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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 24, 2011 11:00 A.M. P R O C E E D I N G S

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by, your Japan Nuclear Reactor Update will begin shortly.  Again, please stand by while all participants are connected. Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by, your Japan Nuclear Reactor Update will begin shortly.  Again, please stand by while all participants are connected.

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 to today's conference, Elliott Negin.

MR. NEGIN:  Thanks. Good morning, everybody, this is Elliot Negin, I am the media director here at the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Thanks for joining our call this morning.  Just to remind you again, the Union of Concerned Scientists is an independent science-based advocacy group that has been a nuclear industry watchdog for 40 years.  We are not for, or against, nuclear power.  Our goal has always been to ensure that the industry operates its reactors as safely as possible.

If we don't 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.  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 you also should keep looking at our website, because we may have answers to some of your questions posted already on our Frequently Asked Questions feature and answers to more technical questions may be on our allthingsnuclear.org blog.  We are updating both regularly.

After our speakers this morning are done, and we open up the phone to your questions, please ask only one question, and if necessary, one follow-up.  And please, don't forget to mute your phone after you ask your question so the sound of your typing won't make it hard for everyone else to hear.

This morning, our speakers are David Lochbaum and Edwin Lyman, who will update us on the latest developments in Japan.  David Lochbaum is the Director of UCS's Nuclear Safety Project.  He is a nuclear engineer and he worked at U.S. nuclear plants for 17 years before joining us here at UCS.  He also has worked as a safety trainer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Thank you, Elliott, and good morning.

Progress has been made over the past 24 hours in providing a more conventional way of injecting water into the Unit 1 reactor core, and injecting water via more conventional way into the Unit 3 spent fuel pool.  In addition, there has been success or progress made in re-establishing external power to all six units, although there's still some work to remain to then extend that power to all the components on the units that need to be repowered. When I mentioned there's been conventional injection into the Unit 1 reactor core and the Unit 3 spent fuel pool, they're using normal systems to inject the water, whereas in the past they have been using more temporary alignments to inject water.  They still haven't gotten to the point as they have on Units 5 and 6 spent fuel pools of having the normal systems that remove water, cool the water and then return that cooled water to either the reactor core or the spent fuel pools.  And right now, they're using conventional systems to inject water, allowing that water to be warmed up and dissipated, kind of a feed and bleed mode, but they're moving towards regaining control over the cooling of the three reactor cores and the spent fuel pools on Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.

It's a step at a time, and they've made a few more steps towards that end goal.  And as I said earlier, for example, the lights are back on in the Unit 3 control room, so they're having some progress in restoring power to the unit that was lost days ago by the combination of the earthquake and the tsunami.  Thank you.

MR. NEGIN:  Thanks, David, now we'll have Edwin Lyman give a brief statement.

MR. LYMAN:  Thanks, Elliott. I just wanted to mention that there's continuing of scattered information about contamination exposures that is not always entirely consistent, and I think confusion seems to be growing.  I think this is just an indication, a realistic indication of what might be expected in the aftermath of any nuclear accident of this type, and I think there are lessons that really have to be learned there for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which I think has grown too complacent with the belief that these releases are very carefully or already very well understood and that information will be adequate in the aftermath of an accident. I would like to say, I've been looking at some modeling results of my own, and I believe that the estimates that we heard from the Austrians Meteorological Agency yesterday about the amount of cesium that has already been released from the plant does appear to be roughly consistent with the plume map that the Department of Energy put out on March 22nd that shows the existence of a plume of contamination reaching toward northwest of the exclusion site. That does appear to be consistent, at least in order of magnitude terms with the idea that roughly 50 percent of the cesium that was released at Chernobyl has already been released from the plant. So, that's all I have to say at this time.  Thank you.

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

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, if you wish to ask a question, please press the star, and then the number 1 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 1. Our first question.

REPORTER:  Good morning and thank you for continuing to do these. I have a question on a report today from Tokyo Electric that three workers were burned trying to restore electricity in Reactor Number 3, and at least two of them had beta radiation burns on their feet after water seeped into their boots, they're apparently working in water about 30 centimeters deep. I'm wondering, A, is this a significant setback, B, does this tell us anything about the kind of radiation that was released or the damage that the plant sustained?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum, I can take the first part of that question and maybe Ed can address the what it means part. It's not unexpected, and it's probably not a big setback in that they're likely to encounter difficulties restoring equipment to service because of the -- either the effects of the hydrogen explosions or the effects of the seawater that's been dropped from helicopters above or sprayed on from fire trucks on-site. There will be times that they find equipment that didn't survive both of those challenges.  So, they have a lot of equipment, they will go to other equipment until they find the right combination that works.  So, that's not a huge setback.  That was anticipated, and they are likely to find more times that equipment doesn't work for whatever reason. As far as the beta contamination, I guess hopefully Ed will have some commentary on that.

MR. LYMAN:  That's certainly a disturbing development, but I think it underscores how severe the conditions are at the site, and my own impression is that the danger that the workers are facing is possibly even greater than TEPCO suggests and that when we look back at this accident, we're going to see that it did take an enormous toll on these workers.

I'm not sure from this incident if you can really say anything conclusive about the accident.  We certainly know that there has been water circulating through damaged core, and certainly that would produce contaminated wastewater.  So, I don't think it's a surprise that there are high levels of contamination in the piping, and also they're detecting high levels of contamination downstream at the exit point of piping that's going to the ocean. So, I would expect that this is the kind of condition that these workers are going to be facing for weeks, and that this will not be an uncommon occurrence.

REPORTER:  Just to follow up, Dave, you talked about equipment, I'm sort of thinking about better boots, if, in fact, what happened was that water seeped into their shoes.  Is this something that they should be able to deal with?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, it will be a lesson learned, but even better boots, unless the water is not sloshing around and going down the top, I mean, they will try to protect the workers from this and they will make adjustments to how they provide that protection as you suggest, but as Ed suggested, there's a lot they're dealing with, and they'll be continuing to hit bumps in the road as they deal with this.

REPORTER:  Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks again.  I'll be very quick today.  This used to be water day, so I'm trying to get a fix on what we know and what we don't know about how much radiation contaminated water is getting where and how it gets there.  It seems like there are three pathways:  There's the water that's being used at the plant that's sort of being drained off and getting back into the ocean; it seems like these steam clouds and a plume that you described goes out over the ocean and eventually, you know, deposits radioactive material into the ocean; and then do we have any clear idea of how it got into the Tokyo water supply?  That's sort of a three-part question, but it really is just one.

MR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.  I guess answering the last one first, that was most likely deposition of iodine 131 in surface water supplies in reservoirs, and it doesn't take very much to lead to those increased levels of contamination.  So, that pathway presumably is how Tokyo's water was contaminated. I haven't done an assessment of the results that are being obtained now for the contamination of the effluent, but it's clear they're generating large volumes of contaminated water and that water is going to have to go somewhere, and the assumption is that most of it is being discharged. So, you know, I don't really have anything more specific to offer at this point.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum, the only thing I will add to what Ed provided is during normal operations, they have instrumentation that monitors the radioactive levels of air that's being discharged into the atmosphere and water that's being discharged to the sea, and also other sources. Because of the loss of power and all the problems they've faced, they may be challenged by lack of instrumentation and lack of operable instrumentation to monitor those. Hopefully they're using temporary instruments to monitor that, but temporary instruments are generally not as effective in measuring the volumes of water that are being handled as the installed instrumentation.  So, that may be a challenge that they're still struggling to face or deal with.

REPORTER:  Okay, thank you so much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks, David and Ed, I appreciate you taking the time to do all this for all the news media. Could you, Ed, could you just briefly tell me a little bit about how you went about looking at the Austrian estimates and how you modeled them?  Thank you.

MR. LYMAN:  Yes, it's very preliminary results at this point, but, you know, there are models that can estimate dose rates due to deposition, the function of wind conditions, so I just simply looked at cesium release, without specifying where it came from, either the reactor or the spent fuel pool, and looked at the way the dose rates would fall off as a function of distance.

And these are, again, very crude estimates, probably at least with a factor of two or more, but they do seem to be roughly consistent with that kind of a release.  Of course, the wind has shifted many times since this event started, but it is, if you look at that daily map, there is a very striking plume that does indicate that there seems to be at least a prevailing wind in that direction, or at least at the time of the significant cesium release, there was a pretty steady wind in that direction.

I'm assuming that the levels of contamination that are leading to steady dose rates are largely due to the cesium deposition, and that the assumption also has some uncertainties, but again, these are very rough estimates, but that would be the approach behind them.  I am going to try to refine those over the next few days.

REPORTER:  Just one follow-up, I asked DOE if they could provide a breakdown or a weighting of the readings by the isotopes that were giving off those and they said they were still working on that.  Is that something you think they already have, are we getting the full story from DOE?

MR. LYMAN:  No, they're probably just monitoring gross counts, you know, and the first cut that you can do spectometry to get better ideas of what the isotopes actually are, but I mean, there is some equipment I guess that can give you that data relatively quickly, but when you're talking about a lot of different isotopes, it could be confounding.  I think it might take some more time.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, thank you.  Can you talk about a little bit more on your thoughts on the data that DOE released and the Austrian data in terms of health risks that those radiation levels pose and whether or not the data suggests that radiation risks were present in a larger area than Japanese officials had evacuated?

MR. LYMAN:  Yeah, actually, I need to pull those numbers up.  They certainly show dose rates that would indicate that there was prolonged residence in those areas, if those dose rates don't increase -- don't decrease, that in a matter of weeks, people would exceed -- or actually days, people would exceed the threshold that's generally considered the international standard for the maximum amount of radiation in one year for members of the public from our official sources, which internationally is 100 millirem a year.

So, they have mapped -- actually, I need to look at that to tell you, but they've mapped doses of over one millirem an hour as far as 30 or 40 miles downwind.  And, so, that would indicate that those areas, at least, are not going to be fit for long-term habitation at those dose rates.  If it really is due to cesium 137, then those dose rates are not likely to decline significantly over time.  So, it looks like there are going to be areas considerably further than 12 kilometers that may require significant decontamination or condemnation.

REPORTER:  And why is it that -- can you expand on that point about cesium 137 and why wouldn't it decline over time?

MR. LYMAN:  Because it has a half life of 30 years.  That's the physical half life. Now, what happens is as eventually it will work its way down to the soil, so the dose rates will decline somewhat faster than that, but if you look at the Chernobyl exclusion zone, you can see that even 20 or 25 years after the accident, that those dose rates do persist, and people do understand to some extent now from that experience how they will change over time, but certainly within a year or two, I would expect if there's no remedial action, that those would go down significantly, if they are due to cesium 137.

There is also cesium 134, which has a shorter half life, and I actually need to assess the relative contribution to that at this point.

MR. NEGIN:  Question, please?

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks, very much.

Can you please comment on the New York Times story about the risk of salt build-up on the inside the reactors and what that might mean?  Hello?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yes, this is David Lochbaum, I'll take a first shot at.  The salt water that's being used for both the spent fuel pools and the reactor cores will as that water evaporates leave the salt behind.  If there's complete or near total evacuation of the water, then you have a lot of salt skewing left behind, and it could insulate the fuel and impede the heat transfer from the pellets inside the fuel through the cladding, through the salt layer, to the water, once water is restored.

So, they're, as quickly as they can, they're likely to want to stop injecting sea water, start injecting fresh water to dilute the salt concentration that's already in the spent fuel pools and in the reactors.

They were basically down to only the option of using sea water, so they were pretty much forced into using that for as long as they only had the one option.

It is complicating what they do, not only because of the effect that the salt could impede heat transfer and potentially block some of the cooling water flow paths, but it's also very corrosive and it will do damage to components in the plant.  So that they need to, as quickly as they can, get out of using sea water, get it back out of the plant as quickly as they can.  And again, they had no option, they had to use the only water they had available, given the baggage, even the baggage that it carried.

REPORTER:  Could it cause a material increase and the risk of further core damage and further radioactivity leaks?  Is it possible to assess that?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  It could cause, it's hard to put a number on that.  Qualitatively, it does cause the dual threat of impeding heat transfer rates, which means that cooling is lost, the heat may heat up faster than it would otherwise, so the chance of fire or meltdown will go up.

At the same time, the salt water corrosion could take out some of the systems you're using to move the water through the reactor core and the spent fuel pools.  So, it's got the double consequence of increasing the likelihood of a meltdown at the same time, you know, taking away the cooling pumps that would put you down that path.  So, it's known to have those problems, but again, when that's the only choice you've got, you take it.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, thank you.

I apologize for the last subject a little bit, but given what's happened in Japan, we're looking at a nuclear power plant proposal here in the California Central Valley.  This group has an agreement with AREVA, and they say it would be one of the company's EPR reactors, and I had been reading your 2007 Report Nuclear   Power in a Warming World that talked about of all the new reactor designs, that the EPR has the potential to be significantly less vulnerable to severe accidents than maybe other reactors.

I was wondering if you guys still feel the same, and does this just go for terrorist attacks or other safety areas as well, for instance this plant would be within 50 miles of the San Andreas Fault here in California.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

The EPR design is safer than some of the other designs, although none of the designs are inherently safe.  The reason we felt it was safer than some of the other advanced designs that were being talked about was that the plant featured four separate safety systems that were in each quadrant of the plant, and any one of those safety systems or any one of those four surviving would be enough to adequately cool the reactor core.

So, it took some event that knocked all four off the table before the reactor core was subjected to potential nuclear core meltdown.

If you look at what happened in Japan, they had four reactors, three reactors that were operating, four spent fuel pools that have now had some problems.  They each had their own safety system, they each had their own cooling system, but a common threat took all of those systems off the table and put the three reactor cores and the four spent fuel pools in jeopardy.

The EPR design, although it has four systems, are all vulnerable to the same similar common mode problem.  So, if an EPR had been operating at Fukushima, you might have fared better than the other units, but it's not invulnerable to what they went through.  So, even those reactors have Achilles heels.

MR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman, sorry, I had to get off for a minute, so I missed a question.

I should note that we never -- I think the basic principle is that there needs to be more attention in the regulations to severe accident design and management.  And I would just point out an example that the EPR exceeded the U.S. Energy standards with regards to better severe accident features.  We don't have an active EPR per se, in fact, since we wrote the report in 2007, there has been a lot of criticism of the design for it having problems with its instrumentation control system, and some nuclear plant designers have actually suggested when you have so many back-up systems, the plant design is so complex that it actually inhibited safety because of the complexity of the instrumentation control system.

So, that problem can probably be solved, but we certainly don't endorse the EPR, just the principle that for new reactors, the NRC should espouse the position that they need to be significantly safer, taking into account lessons learned, including what we're going to be finding out about Fukushima.

Just one example, Dave pointed out that redundancy isn't always satisfactory, if you have a common mode failure that takes out all of your redundant systems, you also need diversity, and I would like to point out in a design like the AP-1000, they have rejected enhanced diversity with regard to certain systems like valves which are essential for depressurizing the reactor vessel to allow coolant to get in, so they don't have sufficient diversity in some of those systems.  Thank you.

REPORTER:  Just one follow-up to just dealing with the same issue, they talked about that the spent fuel rods, essentially taking them by rail to an inland port here in California where they would be put on a barge to the San Francisco Bay area where they would be put on a ship and taken to an AREVA reprocessing facility in France.  I mean, any feeling about that sort of plan?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Sorry, so I missed it again, what plant is this exactly?  The proposal from California?

REPORTER:  Yeah, what are you guys going to do with the spent fuel rods, and they talked about having them reprocessed at the AREVA facility in France.  So, you know, they would have to take them by rail to an inland port, put them on a barge, take the barge out to a shipping port and essentially ship them to France.  I don't know, is that common, or do you guys have any comment on that, just that general proposal?

MR. LYMAN:  Well, the U.S. doesn't currently engage in spent fuel reprocessing. There was a moratorium in the 1970s, there is no official moratorium now, and no U.S. facility has been interested in reprocessing, because the cost is actually so great compared to the on-site storage and eventually disposal, or direct disposal in a repository.

But Japan, for example, did do exactly what they're proposing, it shipped spent fuel for 20 years to France and the United Kingdom for reprocessing, but they can't, you know, they must take back and they have taken back the high-level waste resulting from reprocessing, which is in the form of glass, and they don't have a repository for that either, so that's just sitting in storage.  So, you might want to ask these folks what they're planning to do with the high-level waste when it comes back.

In addition, when you reprocess spent fuel, you generate large quantities of plutonium.  That is also owned by the utility that owns the spent fuel, and they will also have a plutonium disposal problem on their hands as well if they tried to do that.

And the same, there's heightened attention to the danger associated with what's called MOX fuel, which is what Japan is trying to do with all the plutonium that it now owns, turning it into reactor fuel and using it like water reactors, that will greatly increase risk and cost.  I think Japan is going to be reconsidering what they're doing, and it doesn't make sense for any U.S. utility to propose the same.

REPORTER:  Thank you.          

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, thanks for doing this.

I also want to ask you a question that has more to do with the United States, but many of us are looking at the nuclear plants in light of what's happened in Japan, and I wanted to ask, given what you know about NRC oversight, how confident should Americans be in the safety of the U.S. nuclear plants that have yellow, green or no finding assessments, and about the newly planned nuclear plants in the U.S.?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum, on the first part of that question, the NRC's reactor oversight process is better than the -- well, let me step back, the NRC adopted its reactor oversight process that it currently uses ten years ago, in the year 2000.  It's much better than the process that it used before then.  The current process looks at safety performance in approximately two dozen areas and evaluates that performance every three months.

The system that preceded it looked at performance in four broad categories and gave a report card about every two years.  The new system allows safety problems to be detected at a small level and a more timely level so that they can be turned around and corrected before they grow to epidemic levels, which the old system basically only detected, it was only epidemics, it didn't detect early onset of problems.

So, I think things are better; however, having said that, the new reactor oversight process is not foolproof.  In the year 2002, the reactor oversight process gave the Davis-Besse plant the highest marks possible, basically straight As, even though it was then discovered to have come closest to an accident since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.  So, any time a system can't distinguish the best from the worst, there's still some work left to be done on it.

But having said that, it's much better than what we had before.  It's still a work in progress.  The NRC strives to make it better every year, as we do, because that's the Americans best protection against a problem, whether it's caused by aging plants or a complacent owner or some other act of nature. An effective oversight process and enforcement of the NRC safety regulations is the best protection we can get and that's what we strive for and what the NRC strives for.

The second part of the question had to do with new reactors and maybe Ed can talk about them.

MR. LYMAN:  Yes, with regard to the NRC's licensing of new plants, we have a lot of concerns, but the overarching concern that Dave just mentioned is that NRC has a policy that new reactors do not have to be safer than current reactors, they expect they will be, but they don't have to be.

And as a result, we think most of the new reactor designs that have come out of the vendors that the NRC is now considering have flaws, especially with regard to the issue of uncertainty when you have a new design that's never been built or operated anywhere, how you treat those first year reactors that you're going to operate before you accumulate a lot of operating experience.

We think that NRC is putting too much faith in these utilities paper studies and, you know, not allowing enough time to reserve judgment on policy issues until it's demonstrated that the systems can work as designed.

So, we don't think NRC is being conservative enough in its approach to reactors and we hope that, again, Fukushima is going to demonstrate the folly of thinking too much about what can and what can't happen.

REPORTER:  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  I wanted to follow up on that last question concerning the reactor oversight process.  Should we be more confident in plants that have been sold and are now operated by the so-called nuclear operating companies?  In Wisconsin, we have several -- all three reactors are among the worst performers for over a decade in your report about oversight.  So, I just, that's the first part. And the second part is has NRC taken any steps to improve the process since Davis-Besse?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The first part of the question, this is Dave Lochbaum, the first part of the question, we struggle to figure out whether a merchant owner would do better than another owner.  We're thinking that the merchant owner viewed nuclear power as their future, their business model for the future, thinking they would provide the resources to make that a success, whereas the owner of a nonmerchant plant, that decision to build that plant may have been made several business management generations ago, such that the current management just inherited that nuclear plant as a legacy, and as a caretaker owner, they might not be as interested in what it takes to make that be a successful endeavor.

So, that would suggest that maybe the merchant owner would be more equipped for success than not, but the other side of the coin was we looked at, well, even the best merchant owner might get too many plants under their belt, get too many balls up in the air and not have enough resources to adequately achieve success at all in nuclear sites.

So, rather than try to figure out which of those is most accurately a description, we put all of our eggs into the basket of making the reactor oversight process as effective as it can be, because that would discern between problems caused by owners of any type, or aging problems or other challenges that are coming out.

So, we continue to try to help the NRC make the reactor oversight process as successful as possible.

As for the second part of the question, has the NRC made any adjustments since Davis-Besse, the answer is yes.  They formed a task force to look at what they could have done differently to avoid the near miss of Davis-Besse.  They came up with 49 recommendations on what to do differently, and I take some pride in the fact that UCS pushed them into not only identifying 49 things to do better, but to actually doing those 49 things as quickly as possible.  The NRC has a good track record of coming out with an action plan and then not following up on doing the actions, but all 49 of those recommendations have been implemented.

And for example, one of the things they included was the resident inspectors at each plant in the country looks at all corrective action reports, all problem reports written by workers over the previous 24 hours, and they follow up on those that may suggest a pattern developing that's in the wrong direction.  So, that's one of the things that wasn't done prior to Davis-Besse that's now being done today, that hopefully -- and we have seen evidence that it is identifying problems that are emerging and with the NRC's oversight is forcing the plant owners to fix those before they get worse than they already are.

MR. NEGIN:  Question, please?

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, one more question.

Going back now to the steps that were taken, or the accidents that occurred that caused hydrogen gas and radiation products to escape the dry containment, in the reactors other than 2, was the venting that occurred from the dry containment operator managed or was that likely to be relief valves that operated automatically?

And then I want to ask and see if you have any insights now as to why the situation in Reactor 2 was different, perhaps was there an explosion from the torus that suspected that caused the leak there?  So, I'm trying to focus on whether the venting was automatic, or operator handled, except for 2.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

It's our understanding that the venting was manually controlled.  When the pressure inside the reactor vessel rose too high, the operators would manually open up some relief valves that would discharge that pressure into the primary containment building.  Normally it would go down into the torus part of the primary containment.

REPORTER:  Were they also venting, though, from the primary containment into the secondary containment?  Were there relief valves that would have allowed the hydrogen to get out of the primary into the secondary?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  You know, our understanding because of the periodic venting of the reactor vessel, they also had in turn to periodically vent the primary containment, because it would pressurize also.  The normal way for venting the containment is through the reactor building inside piping that would discharge it through a stack outside of primary or secondary containment as well.

You've probably seen pictures where they have those stacks that are surrounded by scaffolding or supports to hold them.  That should have been where the vented atmosphere from the primary containment went, was up through those stacks.  For some reason, the hydrogen ended up in the reactor building itself.

We've posted something on our blog, allthingsnuclear.org, that suggests one pathway that it may have been that they waited to vent the containment too long, and the pressure built up, actually lifted the reactor vessel head off the flange enough to leak hydrogen into the reactor building.

Since they were following the same procedure, that would explain why it happened on Units 1, 2 and 3.  They waited to the same pressure point, it was high enough to lift the reactor vessel head, not blow it off the top, but just enough to provide a small pathway for hydrogen to leak out.

The reason we provide that pathway, possible pathway, is that that did happen at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant, during its initial start-up testing, they pressurized the containment, the head lifted off of the flange and it wasn't hydrogen in those days, it was air that leaked out into the reactor building.  So, we're saying since that happened once, it's possible that that same scenario explained what happened on Units 1, 2 and 3. The one difference between Unit 2 and the other two units is that the hydrogen seems to have exploded either in the torus or in the reactor building area just outside of the torus. We're not sure why there's a difference between that unit and the other two units in that regard.  

 REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, good morning.

What is known today about how far the radioactive material from these reactors has traveled?  Has it gotten as far as Europe?

MR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman, I believe at this point, they have detected evidence of contamination as far away as Europe, but, you know, the sensitivities of these detections is very, very good.  So, I mean, and these isotopes are strange, you know, there isn't much iodine 131 in the world anymore.

So, the mere fact that it's been detected does not mean that it's going to pose a significant health threat, and I think it's still kind of a judgment that although no little amount of radiation is safe, that people in this country are not going to be significantly threatened by the aerial mist.

It could be that there will be contaminated seafood from that region, because some types of marine life will concentrate on radioactive isotopes so that their flesh will have higher concentrations.  So, that will have to be handled through interdiction of testing and detection of potentially contaminated seafood, but I don't think the aerial contamination is going to warrant any kind of protective action in the United States.

REPORTER:  And just a follow-up to that.  I'm a little unclear on what the current releases from the plant are.

MR. LYMAN:  Well, I think everyone is. As we reported yesterday and today, based on the monitoring and there is a -- the world now has a very sophisticated array of detectors that were put in place for monitoring compliance of the comprehensive test entry, which has still not come into force, but the system is operating, and so these are designed to look for certain rare isotopes that are indicators of nuclear fission, and try to make estimates of the magnitude and location of the releases.

So, that array is actually providing the level of sensitivity that's supporting some of these estimates.  And the Austrians reported yesterday that the magnitude of iodine 131 released is about 20 percent, that what was released in the first four days of the accident was about 20 percent of what had been released in total from Chernobyl, and cesium 137 release was 20 to 50 percent of what's been released at Chernobyl.  Those are their estimates based on readings from these monitoring stations.

And my impression, as we discussed yesterday, is that the iodine 131 is a clear indicator of leakage from the reactor, and to the extent there's enhanced cesium 137 release, that could be a sign that there has been some additional releases from the spent fuel pools.

One of the things the Austrians noticed is that the ratio between the iodine and cesium differed depending on the direction of the measurement, and they had certain directions that was considerably higher, cesium concentration compared to the iodine.  That would suggest that there were some puffs with enhanced cesium made near the spent fuel pools.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.         

REPORTER:  Thank you, I just have two questions.  On the issue of the power uprates again.  The concern, is that over a specific type of uprate?  I notice that there's a stretch extended and an MU type of uprate.

And then the other question is, this is the first I've heard that someone -- previously the NRC and others have said that they're not sure that the Japanese plants had those hydrogen external stacks, are you fairly confident that they did?  Thank you, that's it for me.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

As far as the first part of the question, it's really the stretch for the 20 percent power uprate that are the problem.  The MU measurement on certain of the uprates were very small, on the order of one or two percent. And the design uprates about five percent, are relatively modest.  It's really the larger power uprates that are of concern.

The second part of the question, it's our understanding that that is the containment vent pathway.  I think where the -- what I read about the NRC's uncertainty is whether the pipe that carried the atmosphere from the primary containment to that stack has been hardened or not.  In the '80s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission forced our pooling water reactor owners to install hardened vents so that that atmosphere went through a -- rather than ductwork, it went through a more robust pipe to ensure that it got to the stack.

 I think there's some uncertainty over whether the Japanese had installed that what is called a hardened vent path as the U.S. PWRs did, but the way it was designed and the pressure it was operating under, it should have been able to conduct that atmosphere to the stack without depositing it into the reactor building.

REPORTER:  Can I do a quick follow-up?  I've seen an extended uprate of 15 percent.  Would that be in the same category as a stretch that would be of concern?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  If they took -- if the power uprate took credit for containment over pressure, then it would be a concern.  If the 15 percent allowed them to achieve their safety goals without relying on containment overpressure, then it would not be of concern to us.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  My question was answered, so you guys can go ahead.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Given that you now think the Austrians might be right about the 50 percent of Chernobyl, could you elaborate on why you don't think aerial emissions are going to require any sort of protective effect?  Is it that even the 50 percent of Chernobyl, if a lot, it's still not enough to reach the U.S. in quantities that would cause public harm, or is it something about the way cesium 137 behaves in the atmosphere and with rain and et cetera?

MR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

Well, even after Chernobyl, again, although there was detectable contamination in the United States, the associated doses were still probably a thousand times below background or something like that.  So, it's really the distance that's protecting us.  And after Chernobyl, you know, given the complexity of the meteorological conditions and the height of the plume, there was protective actions that had to be taken as far away as Scotland, but again, even under those conditions, it didn't affect the United States.

And in the case of Chernobyl, because of the very hot fire, they experienced a plume that lofted to one to 2,000 meters, and that caused an even further dispersal than would be probably expected in this case, where the plume is not likely to exceed but a few hundred meters.

So, you know, even if the magnitude of the releases were comparable, while grave in Chernobyl, I think the extent of the downlink contamination would still be smaller.

REPORTER:  Could I ask just one more question?  You mentioned fish stocks and viral accumulation.  Are there any particular fisheries that you think might be affected, and if you don't know, have you seen any reports, reliable reports about fisheries that might be affected?

MR. LYMAN:  Yeah, I'm sorry, I'm not an expert in that area, so I don't know.  I would point out it's shellfish are usually the biggest concern, that in the effluents or the waterways and bodies of water that receive effluents from reprocessing plants, that it's typically types of shellfish that are the most severely affected.

REPORTER:  Can I ask one more question?  If cesium 137 is sort of -- because of its long half life, are there any public health measures that you think should be taking place in Japan in light of its long half life and apparently a fairly heavy emission that presumably would have some local deposition?

MR. LYMAN:  Well, I mean, there would really be no measure to take, other than, you know, decontamination.  I think if the experience shows, you know, it does persist in the environment for a long time, but there's still contaminated wildlife in northern Europe, things like mushrooms and berries, certain game continue to show high levels of cesium that will have to be watched for a very long time, and structures and soil would have to be decontaminated.

There's no useful countermeasure against cesium 137 unless it's taken internally in large quantity, then there's something called Prussian Blue, which can chelate cesium and carry it out of the body faster, but so far the most larger radiation threat comes from external radiation from cesium that's deposited in the ground rather than what's being inhaled.  Even on the site, the levels of cesium concentration in the air are still very low.

So, there's really no effective countermeasure, unless you want to walk around in lead clothing for the rest of your life.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks.  I wanted to follow up on the earlier question I asked.  Dr. Lyman, you were talking about how the DOE has found deficits greater than one milligram per hour going out farther than 25 nautical miles, and so you're saying that if those continue at that rate, then these areas could be uninhabitable, or does there need to be some type of decontamination used?

MR. LYMAN:  Well, you know, if the international recommendation for exposure to the public continually from external radiation -- from artificial radiation, from all sources, including medical procedures, is 100 millirem per year.  So, and 100 hours being in an area with one millirem per hour dose rate, you would exceed that.

Now, there are authorities that have been contemplating post-accident requirements that would lift the limit as compared to those routine exposures, but then people are really going to have to decide if they want to live in the area that's, you know, where they would be receiving many, many times that rate every year.

So, I would think persistent dose rates of one millirem per hour or more, which is actually what the Chernobyl excluding zone, many areas are like today.  It's certainly not the place I would want to live.

REPORTER:  Is there going to be measurement in it to confirm that that rate does continues or would you expect it to continue?

MR. LYMAN:  You know, they will have to monitor it for a long time, I would imagine, you know, they will be mapping out hot spots, it's not going to be uniform, and they will have to make remediation decisions based on the value of the property and the cost of the decontamination.

REPORTER:  And also, so, given that map, how do you assess the evacuation policy that the Japanese government has been pursuing?

MR. LYMAN:  You know, well, the problem with the map is that it just tells you what regions have less than 1.19 millirem per hour. This doesn't tell you how low.  So, certainly in the direction of the plume, I would say I would not want to -- I mean, the idea of evacuation is you're supposed to get people out before they've received the high exposure.  So, evacuation is really just buying time.  I would say people still living in that zone have already, they may have already exceeded, if they were living in that hot spot, when looking at, you know, they've probably well exceeded -- they could have well exceeded the international recommendations already, but not the dose rate or the total dose that let's say would trigger protective action in this country, which not being a PA considers one to five REM within four days.  That's the level of exposure that requires relocation, but again, I think in the long term, those areas, they're going to have to make a different calculation of their long-term habitability.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, gentlemen, and thank you again for hosting these, and Dave, I hope you get your voice back.

I wonder if you could address a bit the NRC's plume theory, which seems to be that any radiation would be one distinct tract and you could follow it and then the other 300 something degrees of the compass don't have to worry about it.  Particularly in light of the fact that for the last several days, the Japanese government has been saying the wind has been blowing out to sea and so the danger of fallout was minimal, and then expressed surprise at the level of contamination found inland, and including in the Tokyo water system.

MR. LYMAN:  Ed Lyman.

I remember well, especially the Entergy material that was coming out at the point about ten years ago when they were claiming that these plumes would be so narrow that all you would have to do is walk across the street and you would be fine.  I think this is the case of emergency managers who started to believe their modeling a little too much, and overlooked the shortcomings.

And I certainly hope with the outcome of this, is that people recognize the great complexity of these events, especially if there's a long, drawn-out release and multiple wind shifts, and now there's still considerable confusion about the potential impacts on the whole world.

So, any idea that these releases can be so simple and predictable that you don't have to worry about them or you can easily avoid them are just absurd, and that attitude is going to have to change.

REPORTER:  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, guys.  Thanks again.

Regarding the levels that we've seen north and northwest of this facility, just help me understand, please, if you could, what is known about the make-up of that radiation, whether it's the iodine that's causing those levels or the cesium or whatever.

At this point, I know that it's a concern that the longer term problem could be high concentrations of cesium, but at this point, what do you actually know about that?

MR. LYMAN:  You mean that are contributing to the dose rates, for instance, mapped out by DOE?

REPORTER:  Right, I mean, how do we know what -- I mean, if it's iodine, that's obviously not nearly as much of a concern long-term.

MR. LYMAN:  No, my impression is that those dose rates are going to be generated by external gamma matters or gamma matters that produce high external radiation doses.  Like cesium 137, so that if they are doing kind of just gross dosimeter measurements, that the equipment can actually screen for -- you know, there are many ways that they could try to assess the nature of the radiation, but my feeling is that what they're reading now are really -- that it's probably largely due to the cesium isotopes 137, 134, also ruthenium, there are certain ruthenium isotopes that may also be contributing, but those will decay faster than cesium over time.

So, of course, we don't know, and all I'm doing at this point is trying to see if the steam estimate is within the realm of possibility.  Based on these readings, I don't see it yet, but any better, you know, it's not better than an educated guess at this point.

REPORTER:  And Ed, is there an -- or David -- is there a difference, a significant difference between how iodine is dispersed in a plume than cesium?  Or how it could escape from the reactor at a steam release, controlled or uncontrolled?

MR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.  There are differences.  Iodine does volatilize at a lower temperature, and so as a result, cesium has a somewhat higher boiling point so that it actually, when it cools, it may be released essentially as a gas, but it will quickly cool and condense, although into very, very small particles.  It can be dispersed quite widely.

So, there are different chemical forms, and so you wouldn't expect them to travel together in the same way.  Iodine actually, the iodine chemistry and accident is very, very complicated, and in fact, what was believed about the most stable compounds of iodine before this type of accident were completely disproved by a series of tests that were done at a test reactor in France over the last ten years.

In fact, NRC hasn't even adjusted its guidance to take into account.  This has to do with what chemical forms iodine is in, if it's organically bound or not, and that could have a lot of impacts on how it travels, how it affects people, and it's very complicated.

REPORTER:  One more quick thing, but if those elevated readings, wherever they're encountered, whether they're in the water in Tokyo or in the air or dust near the plant or northwest of the plant, if those elevated readings are primarily due to the release of iodine, they should go down considerably over the next couple of weeks, and if they're not going down, that would be a pretty uneducated way to tell that it's not the iodine.  Am I right?

MR. LYMAN:  Yes, that's correct.  There are also other ways, you know, I have seen measurements of cesium deposition directly, and you can actually estimate the dose rates that would be associated with that.  So that's another check that I actually plan to do, but yes, there is certainly iodine and a lot of shorter lived isotopes that will decay, and again, even the longer lived ones, there are some removal processes that will bury and shield them over time, but I think, you know, there just isn't enough data at this point for me to say.      

REPORTER:  All right, thank you, very much.

OPERATOR:  Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press star, and then the number 1 key on your touchtone telephone.

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

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you.  I want to thank everyone for calling in this morning. Ed and Dave will be on the phone tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. for an update of what happens over the next following hours in Japan, and we will also answer questions about the implications the Japanese crisis has on the nuclear power industry in the United States.

If you have any other questions today, please email us at media@ucsusa.org and we will get back to you as soon as we can.  Thank you very much.

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

(Whereupon, at 12:13 p.m., the telepress was concluded.)

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