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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 21, 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:  Thank you. Good morning, everyone.  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, 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 has always been to ensure that the industry operates its reactors as safely as possible. If we do not get to your question during this morning's briefing, please email us at media@ucsusa.org, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.  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 everything down that you need from today's briefing, there will be a transcript and an audio file on our website later today.  And we are holding these briefings daily at 11:00 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  If you plan to participate, please call in well before 11:00 to allow us to start on time. Now, after our speakers are done this morning and we open 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 speakers are David Lochbaum and Dr. Edwin Lyman, who will update us on the latest developments in Japan.  We will then open the phones to questions. David Lochbaum is the Director of UCS's Nuclear Safety Project.  He is a nuclear engineer by training, and he worked at U.S. nuclear reactors for 17 years.  He also has worked as a safety trainer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Dr. Ed Lyman is a Senior Scientist in the UCS Global Security Program.  He has a doctorate in physics and is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation. Also on the line this morning is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project manager.  Ellen will answer any questions you might have about the impact this disaster might have on the nuclear power industry of the United States. I will now turn the phone over to Dave Lochbaum.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Good morning. The power line that was run to the site on last Friday has allowed workers to attempt to start reenergizing safety equipment on Units 1 and 2.  Those efforts have been slowed by the need to initially proceed cautiously because of the water-spraying efforts, both from the ground and from the air, into the spent fuel pools on Units 3 and 4.  That required workers to shield the electrical cables and connections from the water that was being sprayed about. Then the efforts were further complicated by the fact that the hydrogen explosions or some damage within the reactor buildings hence required workers to run temporary lines to connect power from the line that was run to individual components in those structures.  So, that's slowing down the efforts to restore a more conventional cooling system for Units 1 and 2. Units 3 and 4 continue to be the -- the priority continues to be spent fuel pool. Efforts over the weekend to get water back into the spent fuel pools largely succeeded.  The radiation levels have gone down.  There is indications that water in those pools has been restored and the temperatures have stabilized, whereas before, they were heading upwards.  So, those conditions on 3 and 4, the spent fuel pools, have been much better than they were just a few days ago. On Units 5 and 6, the spent fuel pools have been -- their cooling systems have been reenergized.  They're running.  The temperatures have not only decreased, but there's now plenty of margin available that wasn't there just last week.  So, conditions are improving across the board.

There's still some challenges laying ahead for the workers.  There was a report just not too many hours ago of smoke coming out of the Unit 3 reactor building that required workers to once again be evacuated until the situation and the cause of that problem could be determined and better fixes or alternate plans made.  So, there continue to be challenges faced, but the situation overall is much better than it was a couple of days ago. Thanks, Elliott.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, David. Ed Lyman.

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks.  I don't have much to add.  I'd just like to raise one point, which I have before. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had a briefing this morning where they discussed the crisis in Japan and what they were doing back at home.  They've announced initiation of a 90-day quick-look review of regulations and procedures that would address some of the issues that we've seen in Japan. However, the NRC staff seem to continue to take a lot of credit for the plans that they've put into place at reactors in the years following September 11th to address what would plants do in response to the loss of large areas of a plant due to fires and explosions.  This is partly due to address concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. plants to aircraft attack and the fact that there may be conditions created by an aircraft attack that would be beyond the design basis of the plant. However, those plans, we should note that they are secret.  Those plans are not available to the public, because they're considered security-related information.  And so the public is unable to evaluate whether those plans make sense and whether, in fact, they differ significantly from the kind of response that we've seen in Japan. And so I would urge the Commission, as part of their review, to share more information with the public about the nature of those plans and whether or not they would -- if similar plans had been in effect in Japan, if they would have made a material difference to the response. One issue that I see is that because that type of event is considered beyond design basis, the requirements for additional prestaged equipment, like diesel generators and fire pumps, would potentially not have to involve being qualified for seismic events.  So, it is possible, in the event that this was precipitated by an earthquake and not an aircraft attack, that some of that equipment would not be available. So, I would urge interested media to press the NRC for more details about how credible those plans are.  Thank you.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, Ed. We will now open up the phones to questions.

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, if you wish to ask a question, please press the star and then the number one key on your touchtone 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:  Good morning, gentlemen. I'm curious whether the latest radiation figures that have been put out by the Japanese Government provide -- how much of a clue they provide into whether or not and to what extent the fuel rods at Pool 4 were actually exposed, because there seems to be some disagreement on whether they were -- whether the water level was just lower than normal or whether they were actually emptied at some point.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.  I can start. I would just like to point out, at the NRC briefing this morning, NRC staff said it was their view that the elevated dose rates at the site were due primarily to the Units 3 and 4 spent fuel pools and not actually due to reactor emissions. Now, I haven't completed an independent assessment of that.  There is significant iodine that has been detected on-site and now a long way downwind, in agricultural products, that would indicate that there was probably also involvement or releases from the degraded reactor cores as well. So, what actually needs to be done is an assessment of whether the iodine and cesium concentrations would be consistent with releases only from the reactor.  If it turns out cesium concentrations seem unusually high based on what we know about inventories, that would be an indication possibly that there was also release from the spent fuel as well. And just to clarify, most of the iodine in the spent fuel would have decayed away, even in Unit 4.  So, we would expect those releases to be enhanced in cesium compared to iodine. So, I don't know the answer yet, but that's the kind of thing one could look for to try to answer that question.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. To add onto that, there is pretty visual evidence that there was an explosion on the Unit 4 reactor building.  With all the fuel in the spent fuel pool and none in the reactor core, the most likely source of that hydrogen was when the fuel in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool was partially uncovered.  That reaction could have generated the hydrogen that later exploded. So, there is pretty compelling circumstantial evidence that the water level in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool dropped below the top of the fuel that is stored in the racks.

REPORTER:  Thank you.  That's all I had.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, folks.  Thanks again for having these briefings.  They're really useful. I'm going to ask sort of a design question.  Can you talk really about whether the design of the Mark I, or Mark I, specifically the placement of the spent fuel rods containing fuel at a position that's largely above the reactor, made this situation worse.  There's been a lot of sort of graphics about how these things are arranged.And in answering, if you could address whether the United States should be worried about this design in installed U.S. reactors.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. The arrangement with the spent fuel pool up in upper elevations of the reactor building was a contributing factor, but the larger factors were the fact that the spent fuel pool cooling system was not -- or the spent fuel pool cooling system was not designed to withstand earthquakes.  A lot of support systems are also not designed to be powered off of anything other than the electrical grid.  So, when the earthquake and tsunami took out the formal power and the backup power, it caused a lot of damage to equipment, nonsafety-related equipment or nonseismically supported equipment, at the plant, the pools were left with nothing that could cool the water.

In addition, the loss of some of the support systems, like the air system, meant that it was possible that the inflatable seals around the gates in the pools deflated and allowed water to leak out of the pool, plus that's in a not very robust building.  Unlike the reactor core that's within a concrete wall that's four to five foot thick, it's up there with sheet metal siding around it.

So, in addition, if the water level in the spent fuel pool did drop below the top of the irradiated fuel and hydrogen was generated, inside the main containment building, there is systems to deal with hydrogen, to detect it, to measure what the concentration is, and to do something about it.  In the reactor building, there is no such equipment to deal with hydrogen that's produced, and, therefore, the hydrogen explosions occurred.  If we were in the situation that they were, the design didn't give the workers much chance to deal with the situation they faced.

On Units 5 and 6, once they saw what was happening on the other units, they opened up vent pathways in the other reactor building to lessen the likelihood hydrogen would be collected in quantities that could explode, but that was a measure that was taken after the fact.  It wasn't a preplanned contingency measure, and they basically made the design fit the conditions they were facing.

REPORTER:  And as a follow-up, what about any worries for U.S. plants that are similarly designed?  I mean, I presume that it's not as earthquake prone an area, but I just want to have your sense of it.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, U.S. plants are equally vulnerable to that type of scenario where you lose power to the cooling system.  In fact, that's the issue that led me to be at UCS, calling and identifying that issue at the Susquehanna plant in Pennsylvania in 1992.  The NRC is aware of it, has done studies about it, done everything but fixed it at plants in the United States.  So, if we go down that same road, we are likely to reach the same destination.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question. Your line is open.

MR. NEGIN:  Go to the next question.

OPERATOR:  Certainly.

REPORTER:  Hello?  Can you hear me? I'm sorry.  I'm sorry, there was a problem there.  Thanks for having these briefings. Just now, at the NRC briefing, Bill Borchardt, who's the head of the NRC staff, said that the NRC believes that the containment at the three reactors of most concern "appears to be functional."  A lot of media outlets are now running with stories that say, Bill said that containment was not breached. And can you help us sort that out a little bit?  It seems like it's possible that -- because it seemed all along that, like, the Unit 2 containment is breached, and that's what's the -- they've speculated.  Is there a reason to believe that it wasn't breached?  What's the current status?  And is it accurate to take Borchardt’s statement, "The containment seems to be functional," and say that he said that the containment hasn't been breached?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Hello.  This is Dave Lochbaum.

We looked at that question earlier today after that statement.  The NRC's definition of "containment integrity" consists of four elements: all the isolation valves that are supposed to be closed are closed that penetrate through the containment walls; all the air-locked doors or the equipment hatch, the personnel hatch, are closed.  And I forget the other two, but they are basically all the penetrations that go through the containment are closed and sealed.  So, with that element, the NRC could come to the conclusion that the containment is functional.

There's a -- in the industry, the terms "functional" and "operable" are two terms of art.  "Functional" means it may not meet all the legal requirements but it will do what it needs to do, which is prevent the widespread release of radioactivity.  "Operable" means that it not only meets those four definitions, but it also, all the support systems that are needed for the containment, the containment cooling system, containment spray system, et cetera, are also available.

And it sounds like with the challenges that workers are having to restore power to some of the systems, that it may not be operable, but it may meet the lesser definition of functional. So, that's what we attribute some of the differences between what the NRC is saying and what others are saying at the moment. Does that address it?

REPORTER:  Just to follow up quickly, do you think, therefore, that the containment -- it looks like the containment at Unit 2 was not breached?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I don't really have enough to -- you know, the NRC has people on the ground over there.  So, I would have to defer to their --

REPORTER:  They have people in Tokyo.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Right.

The one thing that could explain -- make all of them right and just be a difference of semantics is that there was some discussion earlier, a few days ago, that the challenge on Unit 2 was a hydrogen explosion that may have occurred inside the torus or may have occurred in the -- in the reactor building, just outside. If the breach that was reported earlier, a few days also, was below the water line in the torus, then the water is scrubbing out any radioactivity as best it can before it leaks out through the breach, and the system might still be considered functional.

But, again, I don't have precise details on what people are using to determine when they say it's functional and when the Japanese said earlier that there were signs that the containment had been breached.  I don't know enough to explain those differences.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed.

The IAEA website has a status indicator, and it still says damage is suspected of the containment integrity in Unit 2, so I guess you really need to go (inaudible) to explain their statement in that context.

REPORTER:  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  My question is in reference to the shared spent fuel pool, a/k/a, the seventh pool. Can you tell us how much spent fuel is in there and what's known about the conditions there?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

Yeah, we do have the inventories on our website.  It's certainly more than the fuel in any of the individual pools.  I don't have the number right in front of me.

I did see one report today that actually there is a cooling issue at the consolidated pool, and the temperature is slowly rising but not a concern yet.  That's one report, and it hasn't been confirmed, but you might want to try to get confirmation of that. I'd need to pull up the exact number or I can get it to you offline afterwards.

REPORTER:  Okay.  And as a follow-up, I know a lot of people were surprised that there is this seventh pool, another one, because as far as I had seen, comments from the Japanese Government, there hadn't been any assessments or status reports that I saw on this seventh pool.

Do you have any idea why that would be? Shouldn't that be included in the status updates, or also, was there any damage to that pool, as far as you know?

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  I mean, I don't want to speculate on why information is coming out or not, but I suspect -- well, again, I don't want to speculate.

But yes, obviously, there's a substantial inventory of fuel in that pool.  I guess it is physically removed from the reactors that are experiencing the most damage, but it is likewise dependent on electrical power for cooling.

So, it's clearly a concern, and if the temperature is rising, then I think we're going to be hearing more about it in the next -- in the coming days.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, David and Ed.

DR. LYMAN:  Good morning.

REPORTER:  Can you hear me?

DR. LYMAN:  Yes, we can.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Just to clarify, you made a comment last week dealing with the spent fuel pools and it came up again in the NRC briefing this morning.  The backup generators and extra batteries that the NRC ordered as a result of their beefing up response capabilities after 9/11, as I recall, you said last week that that does not apply to the spent fuel pools; that those battery backups, et cetera, would not work in the spent fuel pools or are not connected.

Would you clarify that or elaborate on that, please?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yes.  From the information that's publicly available, the spent fuel pool cooling pumps and the pumps that cool the heat exchangers that the hot spent fuel pool water flow through, are not powered at all plants except from the electrical grid.

There are some plants that have the ability to connect those pumps to the emergency diesel generators.  I'm not aware of any pump in the United States or any plant in the United States that has the ability to connect those to the batteries if the first two sources of power are lost.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hello?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Hello.

REPORTER:  Hi.  I wanted to ask you specifically about the Indian Point plant here in New York.  People have been saying that there are enough backup generator systems that there would never be a problem with the power being off on the coolant system, and I just wanted your response on that, please.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Have you ever seen the movie Pinnochio?  Because that's a bald-faced lie.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Apparently there are three backup systems.  There's a gas-powered generator --

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The reason I say that that's false and whoever's saying it should know better is that happened at the Indian Point plant in August of 1999.  They had a problem that caused them to be disconnected from the electrical grid.  One of the diesel generators started, one of the diesel generators did not start, and the batteries lasted for seven hours, and then they were depleted.

Since lightning has already struck at Indian Point, it seems a little bit foolhardy for people to claim it will never happen again since it's already happened at that plant in August of 1999.

The NRC fined them $210,000 for bad maintenance, bad electrical breaker performance, and actually just driving home that it was an emergency crisis.  So, they didn't handle that very well, and I doubt that they could have forgotten such a bad event in their history so quickly.  If they have, that's even worse than having it in the first place.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hey, guys.  I'm sorry, I didn't get a chance to look at the weekend briefings, so if I'm going over old ground, forgive me.

But regarding last week's mention that there are 31 U.S. plants that share the same spent fuel pool design, is a list of those consolidated someplace where I could find it?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  If you go to the UCS   website, up in our search box, put in "nuclear   power information track," and that will take you   to a map of reactors in the United States.  If   you then look to the right side of the map,   there's a numbers of items that you can select   and then only have the reactors that match that   criteria show up.           

I think the first item on the list to the right is plants with elevated spent fuel pools, and you'll get those 31 and where they are and what their names are and everything like that.

REPORTER:  Very good.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thanks so much.

Ed or David, can one of you back up and sort of walk me through what the backup systems are for spent fuel pools in the United States, for keeping water and power in there, and how they are similar or different than what is in Japan?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave.  I'll take a shot at it and then Ed can supplement it.

For boiling water reactors like the ones in Japan, the normal cooling system is powered from the electrical grid.  If the electrical grid goes down, some of the plants are able to hook the cooling systems to the emergency diesel generators, but that's not all of the plants.

 For all of the plants, the system is to allow a safety system that's powered from the emergency diesel generators to provide make-up water to the pools to match that which is being lost by evaporation and boil-off.

If the emergency diesel generators are lost, which is the backup power source, the cooling systems for the spent fuel pools don't have battery capacity.  So, you have to get either the diesels back or the electrical grid back in order to restore cooling and make-up to the spent fuel pool.  And that's true for the 31 reactors that are like the Japanese reactors.

REPORTER:  So, that's it.  You've got your electrical power grid, you've got generators, and if you don't have those, you're out of luck.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, the one thing you have got working in your favor is that there's generally less heat load in the spent fuel pool than in the reactor.  If you lose cooling of the reactor, you have seconds to minutes to hours, at most, to get it back or you're in deep yogurt.  On the spent fuel pool side, you have hours to days to restore cooling or get water back in before you're facing a fire or meltdown.

It's thought that the additional time will give you the luck you need to make that happen.  In Japan, you know, they just didn't -- weren't able to -- even though they had more time, they weren't able to benefit from that relaxed time frame.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning.  Thanks for doing these briefings and for taking my call.

Just a question about this phrase that gets constantly repeated when there's talk about possible exposure of the population, that there's X -- you know, there's X level of radiation, but it poses no health risk or no immediate health risk.  That's been the comment with milk and spinach and also with air.

Does that phrase have any real meaning? Is there a standard for what constitutes or does not constitute a health risk?  Or saying that there's no immediate health risk, I mean, I assume means that you could be exposed to a level that would cause cancer down the road, but is not going to have an immediate effect.

I'd just like to hear your comments about that.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  This is Ed Lyman.

That's right.  I mean, you have to listen carefully to what's being said.  Ionizing radiation generally has two classes of effect: One is what's called a deterministic effect, which comes at very high doses, and that would lead to, you know, more or less immediate health consequences, including the appearance of severe illness, within a matter of hours or days.

If the exposures are below the thresholds at which those acute effects appear, you may not have any clinical symptoms of anything, but you are still at risk of cancer or other diseases that are now being implicated by radiation exposure, including cardiovascular disease, down the road possibly, you know, 20 years or more later.

So, with regard to the so-called stochastic effects or the long-term effects of ionizing radiation, the consensus is that there's no threshold, meaning that even a single exposure, you know, a single radioactive track could potentially damage that material in a way that would cause cancer, but the consequence and the risk is proportional to dose.

So, when limits are set on the consumption of contaminated foods, that's generally pegged to assumptions with regard to how much radiation would be considered acceptable by, you know, international authorities, and there are the guidelines in that it's essentially -- you know, like any other carcinogen, foodstuffs, that's based on a statistical risk and setting limits on the ultimate risk associated with that activity.

So, I mean, there are some risks with ingesting any radiation, but the goal is to limit it to a fraction of the background risk that you experience from particulate disease.

REPORTER:  Just to follow up on that, so when an official says there is -- that ingesting, you know, X food poses no health risk, that's really not the kind of statement that you can make across the board without knowing what kind of dose people might be getting from other sources or --

DR. LYMAN:  Right.  I mean, it's actually -- strictly speaking, it's a false statement.  Saying there's no health risk is a false statement.  The risk may be low, it may be a tiny fraction of an increase over one's baseline risk of cancer from exposure to background radiation, but it's -- you know, strictly speaking, it's false.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning.  I hope you can hear me.

I'm interested in the question of dry cask storage.  The spent fuel pool issue clearly is an issue right across the board in nuclear power, but when I read your website, you talk about dry cask storage needing to take spent fuel that's been stored for at least five years. That still leaves us with the spent fuel rods in a pool that could still wind up with this kind of issue if the cooling for the pool ran out.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

That is correct, but by transferring the fuel from the spent fuel pools into dry casks, you lower the risk in two ways:  First, by having less spent fuel in the pools, if there is a loss of cooling or loss of water inventory, workers have more time to cope with that situation, because the heat loads in the spent fuel pool are lower.

The lower the heat loads, the longer it takes for the water to heat up and boil away and cause problems.  That doesn't guarantee the workers are successful, which leads to the second factor of why the risk is lowered.  Even if they're unable to restore the cooling or replenish the water and there's a spent fuel pool accident, either a fire or meltdown of irradiated fuel in the pools, the fact that you've thinned it out and transferred some into dry casks means the size of the radioactive cloud that's emitted from that pool is much lower than it would be otherwise.  So, the combination of reducing the likelihood of an event and reducing the consequences of an event significantly reduce the risk from a spent fuel accident.

It's true that you also increase the amount of the dry cask risk you have, because you have more casks on-site, but unless you have some problem that causes each and every cask to fail, you don't have the same kind of potential accident that you do on the dry cask side than you do from the spent fuel pool side.  So, that's why we advocate that as a very cheap insurance premium against what happened in Japan.

Sorry for the voice.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

Now, my follow-up question is, how susceptible are the dry casks themselves to a flooding damage?

DR. LYMAN:  I can take that.  Ed Lyman.

I haven't actually analyzed the risk of a flood to dry casks, but the logic behind dry cask storage is that it would require multiple failures to be able to get anywhere near the kind of radiological release that you could have from the failure of the spent fuel pool.

The dry cask storage is not infallible; in fact, we have concerns about, in particular, the security of the way dry casks are stored on-site, but in the context of risk reduction, what we're talking about here is, you know, our nation and the world has a spent fuel problem. Every reactor in the United States has accumulated a large stockpile of spent fuel. The national government has failed in its attempt to come up with any kind of coherent policy, and so as a result, all we can do is try to reduce the risk associated with this material until a better solution comes along.

So, it's our judgment that the process Dave described of accelerating transfer to dry cask storage will reduce the risk associated with long-term storage of spent fuel on-site. It can't eliminate it, but -- that's simply an impossibility because we're stuck with this material for a very long time.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you again for the briefings.

I just wondered, I've noticed that the only radiation readings that TEPCO has been providing from the site of the plant seem to be from the vicinity of the administration building or the gate, and I just wondered if you've seen any reliable data as to what the radiation doses that are being encountered in close proximity to the buildings or to the spent fuel pools and which would give us more of a read on what the workers are actually facing.  And without that information, are we able to get any real, reliable sense of what the radiation emitting from the spent fuel pool is?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll take a shot at that, and Ed can supplement.

There are radiation monitors throughout the reactor building to monitor radiation levels around some equipment that processes highly radioactive materials.  The Units 1, 3, and 4 reactor buildings have suffered extensive damage due to hydrogen explosions, and there's a real solid chance that all those radiation monitors or many of those radiation monitors are just no longer working.  They went through -- that was quite a significant blast wave that went through those buildings.  So, it may be that they're reporting from the only instrument that's or one of the few instruments that's remaining available for them to use.

REPORTER:  If I can just follow up real quickly, at one point, right around the time last week when they evacuated the workers, they were showing readings of 400 milli-Sieverts per hour, which would indicate at least that some ability to measure the acute radiation levels inside the plant existed.

Would there be mobile or -- I mean, presumably, the workers are all measuring it as they enter and leave the plant and are getting that.  Is there any reason why we would not be getting that information from TEPCO and the Japanese Government?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, I can address the first part of that question.

There are hand-held instruments that workers can use to measure radiation levels, but those instruments don't have telecommunications back to a computer and aren't connected by wire, so it's a worker seeing what a dose is as the worker moves through the plant.  That may be why they're -- you know, they can see it -- we're getting spot-checks of what radiation levels at this place are at this time and so on, but not a continuous read-out of what radiation is for us to determine trends.

Again, it may be just a restriction due to the instrumentation they have available rather than any motive or intention on their part.

REPORTER:  Okay.  I was just wondering, am I reading too much into the fact that we don't know what the actual radiation levels are close to the actual source?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Oh, I -- there is more -- their access to some of the areas has been severely restricted, and the instrumentation that was prestaged there may not be available today.  So, it may just be that they don't have the ready means to determine what those levels are.

 DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, I mean, I don't think we want to speculate on motives at this point. You know, there are troubling indications that, you know, TEPCO has said certain workers have exceeded the ordinary limit for emergency work and they have had to raise that.  So, clearly, that's indication that they're running into dose control problems.

But, you know, TEPCO is -- numerous organizations have complained that they don't have good access to a lot of that kind of information, and, you know, I just don't want to speculate as to the reasons for that.

REPORTER:  Okay. Thank you, gentlemen.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you.

We sit about 100 miles downwind of a site in Green River, Utah, that's been discussed as a possible plant site, nuclear plant site. There is also one being talked about south of Denver in the Pueblo area, Pueblo County area.

I guess we're just wondering, as a community, with new plants, to what degree they would be of safer construction, particularly in terms of safety measures, some of the passive safety features we've heard discussed, such as gravity-fed water supplies.

I'm wondering if you can address the new generation of nuclear power, I guess, in terms of safety.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

It is our assessment that the new designs that are being contemplated in the United States would not offer any particular safety advantages, especially in extreme situations like we're seeing at Fukushima.  Part of the reason is that any perceived reduction in risk associated with something like a passive safety system is then compensated for in the design by shaving safety margin elsewhere.  So, it's really unclear to us if the overall impact of that is an increase in safety or not.

I'd also like to point out that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require any plant to actually calculate the seismic risk associated with either current or new plants in the same terms that it calculates other risks. So, when you hear a vendor talk about how the risk of core damage at their plant is, you know, 1 in 10 million or something like that, that doesn't include seismic risk or, in fact, any other external risk.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

Can you discuss to what degree -- and I know you touched on some of this with your discussion about evacuations and that issue, but to what degree would they be analyzing potential health risks to downwind communities of, say, 100 miles away as they evaluate new plants?

DR. LYMAN:  In the context of new plants?

REPORTER:  Right.

DR. LYMAN:  The only -- for actually licensing the plant, in terms of its compliance with the Atomic Energy Act, they don't have to do that kind of evaluation at all.  All they have to do is evaluate the dose as a result of a design basis accident at the site boundary and at the boundary of a low population zone, which is so designated, which is not -- which is well within even the ten-mile zone around the plant.

However, under the National Environmental Policy Act, new plants are required to go through an analysis where they assess the impact of severe accidents.  The guidelines for doing that are nebulous, but NRC's policy is to only consider impacts within 50 miles of the plant.  And that only requires an analysis of the impacts; it does not require any measures to be taken if those impacts appear particularly large.

There is a process that NRC has to go through, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, where they evaluate additional design features that could reduce the risk to the public from severe accidents, but these are more or less pro forma exercises, and I don't think there's ever been any modification to a plant design that's come out of this analysis.

We've also pointed out that this is a strictly cost-benefit analysis.  The vendor would look at, you know, putting in an additional safety system that would cost X amount of money and see how many cancer deaths might actually avoid, and the NRC uses a value of human life in that context, which is well below what other agencies are actually using, only about $3 million per life, and that's below the guidelines of the Office of Management and Budget and it's below what any other agency uses in their own assessments.  That's only one example of the kind of crude nature of the calculation that NRC does.

So, I would say that they have not taken seriously this type of accident, and part of the reason is the complacent belief that these accidents are so low-probability that they don't require a high level of regulatory attention, and we hope that attitude is going to change now.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

I'd just like to add to that by pointing out about six years ago, the reactor vendors and the potential owners and operators of these new reactors lobbied Capitol Hill -- and were successful -- to get federal liability protection extended for new reactors if any are built.  So, until they back up their safety claims with their own liability insurance instead of federal liability insurance, we will remain more than a little skeptical about those claims.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning.  I apologize for my voice.

I wanted to ask you about the likelihood that the normal cooling operations in the core can be restored once outside power is reconnected.  Do you see any obstacles to that based on the history of the explosions that we're aware of?  Can you comment on any scenarios if the normal cooling can't be restored?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

In March of 1975, a worker using a candle to look for air leaks started a fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama.  That fire burned for about seven hours, destroyed most of the cables, power cables and control cables, for the emergency core cooling systems on Unit 1 and damaged most of those systems on Unit 2.    

Workers were able to run cables to repower the equipment they needed.  It took them some time, but they prioritized what needed to come back first and were able to, you know, restore power and return the equipment to service.

There's a little bit of difference between that event and what's going on in Japan, in that the fire was confined to one area in the plant.  That did restrict workers' access because of the smoke and the visibility issues with the smoke, but they did work in radiation levels than restricted access.

So, I think there is a model that is being followed.  It's not an exact analog for what's going on in Japan, but it suggests that it is possible to reenergize and restore systems to service.  That's what they're seeking to do there.

REPORTER:  And my follow-up is, can you make any inferences about the condition of the core cooling, piping, and systems by the fact that they have got seawater in there, or could there be difficulties in getting the customary cooling process to work?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

I don't know if you monitored the NRC briefing this morning, but Bill Borchardt did say that that was unknown.  The state of that equipment is unknown to them, and they're concerned about damage to cabling and pumps. So, I think if their own assessment is they don't know, then I think, you know, we would have to concur.

I'd also like to point out, over the weekend, we discussed even if cooling is restored and the vessels of the three damaged reactors are reflooded, that there may be issues with restoring adequate cooling to all the material in those vessels, and looking at the literature, it seems that it's a big unknown, what will actually happen when those vessels are reflooded, because of the potential damage that's already occurred to the fuel may cause it to behave in ways that may interfere with adequate cooling of all the material in the core.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, hi.  Sort of a two-part question here.

You had talked about the fuel pool issue.  If NRC wanted to direct that, you know, fuel be moved to casks as quickly as possible, would it take regulatory change, or what would it take?

And also here, what is your assessment of NRC's path right now, which is to do a short-term overview and a long-term overview? Do you feel is it adequate?  Is it moving quickly enough?  Is it addressing the issues?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

The first part of that question, I would hope that the NRC wouldn't have to make this happen.  The owners can look at what happened in Japan.  They have billion dollar assets that they like to protect.  One of the cheapest ways to protect that asset is to get the fuel into a less vulnerable position.  So, I would hope that the owners would be responsible enough to take that action on their own.

If that were not to occur, the NRC could issue an order in less than a day that would require owners to take that step, to better protect the American public.

The second part of that question is I think the NRC's 90-day look, followed by a longer look, is probably the best way to deal with this situation.  Right now, a lot of the why things failed, what failed, is yet to be determined.  So, it would be difficult for the NRC to jump to the right answers from what they know today.  But I think it's prudent for them to get moving, not wait for the final analysis of, blow by blow, of what happened.  So, I think the two-stage process is the right thing for the NRC to do.

Timingwise, I'm not going to -- I haven't looked at whether 90 days is too early, too late, or the Goldilocks approach of being just right, but it seems reasonable given how much information, how much ground has to be covered.

Sorry.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman, if I could just point out one thing.

However, even if the NRC were to issue orders tomorrow, it's not clear that there's enough dry cask fabrication capacity in this country -- well, or I'd say is that's going to be the limiting factor.  If the NRC issued an order in some way restricting the way that fuel could be stored in the pools, it would require utilities to begin to procure more dry casks than they otherwise would.

I simply don't know -- that would require potentially dozens of dry casks at each site, and I haven't looked at whether the industry is capable of meeting those kinds of orders and in what time frame.

REPORTER:  Just a quick follow-up, Ed, on that.  Is there -- a general range, currently, where dry casks are used, about how many are on-site?  (Inaudible).

DR. LYMAN:  On average -- yeah, I mean, I don't think -- we would have to -- we can get those numbers for you.  I don't --

REPORTER:  But I was just trying to determine, you might say, if there were six -- on average here, for a significant move, as you're talking about, if you would say, you know, it's going to take 12, it's going to take 15?  I'm just trying to see how much of a demand --

DR. LYMAN:  Right.  There's typically about ten tons of spent fuel in a dry cask.  So, if you had to remove -- let's say your pool had 400 tons and you suddenly had to find a new home for 300 of them -- this is just off the top of my head -- so you would need, you know, probably a couple dozen for each pool.  That's just a quick guess.  Maybe Dave has a better handle on those numbers.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  No.  I haven't looked at those numbers in a while.  Sorry.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  But, you know, that would probably be comparable to the largest number of -- the largest dry cask storage areas that already exist, might be double or more is my guess.  But, you know, we could probably get better estimates to you if we look at actual inventories.

REPORTER:  And without any approval from NRC?

DR. LYMAN:  I'm sorry?

REPORTER:  Is it correct that owners could move fuel from pools to dry cask storage on their own, without any NRC --

DR. LYMAN:  As long as they used approved casks, yeah.

REPORTER:  Okay, right.  Thank you.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, hi.

Our pressurized water reactor here has its spent fuel stored in an auxiliary building. Can you talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of that type of storage compared to the way they're stored in a boiling water reactor system?  Thanks.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

Those type of configurations are less vulnerable to the problems but not invulnerable to them.  The ways that they're better is that they're located at or below ground, where it's less likely for water to leak rapidly out of the pools, but they are equally vulnerable in that if you don't cool the water, they can boil away and evaporate away, and the cooling systems aren't as robust as they are for the reactor core.

The good news is that the -- they are in separate buildings.  Unlike the boiling water reactor, where their spent fuel pools are actually in the reactor containment building, as you pointed out, the spent fuel pools in pressurized water reactors are in a separate building.  That, again, doesn't make them as vulnerable, but that lessens the likelihood that a reactor problem ripples into a spent fuel pool problem and vice versa.

The fuel handling buildings that encase the spent fuel pools in pressurized water reactors are not the robust structures that house the reactor cores, but they are somewhat protected from a reactor accident, because they are separate, although adjacent to the reactor buildings.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Oh, hi.  Thanks very much.

Ed Lyman, you answered earlier -- and I have to confess I didn't quite understand -- about the way seismic risk is and isn't calculated in the overall risk.  Would you mind elaborating on that a little?

And also, have there been any cases where the understanding of seismic risk went up and so there were retrofits required at any reactors?

Thanks.

DR. LYMAN:  I can address the first part.  I'm not sure I have an answer to the second.

This is a history that I actually need to uncover, but plants around the country have conducted -- do what they call probabilistic risk assessments, where they actually go through all the possible accidents that they can think of and try to estimate the probability that that will occur and lead to core damage.  Those are primarily done looking at internal risks, meaning if a pipe breaks on its own, for example, and they do not address something like seismic risk in which you take into account the probability of a certain earthquake that will exceed the design basis and then go from there.

Instead, plants are required to do or do seismic margins analyses, where they actually do not try to calculate what that risk number is, but they just try to make a determination of what equipment they would need to have available in the event of an earthquake of a certain magnitude, and they don't take into account other things that go into the risk assessment.

For instance, the likelihood of -- if there's an operator action that's required, the likelihood of the success that have action.  So, those analyses fall far short of what goes into a full-blown risk analysis, and as a result, you can't compare directly the actual risk of seismic events with the risk from internal events, like pipe breaks.

That's also true for new reactors. They're not being required to actually evaluate -- to do a seismic probabilistic risk assessment, I believe, and part of that reason, I think, is no one actually wants to see what those numbers actually are.  There's a long history of this that I don't fully understand at this point, but I'm looking into the history of why these assessments are done the way they are.

REPORTER:  Could you just say what a better way of doing it would be, in your view?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, you know, a better way of doing it would be to do a full-blown seismic probabilistic risk assessment where you actually look at the statistical risk, and, of course, that's a very uncertain number, so these values have large uncertainties.  But, you know, you would be able to take a stab at what the likelihood is of a seismic event that would exceed the design basis and cause multiple failures, likely, that would cascade into a core damage accident and then try to estimate that risk.

The reason why it's important to do that is that a lot of NRC processes actually involve taking a look at those risk numbers and the impact of a particular plant change on those risks.  Because these probabilistic risk assessments are incomplete and don't often include seismic risks and other external events, when they make these changes, they're not actually looking at the whole risk profile of a plant.

And so, as a result, the analyses are really incomplete and don't address the whole problem, and so changes that might actually increase seismic risk are not actually addressed.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

For the second part of your question about past times when seismic risks were reanalyzed and changes were made, in the early seventies, West Valley Reprocessing Center, owned by the Nuclear Fuel Services Plant Company, was shut down, and at that time the Atomic Energy Commission, the NRC's predecessor, was concerned that that plant wasn't adequately designed for the seismic hazard that it might face.  The owner decided that the upgrades necessary to provide that protection were too costly, so they never restarted the facility.

In the mid-eighties, the Unit 1 reactor at the San Onofre Nuclear Plant in California was shut down for over a year because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had identified shortcomings in its seismic protection, the seismic features, and the owner spent that year installing better pipe supports, more robust pipe supports, and better protection against earthquake ground motion, and the plant restarted after about a year of upgrades.

Those are two examples that come to mind.  There may be others.

DR. LYMAN:  Ed Lyman.

I just want to reiterate that I just double-checked, and NRC does not require a seismic PRA to be performed for new reactors. They did endorse a regulatory guide recently which recommended such a -- performing what they call a full-scope seismic PRA, but I don't believe the requirement has actually been adopted.

REPORTER:  And you said that's a seismic -- PRA?

DR. LYMAN:  Right, probabilistic risk assessment.

REPORTER:  Okay, got it.  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, this is probably an easy one for you, Dave, but just a follow-up to the question about the spent fuel and the risk thereof, you know, being upstairs versus ground level that was brought up.

Could you explain to me how much -- how much less of a risk is there really from -- I know you've talked about the optimum thing would be moving more -- maybe not optimum, but at least preferred thing would be moving more into dry cask storage, but isn't there still, you know, a huge risk there of terrorist attack or something, storing it outside?

How much -- you know, how much are you really gaining by moving fuel from a spent fuel pool into dry cask storage?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I think everything we've looked at says you gain quite a bit, because you are right, it is not immune, once it's stored in dry cask storage on the site, and you have more casks that might make, you know, very attractive targets for our enemies and also vulnerable to some acts of nature as well.

But unless you have something that causes multiple tasks to be breached and the fuel inside damaged, you're still more likely to have a problem if that fuel resides in the spent fuel pool, where in the casks, there are no moving parts.  All you're relying on is the air coming into the bottom and, by convection, removing the heat and leaving from the top.

For the terrorists to cause a problem, they would need to poke more than one hole in that fairly robust cask, whereas with a spent fuel pool, you have got sheet metal siding on the building.  So, it doesn't take a major task to cause problems in the pools.

And, again, the amount of radioactive materials in the pools is so much greater than that's in the casks, the individual casks, that you would have to violate many casks in order to get the same size radioactive cloud that you can get from a spent fuel pool.  So, since both the probability of a bad day and the consequences from that bad day are lower when you store fuel in dry casks than if you store it in spent fuel pools, it's the right thing to do.

REPORTER:  Well, I mean, the reason I ask is there's a retired engineer I know here, you know, in the Toledo area who's helped me with other stuff, and his question has been, you know, it wouldn't take a fully loaded 747.  You could conceivably fly a smaller plane that's easier to maneuver at low levels, crash it into the dry cask storage pad, assume that a certain amount of the jet fuel is going to reach the dry cask storage vaults, and then you have got a dirty bomb.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  It's not quite that simple.  First of all, if you used a large plane, the dry casks are not anchored on the bottom.  So, anything that hits them is kind of like a bowling ball hitting bowling pins.  The casks are going to move.

REPORTER:  What if you have a pad?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Ed, do you want to take a --

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  If I could, we don't   support -- you know, we understand there's still vulnerabilities with dry cask storage when they're put out on open pad, potentially outside the protected area of the plant.  In fact, NRC is in the process of trying to redesign its security rules for protecting dry cask storage. We commented on those rules. We don't think   what they were posing was adequate. There needs to be -- you know, to have fully robust dry cask storage, you need to have a credible series of events that you have to protect against and then design accordingly, and we don't know what those are yet. Certainly issues like air attacks should be taken into account. So, you know, we're not happy with the current regime, but we may not have -- you know, we may not be able to afford to wait on it given that Fukushima may be indicating that the risk of wet pool storage is even more severe than we previously thought.  You know, you have to triage, and the security implications of an   attack on a dry cask storage pool may just need   to be secondary at this point in our view.           

MR. NEGIN:  Ed -- sorry, this is   Elliott.  Isn't it -- haven't some people called   for earth and berms to be butted up against   these dry casks to protect them?           

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.  I mean, I haven't   done a technical analysis of it.  I don't know   if that's the appropriate measure or not, but it   really has to do with the standards and what you   require.  If you develop a series of credible   attack scenarios and earth and berms turn out to   be an engineering approach that would provide   that kind of protection, then -- but I haven't   done that analysis.           

REPORTER:  And just so I'm clear, in   most cases or conceivably all cases, even though   the spent fuel pool is in a building adjacent to   the reactor, it's not protected by containment?   I mean, the fuel stays underwater the whole   time, I know, as it's transferred from the   reactor core to the pool, if it's at ground   level, but that's --           

DR. LYMAN:  It's not under containment   in pressurized water reactors.           

REPORTER:  Okay, because I had --   somebody -- somebody I know who's worked in the   nuclear industry for years told me recently, if   you're a terrorist, why would you even hit   containment?  Why not hit the auxiliary building   where the spent fuel is?           

DR. LYMAN:  Right.  Well, it -- right,   and actually, some new reactor designs have --   like the EPR has a shield building which will   also include the spent fuel pool.  That, of   course, increases costs, because you need a   larger and more robust reinforced concrete   structure, so it's not currently that appealing   to the utilities.           

REPORTER:  Couldn't a lot of this just   be solved by having the Government live up to   its contractual obligation to take the waste?           

DR. LYMAN:  Well, that depends where   they put it.           

REPORTER:  Yeah, yeah.  Okay.           

MR. NEGIN:  Any other questions?           

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

MR. NEGIN:  Okay.  I guess if there   aren't any other questions, we're done today.   We'll be back tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.  We will   resume taking media requests.  If you have any   other requests that we haven't been able to   address during this telephone press briefing,   please email us at media@ucsusa.org, and we will   get back to you as soon as we can. And if that's it, good luck with your   stories today, and we'll be watching what goes   on in Japan and will report back to you tomorrow   at 11:00.  Thank you.           

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank   you for your attendance 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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