the cooling systems for the reactors, if they're not able to get consistent, stable cooling at the pools, we all know it could go very bad, but what are we talking about for time frames? What are the limits of that? That's one question. How long does it take to actually cool this stuff down? It can't -- or does it stay hot effectively forever?

And the second question is, what kind of specific questions would you like to see the Commissioner asking and getting answered at the NRC briefing tomorrow?

DR. LYMAN: Thank you for your question.

Of course, it's very, very hard to predict -- you know, even the NRC predicts that it doesn't know what the actual conditions are in the reactors, and -- but if -- let's put it this way: If this event happened and there was no intervention, then models, you know, typically show that the core would completely melt within a matter of several hours, you know, five, six hours, and relocate to the lower head, meaning it would essentially liquefy, fall to the bottom of the reactor vessel, form a hot pool, which would then corrode through the stainless steel [carbon steel], again, in a matter of a couple hours or less. And there were tests at Sandia National Labs in the 1990s that showed repeatedly this effect of what's called lower head failure that would release the molten fuel into the bottom of the primary containment.

Now, we know that in Unit 2, the containment has already -- it's been reported to have been breached. So, if this occurred in Unit 2, then there would be, again, a pathway to the environment for far larger radiologic releases that would occur.

In the case of the other two reactors, a containment failure may not be assured, but it's still a relatively high possibility. So, if the seawater pumping had not been effective, this would have ended days ago. So, I actually think it's an amazing thing that they were able to maintain the cores in this state. It is truly heroic. And if they -- again, I think it will depend on the condition of the damage.

As I said before, I don't think anyone or I certainly can't speculate on what will happen when the cores are reflooded. There are simply not enough examples. It took years after Three Mile Island to characterize -- you know, to investigate what happened, try to explain, and there's still, I think, some things about the Three Mile Island core that aren't fully understood. So, we're just in uncharted territory here. But it could be -- it's just amazing, it's -- they've prolonged this as long as they have.

With regard to the spent fuel, I think as long as they can continue putting enough water in the pool to keep the water level up -- and, again, I don't think it's clear if it's above the surface of the spent fuel or not at this point -- but if they just keep up that, I imagine it could go on indefinitely as long as the radiation levels don't deter further manual actions. And I think they did use an unmanned craft to put water into the Number 4 pool, but I don't know -- you know, I think that that could probably go on for weeks.

But with regard to the cores, I think we'll know after they reflood if they can actually reduce or arrest the melting to the extent the vessels remain intact.

REPORTER: And the NRC briefing questions?

DR. LYMAN: I think the primary question to ask NRC is in light of what we're seeing at Fukushima, how will that impact the scope of NRC activities, many of which are based on risk and the presumption that this type of accident is a 1-in-100,000-a-year accident, whether or not the design basis for all their decision-making needs to be reviewed or not.

REPORTER: Thanks.

REPORTER: Thank you for holding this press conference. I have a question about the health risk of the residents in Fukushima. What kind of sickness and (inaudible) will be concerned in the long run? And also, what kind of sickness did you see actually in the case of Three Mile Island?

DR. LYMAN: Thank you for your question.

I'm not expert on the health consequences of Three Mile Island, and, in fact, there's still significant dispute over whether there were measurable or detectable health consequences or not. The problem in that case is that even based on official estimates of radiation released from Three Mile Island, the number of additional illnesses or deaths that you would see would be small enough that it might not be ever detectable in an epidemiological study. There have been studies that have shown some effect, but I think it's still an open question.

But in the case of Fukushima, it's clear there's already been significant -- more radiation released than was at Three Mile Island, at least in terms of isotopes like cesium. The French safety authority, IRSN, said several days ago that they believed already about 10 percent of the Chernobyl release had already occurred at Fukushima. That could be well more today. So, I think we're definitely seeing a more severe event already than Three Mile Island.

Now, the citizens of Fukushima are unlikely -- they've already evacuated within about, you know, 20 kilometers of the plant. Now, the most severe effects, even in the worst case where there's a core melt and containment failure, those worst effects would still be concentrated probably within that zone or maybe 30 kilometers out, and the potential for what are called acute effects; that would be acute radiation syndrome, which is a severe, near-term illness that could be life-threatening.

So, I believe that the prompt evacuation of the inner zone has reduced that threat, but we believe that the zone of evacuation should be expanded as a further precautionary measure, probably at least to the level where the U.S. has recommended, which is 50 miles or about 80 kilometers.

So, if so-called acute effects are not experienced, the levels of radiation could be enough to increase the risk of cancer significantly for some people in the path of a larger plume or could contaminate produce for a long period of time if it's not interdicted or live in area where there is ground contamination that is not cleaned up. But the primary health impact would be an elevated rate of cancer that might not show up for 20 years or more.

There are other effects of low-level radiation that are becoming more well understood, including cardiovascular illness, but cancer would still be the number one issue, I think, for most exposed people.

REPORTER: Okay. I have one more question.

DR. LYMAN: Yes.

REPORTER: I saw this ABC News video saying that, you know, five nuclear workers are already dead. Have you ever heard of this?

DR. LYMAN: Yes, I have.

REPORTER: Is this true?

DR. LYMAN: I can't confirm that. Certainly, if it were, it would be a great concern. On the television this morning, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman said that they didn't have good information about the radiation levels on-site, and if they don't know, we certainly don't know if that's plausible.

Certainly if it is, it would be an even greater motivation for the Japanese to be more transparent about what's going on and to be more conservative in its protective measures for the public further away.

REPORTER: Okay. Thank you so much.

DR. LYMAN: Um-hum.

REPORTER: Hi there. Thanks for taking the call.

Governor Cuomo in New York is going to be meeting with the NRC on Tuesday about the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. You know, what do you think is likely to come out of that meeting? And -- it's not with Cuomo himself; it's his staff. They're meeting with the NRC. What are the main issues there and what do you think will come out of that?


DR. LYMAN: Well, I think the NRC, they are going probably to hold the line. I mean, it's NRC's position that all currently operating plants are adequately protected. If they respond to political pressure from one court or another, I think that they're probably afraid that a dam might break and -- metaphorically -- and cause other communities all around the country to start questioning the reactors in their midst. So, I think NRC will probably hold a firm line.

Obviously, they will probably, you know, refer to the systematic and methodical evaluation, which is going to be the all-in-one catch phrase for everything they're going to do to try to placate folks back here at home, but we hope that it will be more than just words, that they will actually reexamine a lot of their assumptions, a lot of their determinations for safety, especially for plants in densely populated areas, like Indian Point.

I mean, Indian Point is special. It's one of a handful of plants in the U.S. with extremely high population densities within 50 miles, and we've always said those should get additional regulatory attention.

One thing I'd like to point out is when the NRC recommended evacuation within 50 miles of Fukushima, which differs from its recommendation or its actual regulations for U.S. plants, which is evacuation to only 10 miles, they've actually opened up a Pandora's box, because when they publish calculations on their website justifying their recommendation that showed that significant doses could be experienced 30 or even 50 miles downwind of Fukushima, that certainly is going to raise questions about their assurances about the safety of people who live beyond 10 miles from reactors in the United States.

Chairman Jaczko justified this this morning by saying we don't have any site with six reactors on it, but we do have sites with two and even three reactors, and it's not clear their analysis -- looking at their analysis, they gave two different assessments. One it seemed was for a single reactor and the other was four, and they didn't actually -- I don't think the one-reactor case was that less severe. So, they're going to have a hard time trying to explain that one, I think.

REPORTER: Thanks for holding the call, and actually, that was a great segue, because my question was actually about that extension of the -- them saying that 50 miles is probably what needs to happen in Fukushima, comparing that to here in the U.S.

What would be the really practical implications if we actually were to extend that zone here in the U.S. to 50 miles? I mean, how many large population centers would that cover? What would they need to be doing with those large population centers? I understand that if you live within the ten miles, you have some evacuation drills and you have some more level of awareness of what needs to happen. Would that extend out to the 50 miles as well?

DR. LYMAN: Well, yes. I mean, there are certain requirements for people living within the emergency evacuation zones, and extending those requirements to 50 miles would be an enormous challenge, which may well explain why the NRC will push back as hard as it can against that.

You know, there are notification requirements. The distribution of potassium iodide zone would be extended as well, and so, you know, school kids in New York City might suddenly find that -- you know, the schools will have to stockpile potassium iodide.

Evacuation planning also involves what are called calculation of evacuation time estimates. That's an assessment each plant has to do under various conditions of the amount of time it would take to evacuate the regulatory zone, and I would just like to see what that study would look like for New York City or for Los Angeles or for any of the other metropolitan -- large metropolitan areas that might fall into the 50-mile zone.

I would need to go back and actually give you some numbers on that, but there are certainly several plants I can think of that are in densely populated areas.

And just another note, there's also been a question about whether the ten-mile zones can be effectively evacuated in a number of cases. The NRC has never restricted population growth within those 10-mile zones, and over the last 10 or 15 years, suburban sprawl has pushed development practically up against the fences of a lot of plants.

If you go to Charlotte, North Carolina, you see suburban sprawl going deep into these ten-mile zones. There has been no -- you know, there is no regulatory control over those, and a question that's long been in my mind is whether the evacuation time estimates can keep up with that kind of population shift.

Was there another part to your question? Okay.

REPORTER: Hi. You said that everything should be on the table, and given that the U.S. boiling water reactors with Mark I containment have made modifications, such as the hydrogen venting, would one of the things that would be on the table is shutting down our fleet of those reactors, or would that be so costly -- I'm just thinking about how costly that would be.

Are there other modifications that could be made that would include that need -- that kind of level of need if it's on the table?

DR. LYMAN: Yes, thank you.

I'd like to also, before I start, point out that hydrogen explosion is only one failure mode for the Mark I containments. There is also another failure mode, which is called containment liner melt-through, which is specific to Mark Is, and that's because there's an area of the containment shell that could come in contact with the molten core if it escapes the reactor vessel, and that's also a significant container failure mode.

So, even -- we have a link on our website to a report only a few years ago from Sandia National Laboratories that documents that risk. So, even after the modification is made to the Mark I containments for addressing hydrogen control, it doesn't mean the problem's over.

What does this mean with regard to Mark Is? I don't think we're -- we're not in a position yet to make any recommendations. With regard to the spent fuel, we do think there's enough data already available to justify the accelerated transfer of spent fuel out of Mark I elevated pools, but with regard the future of Mark Is, we think that the safety assessment will have to be done, that all assumptions will have to be examined, and then the options will have to be laid out. One of those options could be shut-down, but hopefully, there are others.

REPORTER: All right. Thank you.

REPORTER: I'd just like to ask you to rephrase your thoughts about how broad you'd like this systematic assessment by the NRC to be and some kind of thoughts on timing, not too fast, not too drawn out.

DR. LYMAN: Um-hum, right. Well, right, the NRC -- there are so many activities that could be encompassed, obviously, it could well take enormous effort. So, probably our recommendation would be that they identify those areas where they may have shaved the safety margin too close in the last few years, and I think they could probably figure those out and come up with a list of priorities and probably address those priorities on a more rapid time scale with a longer-scale review for less critical issues.

Take new reactor licenses. The resource issues associated with the surge in reactor applications has been an issue at NRC from the beginning. We certainly think that that should be a lower priority than dealing with operating reactor issues. So, to the extent that resources will have to be taken from new reactor applications to the systematic and methodical review of operating reactors, so be it, and if that slows down the new reactor reviews, then that's the outcome.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

REPORTER: Hi again.

You had talked about contamination of foodstuff. Would you comment about the regular releases that come from reactors, particularly the pressurized water reactors, and the long-term contamination that they create in the environment? I know of at least one reactor where the state health department has found plutonium in deer, though the deer hunting is still allowed.

And secondly, would you include the BWR Salem, New Jersey as one that you think needs further review?

DR. LYMAN: Thanks.

Are you sure you're not talking about the Paducah and Richmond plant when you're talking about plutonium in deer?

REPORTER: No. Actually, I'm talking about a reactor in New York City.

DR. LYMAN: Okay. I think it would be highly unlikely that would be associated with an operating reactor that hasn't had significant fuel damage, because plutonium is generally not a more volatile element. So, it's not typically a significant component of the planned releases or the known releases on a routine basis from plants. So, I'm sorry, I don't know the details
of that.

Other than that, I don't think I can comment on operating plant emissions, because that's not really a specialty of mine. So, I guess I'd like to defer on that.

The second question was about Oyster Creek. Is that correct?

REPORTER: Yeah, and Salem, we can take them both.

DR. LYMAN: And Salem, right.

Again, we think that everything is going to be on the table, that we should probably prioritize looking at BWR issues, but there are certainly outstanding issues at DWRs, too, that will need to be addressed, and we hope this will provide an incentive. And this was also addressed in the previous question to some extent, to resolve some long-standing issues that have been too slowly implemented at NRC, including resolution of issues having to do with the ability to operate emergency core cooling systems after a loss of coolant accident without getting clogging of the subscreens that could challenge the flow. There's been a lot of foot-dragging on resolution of that issue, and there are a handful of others that we think should be prioritized because of their safety significance.

REPORTER: Okay. Thank you.

MR. NEGIN: Are there any other questions? Please remind people how they can ask questions, please. REPORTER: Hi, Ed. Thanks.

Unit 3 looks like it's appearing particularly -- the Unit 3 reactor looks like it's particularly difficult to bring under control. We saw this pressure spike today in Japan time that they say stabilized at a high level.

Do you think the presence of so-called mixed oxide, or M-O-X, MOX fuel in some amount in this nuclear reactor might be making it more difficult to cool and bring under control? This kind of fuel, unlike regular nuclear plant fuel, contains a lot more plutonium going into the reactor, increasing the amount of plutonium in there. Do you think that's a factor in the difficulties of Unit 3?

DR. LYMAN: Thanks for the question, [name].

The use of MOX fuel has been a long-standing concern of ours in that there are aspects of plant operation where it can reduce safety margin, but I would actually be surprised if that were a significant player in this particular case, one, because the amount of MOX fuel is relatively low. It's only about 5 percent of the core. The other reason is that it's been in the reactor a relatively short period of time. It was loaded only in of 2010.

Now, one of the effects having to do with MOX fuel that could affect heat transfer might or would lead to more severe outcomes would probably occur after the fuel had been in the reactor somewhat longer than a few months.

One issue is that MOX fuel experiences some of the problems that uranium fuel does if it's in the reactor a long time, what's called high burn-up. That's problems may take in a lower burn-up than uranium fuel, but, again, we're talking about the difference between a year, a year and a half, and two to three years, not a few months.

So, I'm struck by some comments by the Japanese that Number 3 is a major concern because of the MOX in the core, but -- you know, I'd be surprised if that were really the case, but I guess I wouldn't rule out the possibility that there might be some additional complications being caused by MOX.

MR. NEGIN: Questions?

REPORTER: Following up, if we are correct and the fuel has been in the reactor somewhat longer than a few months, is it likely that you would have to have MOX in there a few years to see those effects?

DR. LYMAN: Well, what I'm thinking of is MOX fuel might be more vulnerable to core -- to damage than uranium fuel. One issue has to do with the -- MOX fuel is a heterogenous -- it's a mixture of plutonium and uranium. So, you end up with agglomerates of plutonium in the fuel. Those tend to --

REPORTER: I'm sorry, what was the word? What of plutonium?

DR. LYMAN: Agglomerates, like clumps.

REPORTER: A-G-G, agglomerates?

DR. LYMAN: Yeah.

Now, actually -- now that I think of that -- I'm sorry, I'm brainstorming there. Those clumps are present early in life, and they could lead to hot spots where you have higher than average temperatures in those clumps. So, actually, there may be some beginning-of-life issues as well.

But what I was thinking of is that when fuel is in a reactor and undergoes changes, some of those changes are detrimental to its structure, and those effects generally show up in uranium fuel after about 3 years or 3 1/2 years of irradiation. They would show up sooner in MOX, maybe after only two to three years. So, that's what I was talking about, was changes in the microstructure that might have an impact on severe accident performance.

But it is possible, I guess, because of the plutonium clumps in MOX fuel, that you might have higher cladding temperatures for the MOX fuel assemblies or hot spots that might be of a particular concern.

REPORTER: Thanks.

MR. NEGIN: Daniel, are there any other questions?

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

MR. NEGIN: Okay.

Thank you all for joining our call this morning. We will be back with another telepresser tomorrow morning at 11:00 Eastern Daylight Time. We will also begin, first thing in the morning, taking your requests for information beyond what we're imparting in these telepressers at 11:00.

Please email your questions to media@ucsusa.org. Tomorrow morning, we will begin processing those questions again, and we will do what we can to get back to you as soon as we can with answers. Thank you very much.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This does conclude today's program, and you may now disconnect.

(Whereupon, the telepress conference was concluded.)






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