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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 22, 2011 11:00 A.M. P R O C E E D I N G S

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

MR. NEGIN:  Thanks, and thank you 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. Now, if we do not get to all of your questions during this morning's briefing, please email us at media@ucsusa.org, and we will get back to you as quickly as we can.  Please do not contact our experts directly.  We have been overwhelmed by requests for interviews, and unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to respond to everyone. If you are having trouble getting everything down that you need from today's briefing, there will be a transcript and audio file on our website later today. 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 hard for everyone else to hear. This morning, our first speaker is David Lochbaum, who will update us on the latest developments in Japan.  David is the Director of UCS's Nuclear Safety Project.  He is a nuclear engineer by training, and he worked at U.S. nuclear plants for 17 years.  He also has worked as a safety trainer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Joining us late will be Dr. Edwin Lyman, a Senior Scientist in the UCS Global Security Program.  Ed has a doctorate in physics and is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation. He is traveling right now and will join us as soon as he can. Also on the line is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project Manager.  Ellen worked in the electric utility industry for more than 25 years before joining us here at UCS.  She will answer any questions you might have about the impact this disaster might have on the nuclear power industry in the United States. I will now turn the phone over to David Lochbaum.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Thank you, Elliott, and good morning. Workers over the past 24 hours have made continued progress restoring the power to the plant.  Power had been lost initially because of the earthquake and the tsunami.  Over the last few days, they have run a temporary power line, and over the past 24 hours, they have been reconnecting that temporary power line to individual components within the plant, and considerable progress was made over the past 24 hours in extending and lengthening the list of equipment that has now been repowered and returned to service. We are hearing conflicting reports this morning about problems with a boiling spent fuel pool.  Some reports say that's the Unit 1 spent fuel pool.  Some reports say it's the Unit 2 spent fuel pool.  We're not able to determine which pool is boiling, if any.  If a pool is boiling, it reinforces the notion that they are still in a crisis management situation.  They still have some problems to face.  They still have some troubles.  Even though they've been able to return power to the facility, they're not out of the woods yet. We did take some calls yesterday about, when will this phase of the accident be over? What are the workers striving to do?  And I want to take a few minutes to try to explain what that would be, what they're seeking to do. They're trying to regain control of the cooling of all six spent fuel pools and the consolidated spent fuel pool at the site, and also, to restore cooling, force cooling of the three reactor cores on Units 1, 2, and 3.  To date, those cooling efforts have been a mixture of just adding water and allowing the heat to warm that water up to the point of boiling and not really having forced cooling through the spent fuel pools and the reactor cores.  That's what they're striving towards.  When they achieve that state, that's when they will have regained control of the three reactor cores and, collectively, the seven spent fuel pools at the site. At that point, things won't be perfectly safe, but they would have established a much more stable, controlled situation than they faced over the last week or so.  If they achieve that state, that will also mark an end to the crisis management phase of the accident and basically turn into more of the recovery and restoration part of the accident. We're not in a position to forecast when that time line might be and when they might be able to achieve that outcome, but that's where they're heading towards, and as I indicated earlier, they've made some progress over the past 24 hours in restoring power to allow them to achieve that outcome. I think that's pretty much the update, what we have so far, Elliot.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, David. As I said, Ed Lyman, Edwin Lyman will join us when he is able to.  In the meantime, we will open up the phone to questions, and when Dr. Lyman gets on the phone, we will allow him to make a statement, and then we will go back to questions. Will you please explain to the listeners how they can get into the queue?

OPERATOR:  Sure, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question at this time, please press star, then one on your touchtone telephone.  If your question has been answered or you wish to remove yourself from the queue, you may press the pound key.  Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press star, then one at this time.  One moment, please. The first question.

REPORTER:  Thanks very much.           

I was wondering if you would have any comments on some of the rhetoric we're hearing from people about the recovery or the crisis management plan.  Some folks are saying things to us like, hey, this reactor plant got hit by an out-of-design earthquake and it didn't turn into Chernobyl.  So, that's good.  That shows that these things are really tough and fears about nuclear plants are a bit overblown.  Now we know about this, and so we will be better off next time, and so forth.  And after all, it survived a 9.0 earthquake.  So, that's a good thing, isn't it? I wondered if you would have any take on that kind of rhetoric.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I guess I'm not sure that it survived a 9.0 earthquake.  They basically, on March 10th, had a multibillion dollar asset, and March 11th, they had a multibillion dollar liability.  I'm not sure that's -- that's survival in one sense, but I'm not sure you win any prizes with that kind of survival. In addition, they're not really out of the woods yet.  I think it's a little bit too early to say that -- you know, to claim victory that this has not been a disaster.  I was struck last week, watching some of the news, where I remember one day there was a report where, like, a thousand bodies had washed up on a shore somewhere, and it was like, "Now, back to the nuclear power plant." I think that says something about the value of nuclear power, where the threat of a nuclear disaster is more compelling than thousands of bodies washing up on the shore.  I think that says something about nuclear power and its role in the future. I'm not sure what it says, and it probably says different things to different people, but the fact remains is that that was a multibillion dollar asset that generated a lot of electricity, and for the next few decades, it's going to generate nothing but cleanup and quite a fairly major mess. There's not many other energy technologies that can have such a bad day, even if the body count is -- remains zero, that -- so, I'm not sure -- if that's the best line that nuclear proponents can come out with, I think they're going to have a tough sell down the road.

REPORTER:  Thanks very much.  That's very helpful.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Yes.  Good morning, Dave and Elliott.  Thank you for doing this every day.  We really appreciate it. As far as the reported setbacks with the spent fuel pools, David, I appreciated the update on that, in particular.  I know you're not probably getting much more or much better information from -- of the details on the ground than anyone else, but could you maybe give us some reasons why we might be seeing setbacks in the spent fuel pool cooling at this late stage? I mean, I thought they were just getting to the point with more volume in terms of the water spray and even injecting seawater now into the pools, as well as the reactor cores.  Why might we be seeing potential setbacks in the ability to cool the pools in Unit 3 and 4, even though it looks like they're getting much more large-scale water in there?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Again, I don't know for certain, so it is a bit of speculation, but some of the factors that might have accounted for that would be that they don't have the full array of pumps that they normally have.  So, as they're trying to triage what needs water the most, they might have to discontinue putting water into the spent fuel pool in order to direct it to the reactor core or to an adjacent pool.

Once they get the full -- or not full, but a broader complement of pumps back, they might not have to make those kind of decisions about who gets the water right now.  And also related to that is just the fact that the pool was boiling doesn't necessarily mean that there's fuel damage going on.  As long as the pool is boiling and the water level remains above the top of active fuel, or the fuel in storage racks, that fuel is not going to be damaged any further.

So, it might be that, you know, given the choices they've had, that allowing the pool to boil in order to divert the water elsewhere, knowing that they would have time to come back and replenish the boil-off from that pool and still not have fuel damage, might be a strategy they're employing, again, based on the limited array of equipment they have at the moment.

REPORTER:  And just real quick follow-up on that, Dave, this may be a wording thing, but you said if the water level remains over top of the fuel, the pool isn't going to be damaged any further.  Did you mean the pool and the fuel?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I meant the fuel. Thanks for the clarification.

REPORTER:  Okay.  And the other clarification was -- or not clarification, but follow-up.  Do you think the -- and I know we're speculating here, but do you think this might indicate that there is some major leakage from one or both of these pools, there may be some structural damage to the pools themselves and it's leaking back out faster than they can replenish?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  That's difficult to say. The spent fuel pools have a gate in one side with an inflatable seal, supposed to be an inflatable seal.  If that seal is deflated, there can be a fairly significant leakage pathway.  So, even without damage to the pools themselves, either the floor or the walls, there can be a considerable amount of leakage from the pools unless they have been able to re-inflate those seals and restore a leak-tight fit around the gate and in the wall.

The leak can be fairly significant, and that could account or could complicate the problems they're having with the cooling of the pools if a considerable amount of water is leaking out.  Basically, that would necessitate larger pumps or the pumps they have directing water into those pools for a longer duration. So, those are the kinds of factors that, you know, they're dealing with and the choices they've had to have made today and in past days.

REPORTER:  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thanks for taking my question. 

I am asking a question for another reporter who's working on a story.  I'm curious about the significance of reports that radiation is showing up in ocean water off the coast, and we're just curious, you know, how that radiation can harm fish and seaweed and get into the food supply and what the concerns are there.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The radiation being emitted from the plant has been detected in U.S. naval ships off the coast of Japan, so it's likely that radiation is also getting into the seawater itself.  Living organisms in the sea will -- some of them ingest the radioactive water.  Some fish -- sometimes that tends to concentrate radiation in the food chain as a fish who's ingested some radioactive seawater then gets eaten by another fish and so on.  So, that radiation tends to concentrate up the food chain.

I think it's too early at this moment, based on the data we've seen, to say whether that poses a threat to people who then consume the fish and kelp and other things from the sea. The Japanese authorities appear to be monitoring foodstuffs and making recommendations based on the results from their monitoring, and that's entirely appropriate, and that's the way this scenario should be controlled.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Thank you very much. Thank you, also, for making yourselves available for these very, very interesting briefings. I wondered if I could ask you to -- just to give an estimate, based, of course, upon the scanty data we have from Fukushima, about the long-term consequences.  Is it going to be a problem which will last a year or decades?  And roughly, what kind of cost are we talking about for the containment and the cleanup?  Is it going to be tens of billions? hundreds of billions?  I'd like to hear what you can say.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I wish I could be more definitive.  We've seen some data showing that there's been contamination several miles out from the facility.  I think what's really needed -- you get spot-checks here and there, and it's hard to tell whether that's just because a radioactive particle fell there, which gave it a local reading, or is that more reflective of -- more general of what the radiation levels are?  It's difficult to tell from the snapshots that we're getting what the full picture is.  So, I hate to speculate as to what the extent of the contamination is and, therefore, what the extent of the cleanup must be.

As far as the site, it's pretty evident just from the videos that Units 1, 3, and 4 have had extensive damage to the buildings due to hydrogen explosions.  There's also a report of a hydrogen explosion on Unit 2.  There are confirmed reports that seawater has been added to many of the units.  Seawater is very corrosive.  Those areas aren't really designed for that kind of protection against that kind of corrosion.  So, it's pretty evident that those reactors are not going to be operating any more. As far as the cost of the cleanup, it's been reported that there's fuel damage in the reactor cores of Units 1, 2, and 3, with the potential for fuel damage in the spent fuel pools for Units 4 and 5 -- excuse me, Units 3 and 4, not 4 and 5.  Sorry. We don't know yet what the extent of that damage is, whether it's just been some blistering of the fuel, which allowed the radiation to get out, or whether it's progressed all the way to the point of melt of Units 1, 2, and 3.  That determines how bad or how costly the cleanup will be, and at the moment, we haven't seen data that allows us to quantify what the extent of the fuel damage has been.

REPORTER:  I mean, but when it comes to containing and cleaning up, you have got a partial meltdown in two reactors, you have got fuel rods which have been -- damaged fuel pools in two units.  I mean, this is not a five-minute cleanup, is it, and it's not going to cost 60 bucks?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  No.  I wouldn't want to pay for the cleanup, because it's going to be high.  I just don't know how high.  The fuel damage has complicated things, because that means there's more radioactivity in places that will require more protective -- more remote controls for the cleanup, and that causes costs to go up, but without really knowing a clear picture of what the extent of the fuel damage is, it's hard to estimate how extensive those costly measures will be.  So, it's hard to speculate what a price tag will be at the moment.

REPORTER:  Sure.  I understand.  

Thank you for your help.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi, thanks for taking the call.

There has been a lot of discussion about the station blackout capabilities in the United States, and I'm wondering, what do you or what does your organization think that station blackout capability ought to be?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I think station blackout -- one of the things that we're learning from the Japanese event is that there is a possibility that whether you have four-hour battery capacity, eight-hour battery capacity, or 100-hour battery capacity, there's a finite chance that the accident will last longer than that.  So, I think one of the lessons learned is we need to look at a station blackout lasting longer than the battery capacity so the workers aren't left with nothing left to do, other than hope for a miracle.

We need to -- unless we can assure ourselves that our battery capacity is sufficient, we need to look at providing workers with more options if the batteries are depleted before normal or backup power is restored.

I think the other thing the accident has shown us is that we have very elaborate emergency procedures and operator training to deal with reactor core cooling and the various ways of getting water in to cool the reactor. Our preparations for spent fuel accidents is almost nil.  We have, like, an eight-page procedure that tells you to get more water in or restore cooling.

We need to expand our emergency procedures and our operator training so that there's better preplanning for spent fuel pool problems, whether it's loss of cooling or loss of inventory, so, again, we're not leaving workers with ad hoc measures, with no instrumentation, and then very few choices to deal with those problems.

I think hopefully those are lessons that will be learned, and more importantly, will be acted upon, so that those vulnerabilities are reduced in this country.

REPORTER:  If I could follow up, since you brought up spent fuel pools, the NRC, I guess, says that since they need to meet seismic requirements, the same as the rest of the reactor, that -- and to ride out the storm, these earthquakes that have been experienced at their sites, that they don't need specific containment structures.

Can you give me your thoughts on that?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Japan actually blew up the reactor containment buildings for Units 3 and 4, and then when they had problems cooling those reactors, any radiation that came out of the spent fuel went directly to the atmosphere. So, I think that anybody who's seen those videos would at least argue against that notion, if not reject it outright.

While it's true that the spent fuel pools are designed to withstand earthquakes, seismic motion, the coolant systems and the power systems for the fuel pools are not designed to withstand those forces.  So, having a pool of water with no ability to make up water or cool the water in the pool is a problem that starts a time clock, and in Japan, they had time to restore cooling or provide make-up and weren't able to meet those challenges.

So, I don't think that the NRC's answer is as deep and as protective as it needs to be. I doubt that they will be able to sustain that function for very long.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  I wondered whether you feel that the U.S. is taking this situation seriously enough and whether it's a good idea to continue to permit and act as if it's business as usual here in the U.S.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Sure.  I think the NRC is taking this event very seriously.  I think there will be some changes to how we do things, but I also think it's important that the NRC not take action too quickly, before they fully understand what happened and why.

Everybody knows about the Titanic, the ship that sank when it hit an iceberg.  Fewer people have heard about the Eastland, a ship that sank a few years later, about three years later.  More passengers were killed when the Eastland sank than when the Titanic sank, and the Eastland sank because of the Titanic.

After the Titanic sank, there were laws passed in this country that required life boats to be added for all the passengers of a ship. When those life boats were added to the Eastland, it raised the weight, making the ship more susceptible to tipping over.  It rolled over while still tied to a pier in the Chicago River, in Chicago, yet more passengers died than died on the Titanic.

So, we can't jump to a conclusion that solves one problem but creates another.  So, I think the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- the right thing for the NRC to do would be to study what happened in Japan, figure out what the real problems were, and solve those real problems without creating other problems.

The path that they announced yesterday with the 90-day quick look, followed up by a longer-term evaluation, seems to be the way to address both immediate lessons learned from Japan and the long-term lessons without inadvertently taking a step backwards.  So, I think they've charted out a right course and hope to reach that destination.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question. Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Good morning.  Is Ellen Vancko there?

MS. VANCKO:  Yes, but not for long. We're having a fire emergency in the building, and we're being asked to evacuate.  So, if your question is quick, I will be glad to answer it, and then that will be the last question I will be answering.

REPORTER:  Okay.  We had talked a while back about regulatory restrictions in Congress that would hamper the NRC's ability to properly evaluate safety systems in next-generation reactors, and I wondered if, with this new Congress and its antiregulatory view, you have seen other legislative efforts which, particularly in light of what happened in Japan, would decrease safety margins in evaluating reactor systems.

MS. VANCKO:  Well, I will let Ed speak to the details of that since he is monitoring the precise nature of those proposals more closely than I, but yes, there have been numerous calls to streamline regulatory oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, claiming that the process takes too long.  Even though the process is still unfolding, it's a new process, and we don't know how well it works, and it's supposed to be working fine according to the Bipartisan Policy Institute Study that was issued a few months ago, I believe.

But, Ed, is there anything you would add to that?

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.

I think you're referring specifically to a provision that was in the last version of the Senate Climate Change Legislation that would have affected the ability of the NRC to make judgments when a plant is being constructed, because the NRC has already deregulated licensing of new reactors.  So, instead of having a separate construction license and then an operating license, there is now what's called one-step licensing, where a plant will get a combined operating license that will authorize both construction and operation, but, in fact, it's really more like a one and a half step, because the applicant also has to provide a huge list of checks, essentially certifying that all the structural systems and components are going to be installed and operable before the plant actually starts up, and the NRC gets to verify that all those things do what the applicant says they're going to do before the NRC authorizes startup.

But there was a dispute in that if construction will take several years, and the question is, what authority would the NRC have to go back and revisit a decision already made for a component that was installed, you know, two or three years ago?  And the industry didn't want to have all the -- you know, wanted, once the decision was made, to keep it closed, and that didn't make sense to the NRC or to anyone looking at the process.

In that Climate Change Bill, that would have made a change that would have made it very difficult for NRC to actually revisit these decisions that had already been made and stop operation of the plant based on a change in their opinion, but that legislation died.

However, NRC itself voted on a new regulation to deal with that issue, and the outcome was somewhere in between what the staff wanted and what the Nuclear Energy Institute wanted.  So, you know, both sides win and both sides lose, depending on how you look at it.

REPORTER:  Well, from the public's point of view, where did safety win or lose?

DR. LYMAN:  I would say that the staff had a pretty reasonable position.  They don't want to have their hands tied by some regulation that says you can't question or you can't take a second look at something that you've already decided, and actually, the -- I haven't analyzed the new rule, but because it only granted part of the staff's request, I assume that it's not as brief as they would have liked and certainly what we would have liked.

REPORTER:  Okay.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you.  These are really incredibly helpful press conferences for those of us out on the left coast.

So, I have a two-pronged question about the Diablo Canyon Power Station.  One, since the Vandenburg Airport space is within a potential 50-mile evacuation zone in the case of an incident, do you see any national security threat from even a low-probability incident that would somehow impair Vandenburg's ability to operate fully?

And second -- this is a little bit crazy -- but has anybody looked at the potential radiation impact on wine grapes?  Because we have 40,000 acres of -- it's a pretty high value added wine here, where any disruption or any damage to the reputation of Central Coast wines could be devastating, costing billions of dollars in economic damage.

 

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.  I can take a crack at the first part.

You know, we haven't assessed the potential consequences at Diablo Canyon, so I couldn't say for sure about its effect on Vandenburg, but I would note that the military in Japan, the U.S. military seems to be one or two steps ahead of everyone else with regard to the protective measures they are implementing for the Armed Forces, and I read that as the military not, you know, engaging and dickering about -- you know, and listening to the propaganda from both sides about one worries about this or not.  I think they're responding to the readings they're getting and their own projections and doing what they can to protect these deployed service people.  So, you know, I would say that I would expect a similar dichotomy between the civilian and the military forces to apply at home as well.

REPORTER:  (Inaudible.)

DR. LYMAN:  I'm sorry?

REPORTER:  Just for clarification, Vandenburg is 39.5 miles from --

DR. LYMAN:  Well, I mean, you know, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended 50-mile evacuation around Fukushima, in contrast to its domestic laws.  So, I would certainly expect that the military would -- I don't think they would take a less protective action with regard to their own troops.

With regard to grapes, you know, whether or not it's an actual issue, it's certainly going to be a perception issue, and --

REPORTER:  Right.

DR. LYMAN:  -- and this certainly has played a role in France with regard to the siting of what they call nuclear waste laboratories, which everyone suspected were actually efforts to qualify sites for nuclear waste disposal.  And I believe there was a -- that wine growers were particularly active in their concerns about that program.

So, you know, we can't say now if perception will reflect reality, I haven't done the analysis, but it certainly is something to think about.

REPORTER:  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

I am right outside the NRC, and now there are several officials from New York City have gone inside to talk to the head of licensing about Indian Point.  What should be their concerns?  Hello?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.  I guess I can start, and Dave may want to contribute something.

I think the major concern with Indian Point has to do with its location.  After it was sited, even decades ago, some officials expressed concern about its location, and population in the metropolitan area has only grown since then, as well as the currently designated ten-mile evacuation zone.

We put out a study in 2004, based on NRC's own computer code models, that indicate that New York -- you know, there could be a significant public health consequence if there were a large radiological release at Indian Point.

So, if you assume for the moment this occurs, then the analysis does indicate that New York City could be at risk and that projected doses could well exceed those that would require protective action, either evacuation or sheltering or potassium iodide administration.

So, the analyses that the NRC has issued for Fukushima, they put up some of the dose results that justify their own determination, those actually are not inconsistent with the results we got back in 2004.  So, if you extend it logically, then there could be well -- even NRC projections would indicate that a 50-mile evacuation might be warranted if an event occurs at Indian Point. So, they are relying now on the expectation that it won't occur.

I'd like to point out one other thing, is that the NRC and the industry are pointing to the post September 11th plans that licensees have implemented to cope with the loss of large areas of a plant due to fires or explosions, and I believe that the Chairman of the NRC, Greg Jaczko, said in a hearing last week that every plan in the country either had prestaged equipment, like diesel generators on-site, or could access them or could show that they could access them in enough time so that they could function or to get them in enough time.

And I would point out, in today's New   York Times, there's a full-page ad by Entergy,   and I would just like to read what they say.   They say, "We are considering prepositioning   off-site emergency generators that could be   brought to the site quickly by truck or   helicopter and made operational should the   on-site emergency generators be disabled."            

Now, either that's an extra level of protection beyond what the Chairman of the NRC referred to, it sounds like maybe not every plant in the country actually has implemented that particular measure, either having them on-site, staged on-site, or off-site in a place where they can get them in time.  So, that's one question I would certainly want to raise with Entergy.

REPORTER:  Mr. Borchardt of the NRC   yesterday, in talking about the design limits   for earthquakes and the -- for projections at   U.S. nuclear plants, including -- including   Indian Point, and he said that it would be okay,   considering the 9.0 magnitude in Japan,   essentially for the design limits on U.S.   plants, his quote was, "even if we were wrong,   it would still be okay."           

Do you share that optimism?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, I would just like to point out that yesterday, at the NRC's briefing on the Japan crisis, a seismologist from the NRC staff said that their initial indications were, even though the earthquake magnitude exceeded the plant's design basis in Japan, analysis showed that the ground motion experienced by the plant actually was within the range that they had considered.

Now, the jury is still out.  No one knows if the equipment that's currently disabled, all the pumps, cables, and valves that need to be replaced or fixed before they can restore off-site power, I think no one knows if the earthquake played a role in that.  And so it's totally premature to make any conclusions about whether, even if a plant's -- you know, within a design basis earthquake, whether or not the procedures and requirements necessary to deal with that are, in fact, adequate to protect against a design basis earthquake.

So, I think anyone who's making conclusions that are too definitive at this point, I think it's really premature, and they run the risk of having to backtrack later.  So, I think from the point of view of scientific integrity, everyone needs to approach what's going to happen with an open mind before the results are known.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.

Just following up on that last question, Edwin, is it a reasonable thing to expect that any future reactors that might be built would have that sort of shock absorber isolation built into them, or is that futuristic?

Thanks.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  I'm actually not an expert in seismic design, so I couldn't comment, but I was under the impression that some of those -- well, yeah, I'd prefer -- I really can't comment on that.  I'm sorry.

REPORTER:  Okay, thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.  Please go ahead.

Your line is open.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

I'm curious on what your recommendation is on the issue of both -- not only relicensing, but uprate proposals that are pending and if you're concerned at the moment mainly with the Mark I boiler water or industrywide.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

We've had a concern about the power uprates on boiling water reactors of all three designs, Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III, primarily the Mark I and Mark 2, although it does trickle over to the Mark III design as well.

The problem has been that up until the power uprates, there was defense in depth, in that if there was a reactor accident, despite all the emergency systems and everything, if the fuel in the reactor core were damaged, there was a robust containment building around it to limit how much radioactivity reached the environment in peak.

With the power uprates, that defense in depth has been collapsed to one single thing. If the containment fails, you are likely to have a reactor core accident.  The reason that defense in depth failed was in the old days, the water supply used to cool the reactor was housed inside the Mark I and Mark II containment buildings, and emergency pumps would take the water out of that pool, circulate it through the reactor core to cool the reactor core.  It would then trickle out through the broken end of the pipe or whatever started the accident and drain back down into the basement, where it would be reused over and over.

With power uprates, the amount of energy that is released into the containment heats that water up to the point of boiling, so that when the pumps try to pull the water out of that basement and to recycle it through the reactor core to cool it, they're pulling steam out, and the pumps, instead of moving water essentially freewheel, like a pinwheel, like a kid's pinwheel, and all they do is freewheel in the steam bubble rather than move water from the torus back into the reactor core.

So, if you lose containment -- excuse me.  The way that the power uprates have been approved is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is giving credit for the pressure inside containment to keep the water from boiling even though its temperature approaches 212 degrees.  Just like a pressure cooker, you use pressure to keep water from boiling, at the normal pressure, 212 degrees.  They're using this what's called containment overpressure to keep that very hot water from boiling.

The problem arises, if your containment fails, you're not able to keep hot water from boiling, and you're unable to keep your emergency pumps from moving that water.  So, in the old days, we had protection, and nowadays, we're relying on one thing, the containment remaining intact.  If that's gone, we lose our ability to cool the reactor cores, and we also open up a pathway for radiation to be released to the environment.

The only reason the NRC backtracked on that safety guide -- and by the way, that was Safety Guide 1 in the NRC's playbook.  That was the very first thing they created as their first tenet.  Number 1 on the list was to preserve that.  When the business owners wanted 20 percent more power, make more money, the NRC threw out Safety Guide 1 and went with this cockamamy containment overpressure thing that might work, but might not work as well.

So, it was disgraceful for the NRC to do that.  It's put millions of Americans at undue and elevated risk, and it was done simply for business purposes instead of safety.  The NRC's own Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards is vehemently against that concept, but the NRC's bowing to industry pressure, putting financial motives ahead of public safety, and there's no excuse for doing that.

As you might say, we've been against that for a long time, and it's just the wrong thing for the NRC to be doing, and they do it again and -- every time the industry asks for it, they do it, and it's just wrong.

REPORTER:  And is there a similar   concern with pressurized water reactors and   uprates or not as much?           

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Not as much.  There have been smaller issues there, but not nearly rising to the magnitude of the boiling water reactor side.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman. Actually, I would just like to add one thing to that.

There is a potential change to the NRC regulations that they're considering that would actually raise the concern with regard to pressurized water reactors, and that's a change to the requirements for emergency core cooling system.

Right now, either PWRs or BWRs have to assume that essentially you have the worst pipe break you can have when you develop all the specifications for your emergency core cooling system, but the industry will cry out that that's unrealistic, because those big pipe breaks are so infrequent that they're wasting a lot of money trying to protect against them, and the NRC is now considering a change to that rule that would essentially deregulate pipe breaks above a certain size, and that would allow pressurized water reactors to uprate without essentially making any physical changes, it would just be an administrative change, and even the NRC has estimated that could be -- the industry could benefit to the tune of billions of dollars from this change.

There was going to be a meeting on Thursday where we were actually invited to present our views on this, before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that was just cancelled, presumably because it's the wrong time to talk about things like that, clearly so. But our position is that there was no basis at this point for making that kind of a change, and especially now, because it's really based on risk and NRC's perception of how risky are these large pipe breaks, I think that's going to have to be reevaluated.  So, we hope that this new regulation is going to be shelved for a while.

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

Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning.  You caught me finishing a pretzel.

All of the comments from the Government that indicate that they're way below any levels of concern in terms of what has been released imply that there is an existing standard that is being compared to, an existing biohazard standard.  Is there?

Or more specifically, can we say how many becquerels of cesium 137 per cubic meter of air reasonably give rise to a concern that there will be an increased risk of medium- and long-term morbidity?

And I'll do the follow-up now.  If we don't have that, why not?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from --

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Ed, do you want to take that one?

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  I'm sorry.  I'm having trouble unmuting my phone.

You're referring to the United States as opposed to Japan?  Is that right?

REPORTER:  That's correct.

DR. LYMAN:  All right.  Well, with regard to air concentrations -- yeah, actually -- yeah, actually, we are going to have to get back to you on that.

With regard to releases from foreign plants, it would be a different consideration than -- it wouldn't be covered by NRC rules. So, I would -- I'd actually have to get back to you on that.

REPORTER:  Well, if it were a release from a U.S. plant.

DR. LYMAN:  Well, release from a U.S. plant, there are requirements for the dose rate at the site boundary, and if those are exceeded, then there are EPA recommendations for evacuation and for resettlement, but those are called the Protective Action Guides.

REPORTER:  I understand that, and those -- those are for action.  I'm asking really a different public health question.

DR. LYMAN:  Right.

REPORTER:  Do we know the answer -- are there guidelines for that?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, I mean, the EPA's Protective Action Guides are set based on, you know, like every contaminant and carcinogen that they regulate, it's based on an assumption of what the increased risk of cancer and other diseases would be to that individual.  So, you know, it would be probably in the -- well, I'd have to get back -- you know, it's going to be more than that one in a million risk that EPA uses for, let's say, pesticides.

So, yeah, I would have to get back to you on the actual health impact for (inaudible).

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hello, gentlemen.  I came into the call a little bit late, so I'm sorry if you've answered the questions that I'm about to ask.

But basically, I'm wondering, obviously, with San Onofre here in San Diego, and one of the issues is on relicensing, and I am trying to understand, there's been more learned in terms of the seismic faults around that area since that plant was initially licensed, and if it were to -- if Edison goes for relicensing, how does the new information play into that decision?  Is the plant basically considered as if it was a brand new plant?  And then, you know, if we wouldn't have put a plant there using the current criteria, it won't get relicensed?  Or is there kind of a grandfathering in?

And then I also wanted to get your sense as to the -- how Japan affects the politics of relicensing on Cali -- obviously I'm interested in the plants specifically here.

And if you could identify yourself before you speak, because I don't remember who's who.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll take the first part of that question.

It's my understanding that the NRC's relicensing process doesn't look at the entire waterfront of issues.  Many of the -- the relicensing process assumes that many of the issues, like waste disposal, the siting of earthquake vulnerabilities, yes or nos, that those kinds of things have already been asked and answered when the plant was originally licensed.

So, the relicensing process narrows the focus down to pretty much an area that's bound by the programs and practices employed by the owner or to be employed by the owner to monitor the condition of important structures and components and to replace or repair those components before safety margins are compromised.

So, the NRC looks to make sure that what are called the aging management programs include all of the components and structures that need to be covered, all the important ones, all the safety ones, and then, if they determine that, then they look at how well the monitoring programs are to accurately gauge the condition of those components and structures, and then the replacement programs are to repair those or replace those before safety margins are compromised.

If that review finds no problems, then the NRC will grant a relicensing request.  If not, the owner has to either beef up any shortcomings or the NRC won't approve it.  So, it's my impression they don't go back and relook at seismic issues and evacuation issues and some of those issues that have already been decided during the initial licensing of the plant.

And I don't know if I -- this is Dave Lochbaum providing that answer.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, this is Ed Lyman.

I'd just point you to -- there is actually one what's called generic safety issue having to do with reevaluation of seismic risk that's called GSI-199, and that has to do with a reevaluation of the seismic risk in the Eastern Central United States, and that might give you a clue.

I'm not aware of any such reevaluation for California, but that might provide a clue how they would address that kind of an issue, but it would -- I think Dave's right.  It would be independent of license renewal.  If they believed the plant itself no longer met seismic criteria, it would have to be upgraded independent of whether or not the license is renewed, so...

REPORTER:  I'm sorry.  Could you say that again?  I couldn't -- you said if they believed the plant itself no longer met seismic criteria, it would have to be upgraded.

DR. LYMAN:  Well, in the -- you would need to see what the -- I haven't followed this issue, but you'd need to see how they're discussing this Generic Safety Issue 199.  The typical approach to dealing with these, you know, if they can show that the risk is low, you know, that they misjudged what the seismic risk was, but if the risk is still low enough that it would be below concern, then they wouldn't have to do anything.  And so then they have wiggle room there before they actually would require any backface.

But, again, I'm just pointing to this effort.  I haven't studied how they're approaching this issue, but it is a current issue with regards to the Eastern Central United States, GSI-199.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum again.

To supplement Ed's response there, San Onofre has three reactors.  Units 2 and 3 continue to operate.  Unit 1 was shut down in the 1990s.  In the mid-1980s, the NRC ordered the owner of San Onofre to upgrade the seismic restraints, the seismic features at Unit 1. Unit 1 was shut down for more than a year as the owner upgraded better pipe supports and more seismic devices to increase that plant's ability to withstand earthquakes.

So, the NRC -- and that was outside of a license renewal process, as Ed suggested.  So, if the NRC finds that a plant is vulnerable to seismic or any other issue, it has the wherewithal to order a plant to fix that shortcoming.

 

OPERATOR:  Our next question. Please go ahead.

REPORTER:  Hi.

Dave, if you can get back to the problems with boiling water reactors and uprates, if you look at Salem, what exactly was the opposition from the advisory body and how would that apply -- and how do their objections and yours apply, say, to the reactors at Salem?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The opposition from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the State of Vermont, which also posed a proposal for the Vermont Yankee plant for containment overpressure, really don't apply at Salem. Salem has a different kind of reactor core cooling system, and it doesn't draw on water that's inside containment in that means.

The closest analog for pressurized water reactors would be the -- what are called the ice-containments, the ones at Sequoyah, Watts Bar in Tennessee, Catawba and McGuire in the Carolinas, and the D.C. Cook plant in Michigan.  Like the boiling water reactor containments, they use water inside containment for suppression of the energy that's released in a pipe break inside containment.  They do then recirculate that water through the reactor core.

I have not looked -- I don't think they have yet done power uprates that requires the containment to be pressurized to prevent that water from boiling, but since I haven't looked at that, I can't say that they've avoided that problem.  But those are the pressurized water reactors that would be vulnerable to the BWR type of problem that we discussed.  Salem doesn't have that problem.

REPORTER:  All done.  Thank you.

MR. NEGIN:  Are there any other questions in the queue?

OPERATOR:  We did have one question just fall in. 

MS. VANCKO:  This is Ellen Vancko.  I'm back on.  I don't know if you want to say anything or just let the call end.  It's up to you.

OPERATOR:  Elliott, did you want to go ahead with the question?

MR. NEGIN:  Go with the last question.

OPERATOR:  Our final question.  Go ahead.

REPORTER:  Thank you for taking my call.

Regarding the current situation at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, do you think, you know, it is getting better?  And also, do you think they can restore the plant or do they have to demolish the plant eventually?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

Things are getting better as they restore power and start to regain control over some of the cooling water systems.  They still have a ways to go.  There are some reports of a boiling spent fuel pool in either Unit 1 or Unit 2, and they don't have a broad array of pumps available.  So, one more failure or -- they have razor-thin margins right now, so they are not out of the woods.  Things are better today than they were a couple days ago, but they still have a ways to go before things will be stable and safe at that facility.

It looks like that both from the damage that's been done and the use of seawater that it's unlikely that Units 1, 2, 3, or 4 will ever generate electricity again because of the damage.  The cost of repairs would just be -- likely be too high to make that happen.  I can't say yet whether Units 5 and 6 might have a future operating life without knowing more about the extent of the damage there.  They didn't seem to have the level of damage that the other four reactors had.  So, it's possible that those two units might someday resume operation.

REPORTER:  So, maybe we have to demolish Number 1 through Number 4, right?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Decommissioning seems to be the most likely next part of their operation, yes.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Thank you so much.

OPERATOR:  We do have one more question.

REPORTER:  I just wanted to get an overall view as to how the crisis in Japan is affecting efforts to relicense plants in the United States.  You know, obviously, some of it is science, but some of it is also just the sheer politics.  Can you give me some thoughts on where you are on that?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

The NRC has relicensed I think 62 or 63 reactors so far, and because of that, it's very difficult for the NRC to impose new standards, because they've already relicensed more than half the plants in the United States, and that inertia pretty much makes them stay the course. Otherwise, there's an indication that they may have been wrong in the past.  The agency hates, more than anything in the world, to suggest that it might have been wrong in the past.  So, they would rather continue down the wrong path than admit that they're on the wrong path in the first place.  So, I doubt that they're going to make any substantive changes to the relicensing process.

However, it's entirely possible that the lessons learned from Japan will be applied outside of the license renewal process, and the NRC could order upgrades at the plants that have already been relicensed and those that are still in the queue to be done so.  So, I think any of the lessons learned from Japan will be handled through the NRC's other processes, not as part of the license renewal process.

OPERATOR:  I'm not showing any other questions in the queue.

MR. NEGIN:  Okay.  Thank you. Thank you, everyone, for joining our call this morning.  If you have any other questions later today, please email us at media@ucsusa.org.  That's media@ucsusa.org.  We will do our best to get back to you as soon as we can.  We will be on tomorrow at 11:00 for another telepressor.  Thanks again.

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

(Whereupon, the telepress conference was concluded.)

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