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UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS UPDATE ON JAPAN'S NUCLEAR POWER CRISIS TELEPRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 28, 2011 11:00 A.M. P R O C E E D I N G S

OPERATOR:  Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Japan Nuclear Reactor Update.  At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode, but later today, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will follow at that time. If you should require assistance during today's conference, you may press star, then zero on your touchtone telephone to speak with an operator.  Also, as a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. Now, I would like to introduce your host for today's conference, Elliott Negin.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you. Good morning, everyone.  This is Elliott Negin.  I am the Media Director here at the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Thanks for joining our call this morning. Just to remind you yet 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'll get back to you as quickly 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. We may already have answers to some of your questions posted on our Frequently Asked Questions feature, and answers to more technical questions are on our allthingsnuclear.org blog. Yesterday, Dave Lochbaum posted annotated photographs on the blog of a typical boiling water reactor control room and the control room at the Unit 2 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi site.  It's clear from the photo taken on Saturday that the Unit 2 control room monitoring instruments are not functioning. As far as holding our daily press briefings later this week, we will not hold our daily press briefing tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., because Dave Lochbaum is testifying tomorrow morning on Capitol Hill.  The hearing is being hosted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will run from 10:00 'til noon, and we assume that the Committee will be streaming that briefing tomorrow live on its website.

We will email you information about that hearing later today, and we are trying to arrange to host our daily briefing tomorrow afternoon and will confirm that in our email later today.

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

This morning, our speakers are David Lochbaum and Ed Lyman, 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. Dr. Edwin Lyman is 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. I will now turn the phone over to David Lochbaum.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Thank you, Elliott, and good morning. Over the weekend, workers were able to stop the injection of seawater into the reactor cores or reactor vessels on Units 1, 2, and 3, and instead, have been injecting fresh water into the reactor vessels for the three reactor cores.  That's a positive sign in that both fresh water and seawater provide cooling, but fresh water does it without the potentially corrosive effects that seawater introduces.  So, that was a positive step, to switch over from seawater injection to fresh water injection. Also, over the past few days, workers have been able to provide injection -- albeit of seawater -- into the spent fuel pools on Units 2, 3, and 4 at Fukushima, prior to that using a fairly conventional make-up line that was being used on a daily basis prior to the earthquake. Up until those reconnections were made or reconfigurations were made, workers had been adding water to the spent fuel pools via water cannons from below and helicopter drops from above.  So, now there's a more conventional, reliable means of injecting water into the spent fuel pools on Units 2, 3, and 4. As was established midweek of last week, the spent fuel pools on Units 5 and 6 are being cooled by the fairly normal system, with water being withdrawn, cooled, and then returned to the spent fuel pools by the normal lines. Those normal cooling systems on Units 5 and 6 are now being powered by external power.  For a while, they had been powered by the on-site emergency diesel generators.  So, units 5 and 6 are back to a fairly normal, conventional pooling arrangement.

There were reports of very highly contaminated water found in various buildings; the reactor buildings on Units 1, 2, and 3, the turbine buildings on Units 2, 3.  It's difficult to determine where that water is coming from. Obviously, it shouldn't be there, and in those quantities, it's posing some challenges to the workers as they try to carry out their restoration activities, but it's difficult, from the data we've seen, to determine how that water got into those locations. And I think that's it, Elliott.  Thank you.

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you, Dave. We will now hear from Edwin Lyman.

DR. LYMAN:  Thank you, Elliott. There are also reports that the storage tanks where the excess water has been accumulated are full and that some of those tanks will have to be emptied before they can actually remove the contaminated water from the basins of the turbine buildings and reduce the radiation levels in those areas, which this seems to be a significant challenge. There's also a report of the leakage outside of the Unit 2 reactor building and possibly even Units 1 and 3, very highly radioactive water, which is reported to have very high dose rates being emitted from that water.  That, again, is a significant challenge. It is clear that the radiation protection measures that are being taken on-site are haphazard at best.  There are anecdotal reports of workers not being given dosimeters; ignoring alarms because of the assumption that they're wrong; and the incident over the weekend where TEPCO revised its estimate of the dose rate in a Unit 2 turbine building a hundred times downward based on an incorrect reading in the presence of an isotope, iodine 134, which they should have realized couldn't have been there anyway, because it should have all decayed away by now.

So, without having a good, accurate program for monitoring radiation levels in all these various areas, it's hard to see how they can actually implement a program for protecting the workers adequately.

There's also a lot of misinformation about what various doses mean.  When it was reported that there was a dose rate of one Sievert per hour, that is, a thousand milli-Sieverts per hour, in the turbine building basement and near the contaminated water that's spilling outside, some people point out that's four times the workers' allowed dose for the year under these emergency conditions. But it's worse than that, because at that rate, acute effects and symptoms could show up within an hour, a little more than an hour after being exposed to those levels.  So, it's not simply the cumulative effect and the impact on the workers' risk of cancer, but it's also the rate where they may suffer acute symptoms, and that would take things to another level. There are also indications over the weekend, looking at the IAEA monitoring results that they're reporting on their website, it appears that there were increases in observed deposition rates of iodine 131, cesium 137 many tens of kilometers away from the site.  We put up a blog post over the weekend pointing out some questions about this data.  It's very hard to interpret because of the way it's been presented, and we were calling on the IEA to do a service by trying to organize the data in a way that people can understand how conditions may be changing from day to day. That's all I have to say.  Thank you.

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

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

REPORTER:  Good morning, gentlemen. My question, I think, is probably for David. The New York Times quoted some tsunami experts over the weekend, just saying that TEPCO should have realized that a tsunami of this level was possible in that area.  If they had anticipated a tsunami like this, what could they have done to protect the plant better than they did?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, I think if they would have -- first of all, I saw that report, and I'm assuming it's true, but I don't -- I can't independently verify what they assumed or didn't, but had they anticipated a larger tsunami than or one as large as they faced, the kinds of things they could have done would be looking at what equipment was in the tsunami's path; what was the tsunami going to take off the table.

Assuming there was equipment that survived the tsunami's effects, they could have seen if that was enough equipment in order to safely cool the seven spent fuel pools and the six reactor cores.  If not, they would need to either supplement that equipment, protect the equipment so more of it survived the tsunami, or stage other equipment outside of the tsunami's affected zone, such that when the tsunami was all done and passed, they had enough equipment left, including power, in order to safely cool all the irradiated fuel in the places it was.

REPORTER:  And that would basically have been backup generators, at least in the first rank?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Either backup generators, or if all you're assuming is a tsunami, then they would have looked at the connections to the on-site electrical grid to determine whether those connections would have survived the tsunami effects or not.  If they didn't, then you would have had to ensure that your on-site power supplies, whether diesel generators or batteries, was sufficient to cope with the duration that you had to cope with. You know, they ran out of time, ran out of power, and that put them in a -- so, they would have ensured that they had enough power for the equipment they needed to survive that duration.

REPORTER:  Okay.  Thank you.  I'll get back in queue.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning. I think I now have to ask certainly about the water contamination, for you to offer some kind of worst case scenario about what this could mean in terms of groundwater contamination, in terms of offshore sea contamination, how long would it last, how dangerous would it be, because it looks like this story is moving fairly quickly and things have apparently gotten a lot more severe since last week.  So, your thoughts would be appreciated.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum. I'll take an initial shot at it, and Ed can supplement.

The problems with the contaminated water, regardless of how that got there, is it's been in the reactor buildings for Units 2 and 3, perhaps also in Unit 1, and is also in the turbine buildings of some of the units.  The pathways for that material to get out are numerous.  For example, the reactor buildings for Units 1, 3, and 4 are no longer intact, so they're no longer acting as a barrier to reduce the contamination that may leave as it evaporates from the puddles on the floor in various buildings.

In addition, as your question suggested, there are also pathways for that contamination in liquid form to leak out, and, of course, they have suggested that it's being monitored at the discharge of the facility at the sea and elsewhere.  They have a huge amount of radioactively contaminated water, and as Ed said in his comments, they need to get some control over that, some place to put it, some processing plant that can treat the water, remove as much radiation as possible from the water, because they have a huge amount of water that's contaminated, and that's a problem. They had to use the water, I don't criticize the fact that they had to use that water to cool the spent fuel pools and the reactors, but the legacy of that need has been a huge problem that they need to get their arms around quickly.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, just to add one thing, I mean, it would appear one lesson coming out of this, as we said before, U.S. utilities have plans for severe accident management, and these involve measures such as what we're seeing in Japan, the idea that you could have manual cooling of water even with the major systems down for some extended period of time, and it's not clear those plans actually have addressed the issue of how to deal with volumes of contaminated water that overwhelm the storage that they have.

It looks, if it's true, that the storage capacity is already overfilled, and that could explain that the tanks are flooding and the overflow is leading to those leaks, and they don't have provisions right away for being able to deal with that water, but they may have no choice but to continue dumping large quantities of radioactive water into the environment, and that is going to have to be factored into plans for how you deal with severe accidents in the future.

REPORTER:  I just want to know if -- I don't want to panic anybody unnecessarily, but I do want to know whether this could get into groundwater, whether this could get into water supplies, just your best estimate.

DR. LYMAN:  If they don't have, you know, a plan in place for managing, that they've already demonstrated, could prevent that kind of leakage, I mean, there has already been an enormous amount of radioactivity released from this plant into the air, and that will deposit on seawater and surface water supplies.

So, you know, it's hard to imagine that there won't be some significant contamination that will have to be dealt with.  You know, the extent of it, I think this is an indication that even when you don't have a significant breach of the reactor vessel or the containment, which still seems to be the case at all three reactors, that there's still enough radioactivity in the effluent to cause this kind of at least localized problem.

But, you know, it's just hard to see how this won't result in significant contamination of some -- of certainly seawater. There will be dilution.  Some of that will be reconcentrated.  But I don't think this can be sugar-coated at this point in my view.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

I would agree with Ed, and also, another situation that we saw over the weekend and will likely see more in the future is the workers that have to deal with this situation, because the plant is well beyond what it was designed to do; the power's gone, so many systems are disabled, the workers are having to hook up Rube Goldberg schemes to get cooling in, injection in, and then part of the cleanup will have to be done jerry-rigged.

And those workers, as they go into these areas of with levels of high radioactivity, we will likely being seeing more and more overexposures and workers facing -- adding to the situation that the public will face that Ed just outlined.

REPORTER:  Thank you.  That's very helpful.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thank you for taking my call.

Right now, TEPCO, you know, is holding a press conference and just announced they found out that plutonium 238, 239, 240, and they say the level of plutonium they found -- they find in their regular (inaudible), and they can't clarify where these plutoniums are coming from. And can we take it that this is a possible meltdown or the situation is getting serious, very serious?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

I haven't seen -- I just saw the report of the plutonium detected, but I haven't seen any reports about the levels.

I'd have to say that there were -- some of the sampling that we've done over the weekend indicated the presence of a radioactive isotope called cerium 144, and this is significant, because cerium 144 is not a volatile isotope, like iodine or cesium, and as such, to find any indication of it is an indication that there was damage to the solid part of the fuel and some release of fuel materials.

This could have been from the spent fuel pool or the reactor.  My suspicion is this may be an indication of damage from the spent fuel, because if spent fuel is exposed to air, as we've discussed in previous calls, that can cause expansion of the fuel itself and crumbling of the fuel.  And so there may be some small fuel particles that have actually been released from the spent fuel pool if there has been significant damage to that fuel.

You wouldn't expect more than a few percent of that material to actually get into the environment.  After Chernobyl, when there was a mass explosion that caused physical damage to the fuel, only about 3 percent or so of the so-called low-volatility isotopes were released, but I think with the indication that there was cerium, I'm not surprised that other low-volatile isotopes, like plutonium, are going to be discovered.

REPORTER:  I have one follow-up. And so do you think, you know, these plutoniums are coming from the fuel rods?

DR. LYMAN:  It could either -- well, you know, I don't know without seeing what the actual measurements are, but there's plutonium -- in spent fuel, even spent uranium fuel, there's plutonium that's generated when uranium 238 absorbs neutrons.  So, in the spent fuel in the pool, about 1 percent, by weight, of some of that fuel could be plutonium.

There's also the MOX fuel in the core of reactor number 3, but that's actually a relatively small amount of plutonium.  Actually, the plutonium in the MOX fuel is smaller than the amount of plutonium that would have been in the uranium fuel in the spent fuel pool.  So, I don't think it says anything one way or the other about the condition of the MOX fuel.

REPORTER:  Thank you so much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  My question would be, given some of the misinformation we had this weekend and the struggle that you're having with the data that you get, are you getting more or less sure about what really is going on there?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

I think we're pretty sure there's a disaster going on.  It's the nature of the disaster, how the materials are getting into the various buildings that's not so clear, whether it's damage from the spent fuel pool or damage from the reactor core.  But in terms of what needs to be done, that's somewhat irrelevant.

There's a lot of radioactivity outside of containment barriers that's posing a threat to both workers and the public that needs to be addressed as the top priority.  There was progress made, as I mentioned earlier, on getting more normal injection of fresh water into the reactor cores, but that's more of a detail phase.  There's been clear signs of damage done to date that aren't going to go away any time soon, that will continue to pose a hazard to both workers and the public, and a lot needs to be done to regain control over that material and limit, to the extent possible, how much of it gets out from the site.

REPORTER:  I guess as a question, it's sort of hard for us out here to understand if things are getting better or worse, you know, if the list of things that needs to be done -- that's a good point that we sort of end up losing in the weeds, but if that list of what needs to be done is getting longer or shorter or if it's to be expected given the nature of this disaster.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yeah.  I think -- this is Dave Lochbaum again.

I think the good news is, you know, absent any further casualties, they've pretty much limited how much fuel damage has occurred to what has already happened.  They have regained control of water injection on all six spent fuel pools or seven spent fuel pools and are putting water into the reactor cores on Units 1, 2, and 3.  So, whatever damage has been done seems to have been done.  Things could get worse.  They could have some more equipment failures that lead to more damage of the fuel, but it seems like the fuel damage to date has already been done.

The bad news is that there's a lot of fuel damage that has occurred that's caused the release of a lot of radioactivity into some damaged structures, and that radioactivity has gotten to places that it shouldn't be, like the turbine buildings.  So, therefore, even though the amount of fuel damage may have been retarded and there won't be any more in the future, quite a lot has happened to date, and that poses a challenge to make sure that as little as possible of that large amount of radioactivity that's been released, at least into the building, gets released into the environment. That's going to be a challenge.

So, I think the phase of the accident has moved from core damage, release of material, into management of the material that's been released or discharged from the damaged fuel.

I hope that was more eloquent than it sounded at this end, but I'm trying to freelance.

REPORTER:  Yeah, I think that was helpful.  Thank you.

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

I would just like to say, you know, what we would like to know, what is very hard to tease out of the data, is if there are ongoing steady releases, atmospheric releases of radioactive material or not, and, for instance, Positive Energy had shown two plume maps, one was around March 21st and the other was March 25th, and it looked from them as if there had not been additional atmospheric release, because the dose rates were all decreasing, but that seems inconsistent with other data, like what I said, what the IEA posted over the weekend seems to indicate increased rates of deposition, but it's not clear if those are at the same monitoring points or not.

So, it's very hard to figure that out, and one wonders if -- you know, clearly, the quality of the data is impeding the ability of anyone to assess what's going on.

OPERATOR:  Our next question. Your line is open.

REPORTER:  Sorry.  I was on mute. I wanted to follow up on the plutonium question.  Our Japanese-speaking reporter, who was listening to the press conference, said that they said that they had found it in soil, and the translation is that the radioactive substance shouldn't have any impact on human health.

How easily might this plutonium migrate if it's not in a puddle of water on concrete and has, in fact, gotten into the soil?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

That depends on the plutonium chemistry.  It's a very difficult question. Plutonium in the environment can form colloids, which can be transported more widely in groundwater; however, under certain conditions, it's very insoluble in groundwater and can be sorbed onto materials like clays.  So, it's really highly dependent on the geochemistry of a particular site.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  My question is about the discovery in recent days of iodine at the detectors at nuclear plants in Florida.

And so I haven't kept up on this as well as others, but is the presence of iodine or radiation something that's been detected across the nation pretty much already and is Florida kind of the last place where that's occurred? If you could give me some perspective on that.

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.  This is Ed Lyman.

I believe they did detect iodine on the West Coast in Seattle several days ago, and I think it would be expected that it would be detected in smaller quantities as you went further east.  So, over the weekend, there were reports in Massachusetts as well.

Again, because iodine 131 is such an unusual isotope, you know, and there's no background, because we don't do atmospheric nuclear tests anymore, then it's easy to detect, you know, with high sensitivity.  So, you know, people are looking for it and they find it, but, again, I don't think the concentrations are going to be a health concern in the United States.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Good morning.  And it was a very similar question to the gentleman from Orlando.

So, it sounds like you're saying that people in the States shouldn't be concerned about their drinking water supply, then?

DR. LYMAN:  In my judgment, at this point, no.  You know, again, we have to use a disclaimer that, you know, that no level of radiation is safe, because the scientific consensus is that there's no threshold to the carcinogenic effect of radiation, but the risk is proportional to dose, and the dilution that's experienced as a plume travels many thousands of miles is highly significant.

Also, the quantity of iodine that's available for release is decreasing rapidly in time because of the short half-life of iodine 131.  So, provided the reactors don't go critical again, which they take measures to prevent, the total amount of iodine will decrease steadily.

REPORTER:  And it should decrease, I think you were saying, the farther you go east across the country?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, yeah, I mean, the further you get from the source, the more dilution there will be.  You know, there is deposition all along the way.  So, the plume will get depleted as it travels.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you, Ed and David. This question is probably more for David.

So, it looks like the estimate today from TEPCO of restoring regular power for the units keeps slipping.  Is that an indication that some of the key coolants, you know, cable and -- you know, which have been heavily damaged, that makes this really challenging and, you know, what's your analysis of how bad the damage could be?

And is there a point where the damage of the equipment is just so bad that they are no longer able to restore regular cooling anymore?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  The first part of that question, it seems that the radioactive water that's in the basement of the reactor buildings and the turbine buildings is impeding the ability of workers to string temporary power, to go in and see what equipment is functional, and then restoring power to functional equipment. Those efforts have been slowed tremendously by the high levels of radioactivity that's being found in those buildings.

They are, despite that, as I indicated earlier, they were able to establish a more conventional make-up of fresh water to the cores of reactors 1, 2, and 3 and for the spent fuel pools for 2, 3, and 4, so that suggests that despite the problems they're facing, they are making some progress.  So, I suspect they will be able to continue expanding on that progress and getting more and more power to pumps and equipment back in service.

It may be that they basically give up on the equipment that's inside the reactor building and the turbine buildings and go with all temporary equipment from temporary power sources.  The radiation levels may force them into that option.

But I think the second part of your question, I haven't seen anything yet that suggests that they're going to be unable to continue providing make-up and cooling.  They just may have to go about it in different ways.

REPORTER:  Thank you.           

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Mr. Lochbaum, I just had a question on what you sort of expect the industry take to be at the Senate hearing.  They seem to have been doing quite a bit of talking about safety and, you know, circling the wagons a bit, so how do you think that will go?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Well, I suspect that they'll argue that there's no need for immediate actions, that despite the severity of the problems in Japan, a calmer, prudent, slow, let's sit down and think about it, ponder it a bit, study it, and then determine if we need to make any upgrades here in the United States.

I also expect to hear some things, as followed the Chernobyl accident, saying that western U.S. reactors are somehow invulnerable to the types of problems that happened in Japan. So, therefore, there's a need for the Japanese to take some lessons, but there's really nothing that we need to do.

I don't doubt they will be successful in either of those -- either the stall or defuse arguments.  I mean, it's U.S. reactor technology that was used there, under similar regulations as here in the United States, so faced with similar challenges, we would probably experience similar outcomes, and I think the United States, and the Congress more broadly, will take steps to better protect Americans from that outcome.

REPORTER:  Thanks.  I know you mentioned the recommendations that you all are going to make tomorrow earlier.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Right.

REPORTER:  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, hi.  I think this question is probably for Dave, but whoever wants to step in.

There were reports this morning that they were also finding a lot of radioactive water in tunnels under the plant, and I've seen some reports -- I mean, obviously, Japanese authorities said that -- basically said they think that this water is from the reactor vessel, leaking out of it, and there's been some reports about whether the explosion had maybe damaged one of the reactor containment vessels.

I'm wondering if you have any ideas about what sort of mechanism or how the water might be leaking out.  There is some suggestion it might be coming out through the holes in the bottom of the reactor for the control rods.  And whether or not, if this is leakage from the reactor core, whether this poses a real problem in terms of continuing -- you know, being able to have enough water in there to keep the rods covered.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yeah.  I've seen those reports.  It's difficult to determine.  I think what's clear from the reports is that there's highly radioactive water in the basement and in some of the tunnels or some of the pipe tunnels that carry piping from place to place.  It's very clear that there's radioactive water in those places.  What's not clear is where it came from.

During the last week or the last two weeks, workers have periodically vented the reactor vessel into the secondary or into the primary containment structure.  It appears that some of those ventings occurred after fuel damage occurred.  So, that would have been a pathway for highly radioactive water to get into the containment buildings.  So, it's possible that it came from that structured and vented pathway as opposed to some holes on the bottom of the reactor vessel or some other containment breach.

There's data that suggests that there may not have been a reactor vessel breach, because the pressure between the reactor vessel and the containment had been stayed constantly different, the reactor vessel being higher than the pressure in the containment vessel.  So, it's not conclusively determined how that radioactive water got into the trench underneath the underground tunnel or in the basement of the building.

I just haven't seen anything yet that tells me one pathway is most credible and others are not.  So, I just can't answer that question.

REPORTER:  Does this look like a chronic problem in terms of -- I mean, it looks like they're just getting more and more leakage, and, you know, the volumes are increasing.  It doesn't look like it's a one-time thing of just some stuff trickling down and through and done with it.  It looks like there's a continuing flow, does it not?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Oh, yeah, you're absolutely right.  I mean, over the past few weeks, the focus has been on cooling the reactor cores and the spent fuel pools.  They've been doing that by a nonpreferred method, which is just adding more and more water.  The preferred method would be to remove some water from the reactor vessel or the spent fuel pool, cool it, and return it, so your inventory of water is staying the same.  But they didn't have that option, so they just continued to add water to the reactor vessels and to the spent fuel pools.

That water had to go somewhere, so it's found its way into the containment buildings, the basements, the reactor buildings, the turbine buildings.  It's piling up or flooding up all kinds of places that it shouldn't be, and because it's radioactively contaminated now, anything that leaks out carries that radioactivity with it.

For the reactor buildings and the turbine buildings, in addition to the leakage pathways for water, you also have evaporation of material with radioactive isotopes.  So, it's going to be a problem, and it's going to take a while for them to, first of all, get their hands around it, and second, to clean it up.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, gentlemen, and thanks again for hosting these.

I'm curious about the workers.  Most of these guys have been in plants when they have had refuelling outages, and, you know, there are hoards of contractors brought in who are not there regularly and various levels of training and equipment depending on what they're doing. I get the impression, with the Japanese, that they have contract workers doing some of the most dangerous cleanup, who may or may not have proper training or proper equipment.

So, could you talk a bit about what kind of preparation there is for contract workers or additional workers to come in in emergency situations?  If, say, this were to happen in, let's say, Salem, in New Jersey, or one of the other boiling water reactors here, how do we do this?

I mean, the only example I have is Katrina, where the first thing the President did was waive the requirement for union workers and busloads of South Americans were brought in. Can you talk a bit about the workers who are in these dangerous situations and what kind of preparations we have for them here?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

I think what the requirements or what the process would be in the United States, I assume it's similar to that being followed in Japan, but I don't know that for a fact.  So, again, my answer is going to be based on what would happen here in the United States, assuming that it's at least somewhat similar in Japan.

In the United States, before any worker goes into a radiation area, they receive what's called GET, general employee training, and that training includes things like how to put on the protective clothing; how to properly take it off so you don't contaminate yourself from any radioactive material that's on the outside of your clothing; how to wear a respirator if you have to go into an area where there's airborne radiation; and also some other things, like what to do when the siren goes off, the evacuation siren, what it is and what it means; and that's before anybody can go through the fence and put on the clothing and go into a radiation area.

If they're in refueling outages or prior to refueling outages, there are, as you said, a lot of temporary workers brought in to handle a lot of tasks, and those workers receive that kind of training.  Depending on the numbers, you know, there may be larger class sizes than normal to get that many workers trained for those activities, but the part where you demonstrate the protective clothing is a one-on-one activity.  You put on the clothing as an instructor watches to ensure that you're doing it right or provides any guidance on how to do it better, and also watches as you remove that protective clothing to make sure that you don't spread the radioactivity to yourself or others in that process.  And that's -- you don't watch a film, you don't -- you know, you don't read a piece of paper.  You demonstrate that the training you've received has been absorbed and you're proficient at doing the task.  Once you've received that training and successfully completed it, then you're able to go into the plant and do tasks.

As far as the -- one part of your question about them using contract workers, the workers they have that were working for the past two weeks have received radiation as they did various tasks.  Even with the amount of radiation they can legally receive, meaning up to at least once, those workers are pretty much maxed out on how much radiation they can receive.  So, there's a necessity to bring in fresh workers without that prior exposure to do some of these tasks, plus just the sheer amount of work has mandated that they bring in extra workers to do those tasks.

Does that cover everything sufficiently?

REPORTER:  Yeah, except you touched or the last point that you were making indicates that they may not have planned on, well, what happens if we want -- run out of workers?  I mean, the assumption has been that in a couple days, any problems would be fixed and we would be back on the grid and up and running, and what happens in you're not?  What happens if you run out of workers?  Then what do we do?  Am I understanding correctly?  Is that a situation that hasn't been considered by the American suite?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  I'm glad you asked that, because I should have touched upon that a little bit.

One of the approaches if and when these refueling outages occur, we just don't go out and round up people off the streets and send them in there.  Frequently, U.S. plant owners will have -- they're known as fleet-wide things, where Entergy, for example, has plants in a number of states, at a number of sites.  They will have a cadre of workers who pretty much only do refueling outages.  So, they will go from Indian Point to Vermont Yankee to Randolph and to River Bend, some of the other sites, as these refueling outages are scheduled.

In addition, when something unplanned comes up, whether it was Davis-Besse or some other problems, where all of a sudden you need a lot of bodies to deal with an issue, because there's fleets, they will borrow people from their other sites and perhaps even borrow some from sites that aren't owned by the same company.  So, even though they may not be intimately familiar with a specific site, they have worked at nuclear power plants.  They know some of the radiation protection measures, some of the standard procedures.  So, they may be new to that site, but they're not really new to that task or that procedure.

REPORTER:  Okay.

DR. LYMAN:  Could I just add, if you're also asking about whether U.S. plants have addressed that kind of issue and what -- there are severe accident management guidelines. Those documents are largely proprietary, so the public doesn't know what's in them.  So, you really need to go and ask the utilities.  My suspicion is no, they don't deal with that issue, but not -- you know, we haven't seen those plans, so we can't comment on them.

REPORTER:  Well, if you ask them, they have thought of everything, but...

DR. LYMAN:  What can you do?

REPORTER:  Thank you very much, gentlemen.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thanks for doing this, and I'm sorry if you asked this or if you answered already, but I wanted to ask you to just briefly address the issue of spent fuel pools in the U.S., how you evaluate or assess how the NRC's been on that issue in the past and what you might be recommending tomorrow about that.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

We're going to recommend two things tomorrow to better manage the risk from spent fuel storage in spools.  The first of that is to or one of those is to thin the pools out. Right now, spent fuel pools are virtually filled to capacity, and any overflow fuel goes into dry cask storage.

The smarter way or the better way to manage that risk would be to thin the spent fuel pool inventories down to only that fuel that's come out of the reactor within the past five or six years, put everything older than that into dry cask storage.  That will better manage the risk by reducing the heat load and, therefore, reducing the likelihood that you have a problem, because the lower the heat load, if you're faced with a loss of cooling or a loss of water inventory from the pool, that reduced heat load gives the workers as much time as possible to restore the inventory, return the cooling system to service, before fuel damage occurs.  So, you reduce the probability of an event.

You also, by thinning the pools down, you reduce the consequences of an event should workers fail to successfully restore cooling or the water inventory.  Simply because there's less material in the pools, the radioactive cloud that comes out of a spent fuel pool accident is much, much lower.  So, the risk -- the consequences go down as well.

The other thing we're going to recommend is something that was done after the Three Mile Island accident.  That accident revealed some shortcomings in procedures, operating emergency response procedures as well as the operator training on those procedures. To combat that or to address that shortcoming, the industry developed fairly comprehensive emergency procedure guidelines that helped the operator deal with plant problems depending on what equipment's available, basically putting all of the equipment on the table, and allowing the operators as much flexibility as possible to deal with a reactor core accident.

Unfortunately, nothing was done like that on the spent fuel side.  So, if there is a spent fuel pool problem, the operators aren't given the full array of training and procedures and preplanning that they get on the reactor side, and that's a discrepancy that needs to be corrected.

REPORTER:  And has the NRC looked at this issue more recently than Three Mile Island? Have there been any, you know, studies or anything like that that you're aware of?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yeah.  I know they've looked at it, because the reason I'm at the Union of Concerned Scientists is a colleague and I found a problem with spent fuel pools in BWR Mark II containments like the ones in Japan.  We pointed out that there was no way to cool them should power be lost.  If you were unable to cool them, the things would overheat, melt down, and cause problems, just as exactly has happened in Japan.

The NRC looked at that.  Initially, they didn't look at it very well, because unfortunately, every other page was missing from the report we sent them, because I took it to Kinko's, and they didn't duplex it.  So, the NRC, three months later, had determined that our concerns had no consequences, even though page 2, page 4, page 6 and so on was missing.  So, that kind of gave us a clue as to how detailed they looked over those concerns.

They basically said the chances of that happening were so small that nobody really needed to do anything about it.  We think they need to get a new Ouija board, because the events in Japan showed them how wrong that assessment was.

REPORTER:  Around when was this?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  November 27th, 1992, was when we sent the report to the NRC.

REPORTER:  Thanks.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Um-hum.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, hi.  Good morning.

TEPCO is confirming that plutonium has been found in the soil on the nuclear facility property.  Does this complicate cleanup efforts and signal that the problem is getting worse, not better?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but these are samples that were taken a week ago?  Is that what they said?

REPORTER:  I don't have the details. I think so, yes.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.  So, that doesn't tell us much about what's happened in the last week.

Again, what I speculated before is that it's more likely this has come from spent fuel damage in the pool than material from the reactor core, but with regard to cleanup, plutonium is a much -- it's a longer-lived isotope than even cesium 137, and so the presence of plutonium does present an additional hazard and complicates it and would require more expensive cleanup.

There have been sites in the United States that have had plutonium contamination that have been successfully remediated, like the Rocky Flatts plant in California, and that, you know, is an expensive and difficult enterprise. Plutonium, when it becomes aerosolized and inhaled, is a particularly potent carcinogen, and so you need additional respiratory protection if there's significant plutonium that could potentially be inhaled.  So, I think it does add another wrinkle to the problem.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

Any reflections from either one of you gentlemen regarding the 32 years ago anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum.

Just that I graduated from College of Nuclear Engineering shortly after that accident. So, it just reflects that I'm getting older.

But the event itself, I mean, that was the worst accident to date in U.S. nuclear history.  I think we need to learn from that, from Chernobyl, and Fukushima, so that that's just an anniversary and we don't add any more events like that or worse in our future.  If we don't learn from those, shame on us.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, hi.

My question was regarding seafood safety.  Do you have any views on whether consumers should be cautious about Pacific seafood, or is there still the feeling that the radiation would be so dispersed that it would not be a threat?

DR. LYMAN:  This is Ed Lyman.

I mean, there is the potential, when you're talking about certain types of seafood, that you can have reconcentration.  So, even dilute levels of contamination can be enhanced in certain marine life, you know, just like mercury concentrates in large fish, like tuna. Also, plants like seaweed are known to concentrate certain isotopes, and so are certain types of shell fish.

But I would think certainly in the fishing industry in the region, they're, you know, most likely going to have to take measures to inspect their catches, and I guess the primary responsibility for that will have to be with the Japanese to inspect and interdict any contaminated seafood.  So, it certainly could be an issue.

REPORTER:  But at this point, in terms of for U.S. consumers, you know, other Pacific seafood, aside from that caught in that region, do we need to be concerned or --

DR. LYMAN:  I would think it's unlikely, you know, for seafood that is not caught still relatively close to the Japanese shore, but, you know, we haven't done any analysis on this, so we can't really speculate.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  I'm sorry if someone has asked about this before.

I wanted to know about something that David was talking about on "Talk of the Nation   -- Science Friday," it was a little bit over a   week ago, about the River Bend plant north of  Baton Rouge, and the way I understood what you said, David, was that, essentially, if all of the various backup power systems failed, that there then was an 87 percent chance of a total meltdown.           

So, if I got that much of it right, I guess my basic question would be, how concerned should residents be about hurricane seasons with a plant like that and what do you think would qualify as adequate follow-up measures to address that kind of an issue?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Hi.  This is Dave Lochbaum.

First, I need to clarify that the 87 percent, that plant -- those numbers are calculated of all the things that could lead to core damage, core meltdown.  Of those things -- and that included things like pipe breaks, fires, equipment failures, and also station blackout, loss of power.  Of all those things that could lead to core meltdown, the station blackout risk was 87 percent of the things that could lead to -- of the risk leading to core damage.  So, it dwarfed all the other things combined.

Everything else, combined, was only 13 percent of the risk of a reactor core meltdown. So, that means that that plant was particularly vulnerable to station blackout relative to all other risks.

What we're going to suggest -- and station blackout is a threat to all plants. River Bend just had the highest percentage of its risk being represented by station blackout events.

What we're going to recommend is not to immediately look at the four-hour or the eight-hour battery capacity that U.S. reactors are faced with, are supplied with.  In Japan, they had eight hours of battery capacity, and that proved not to be enough.  That might suggest that the first thing to do is go out and buy more batteries and provide a 16-hour capacity or a 20-hour capacity or whatever, but if you did that, the question would then be, what if the event lasts 17 hours or 21 hours or longer than you anticipate?

What we're going to suggest instead is that on a site-by-site basis, River Bend and Palo Verde in Arizona and Diablo Canyon in California and whatnot, look at how long it would take from the time that they entered a station blackout to when off-site resources, like temporary generators or additional batteries, could arrive on-site.

If there's reason to believe that the cavalry will show up in less than eight hours or four hours or whatever your battery capacity is, then you have pretty good assurance that that capacity is enough to stay you through a station blackout, even if it lasts longer than you originally anticipated.

If, on the other hand, the cavalry won't show up before your batteries are depleted, then that would suggest strongly that you need to increase the capacity, your battery capacity, so that your operators are never faced with a situation where they have no power for all of the many pumps and safety systems they have.

That didn't work at Japan, that won't work in the United States, so we need to look at ways to not put our operators into that situation.

REPORTER:  Okay.  I'm just wondering if there's -- well, if you were a resident in the area and it was hurricane season, would you think there's a precise risk at River Bend, in particular?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  This is Dave Lochbaum again.

I think the one thing -- the other lesson from Japan is that when the situation that causes the problem at the nuclear power plant is a tsunami and an earthquake, or a hurricane in the case of River Bend, the ability to evacuate or take protective measures, if that event causes a problem at the nuclear power plant, are also likely compromised.

So, I think as a country, we need to look at do we need to make adjustments so that people aren't put in harm's way, like the people in Japan were?  In that case, they did some earlier evacuations than likely would have occurred here in the United States.  That might have been a good thing that protected their people from the harm that was later caused by the damaged fuel.

So, I think we need to look at how we can better protect Americans from nuclear plant problems when they occur not on bright, sunny days, but on days where the infrastructure may be damaged, compromised, and impede the ability of people to get out of harm's way.

I think it's too early to say, you know, what adjustments need to be made at River Bend or any specific site, but those are some good questions to ask, and the answers will help Americans down the road.

REPORTER:  Can you tell me about that 2004 report?

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Pardon me?

SPEAKER:  Can you tell me -- you had   cited a 2004 report on "Talk of the Nation" that   had that 87 percent.  Do you happen to know the   name of the report or where I might find it?           

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Yes.  It was a report   issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  It   was called "Station Blackout, Regulatory   Analysis" or "Regulatory Effectiveness Review,"   and I think it's posted on our website.  I'll   check to be sure, and if it's not, I'll post it.           

REPORTER:  Thank you very much.

MR. LOCHBAUM:  Um-hum.

OPERATOR:  At this time, we have no further questions in the queue.

MR. NEGIN:  Thanks.

I just want to remind everyone that Dave Lochbaum will be testifying before Congress tomorrow at the hearing sponsored by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Along with Dave Lochbaum will be representatives from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the industry trade organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute. That hearing will go from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon, eastern Daylight Time, and I'm assuming the committee will be streaming that live on its website.

We will try to host a briefing tomorrow afternoon, and we will let you know about that as soon as we can get the time squared away. And until then, good luck with your stories.  If you have any other questions, 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 conference. This does conclude today's program, and you may now disconnect.

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