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MARCH 31, 2011 11:00 A.M. P R O C E E D I N G S

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

MR. NEGIN:  Thank you. Good morning, everyone.  This is Elliott Negin.  I'm the Media Director here at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and thanks for joining our call this morning. Just to remind you, again, UCS 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 briefing, please email us at, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.  If you have any 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. I also urge you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions feature on our website and blog for answers to your questions. Up until yesterday, we had been hosting these press briefings on a daily basis.  We now will hold them when we determine there is something new to bring to your attention.  Later today, we'll let you know if we plan to hold a briefing tomorrow morning.  In any case, we will not hold any briefings over the weekend unless something major happens. After our speaker is done this morning and we open the phone to your questions, please ask only one question and, if necessary, a follow-up.  And, please, mute your phone after you ask your question so the sound of your typing won't disturb everyone else. Our speaker today is Dr. Edwin Lyman, who will update us on the latest developments in Japan.  Dr. Lyman is a Senior Scientist in the UCS Global Security Program.  He has a doctorate in physics and is an expert on nuclear plant design and the environmental and health effects of radiation.

Also on the line is Ellen Vancko, our Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project Manager.  Ellen, who used to work in the electric industry, can answer any questions you might have about the impact this disaster might have on the nuclear power industry here in the United States.

I will now turn the phone over to Ed Lyman.

DR. LYMAN:  Thank you, Elliott. Regarding the status of the plants, the situation still continues that they are having contaminated water management issues, and there is a need to remove the contaminated water from the turbine buildings of Units 1, 2, and 3 to make those areas habitable again, and only Unit 1 was -- there was pumping of the water from Unit 1 to the condensate storage tank, but that was filled, and so I believe Unit 1, the condenser is full, and so there is currently no more water being transferred out of the basement of the Unit 1 building. In Units 2 and 3, they are emptying the already full condensate storage tanks by pumping water into surge tanks, and that hasn't been completed yet.  There was an issue with the Unit 2 spent fuel pool last night.  The Japanese safety authority reported that there was a malfunction in the electrically driven pump that was feeding water into the Unit 2 spent fuel pool.  They switched to a fire hose, but the fire hose had cracks in it, and they couldn't use it, and so for some period of time, cooling was stopped.  According to the IEA, pumping has now been restored, although I'm not clear what they're using actually to do that. The other issue that came up in the last 24 hours was the announcement by the International Atomic Energy agency that they had actually measured areas with cesium 137 deposition that was considerably higher than any other number they had previously provided, and, in fact, these numbers were so high in a region, corresponding to the plume that had been detected going to the northwest of the Fukushima site, the highest levels of cesium deposition now exceed the threshold value that the Soviets used as a parameter for relocation. So, right now, there are at least some hot spots up to 40 kilometers away from the Fukushima site that, at least according to Soviet standards, would have mandated relocation of that population; however, the Japanese authorities are still refusing to carry out or to execute any such order.  The IEA itself apparently, in a press conference, suggested that perhaps the Japanese should consider evacuation, and I think the Japanese response is they're just studying it.

This is a troubling development, but it's, again, not unexpected, but there's no current indication that there's a continuing accumulation of cesium.  The Department of Energy has been posting aerial maps of contamination zones, and they've shown a steady decrease over the last week or more, indicating that it looks like there's at least no continuing deposition, and that original deposition was due to primarily the venting and the possible damage to the spent fuel in the pools that occurred in the first few days of the accident.

There's a lot of contaminated debris on the site, and the Japanese are now discussing options like spraying that debris with a resin that would immobilize it and keep it from being dispersed by the wind, but it's not clear right now how effective a measure like that is going to be.

And I think that's all I have right now.  Thank you.

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

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

REPORTER:  Good morning. One of the questions I've been wondering is how -- if Fukushima Dai-Ichi had been located in the United States, how do you think evacuation orders might have proceeded? And would it have happened more quickly and with a wider area?

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks for your question. The U.S. regulations, as you probably know, only require that planning be carried out for evacuation within a ten-mile zone around nuclear power plants, as well as other protective action, such as distribution of potassium iodide.  So, there's currently no formal planning in place for anyone living outside of those regions.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been saying that, well, you know, that doesn't mean that they would stop at ten miles; if they had to, they would extend it.  But I think, of course, the key to emergency planning is planning, and the notion that you could spontaneously expand an evacuation zone, in certainly some of the more densely populated areas of the country where nuclear plants are located, and expect that that could be carried out efficiently really strains credulity. It is interesting, though, that there was a delay -- in the Fukushima situation, that radiation releases were delayed probably more than 12 hours after the onset of the accident, and as a result, the Japanese were able to evacuate the closest-in areas; however, the indications after the first hydrogen explosions occurred probably led to the first significant radiological releases, and it's not clear that they would have had time to evacuate wider areas before some of that material passed overhead. So, I would say if you didn't -- even in the Japanese case, if you didn't have more than 12 hours or so to evacuate a particular area that's downwind, you might expect there to be a substantial population exposure.  And you also have to keep in mind that if people evacuate at the wrong time, they could actually be put in more danger.

For instance, if you're stuck in a traffic jam at the time a plume is passing by, your car may not provide the same level of protection as you would if you were sheltered in your home.  So, people could be caught and actually stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So, I think it certainly -- there's absolutely no evidence that the authorities would be able to expand evacuation zones in the U.S. spontaneously and expect there to be orderly evacuation that would serve the purpose of protecting a larger swath of the population. That's why we believe there needs to be immediate attention to analyzing the issues associated with having to expand evacuation zones beyond ten miles.

REPORTER:  Well, just one follow-up,Dr. Lyman. Do you think, though, that there would have been an evacuation order that would have come more quickly in the U.S. than it happened in Japan?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, you know, the U.S. certainly issued its evacuation order for Americans in Japan out to 50 miles within, you know, two days after the accident, and the Japanese still have not recommended mandatory or implemented mandatory evacuation beyond 12 miles.  So, I guess if the U.S. were prepared to carry out the same measures at home as they did abroad, then I would say yes.

But first of all, the U.S. really has to get past the idea that it can't happen here, which is really the underlying assumption that influences their current policies, the notion that we'd have to evacuate any areas as remote to begin with, and certainly to go beyond ten miles would be totally beyond the realm of possibility, I think NRC and FEMA will have to confront the possibility that it may be more probable than they currently thought.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning, and thanks again.

If you have addressed my question previously, I apologize, but would you comment on the concern over the discovery of radioactive chlorine in the Number 1 turbine building several days ago, which some experts are connecting to the possibility of localized criticality or localized chain reactions, which could present another threat to workers?

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks for your question. My opinion -- and I haven't studied the paper in question, which was from the Monterey Institute -- my impression is that going on a single measurement, that that's not very much evidence to go by, and there seems to be some problem with the analytical chemistry at the site, which was evidenced by the fact that at Unit 2, they had this mistake last weekend where they discovered enormous concentrations of an iodine isotope that wasn't really there at all. So, they went from, you know, I don't know, billions of becquerels per liter to not detectable when they repeated the measurement. It wasn't just the iodine 134.  There were several isotopes where there were spurious readings.

So, right now, you know, if there were recriticality, you would expect to see a spectrum of additional fission products, short-lived fission products, that I don't believe were in the samples.  I haven't done the math, but my immediate reaction is that I think there is more evidence needed before you can say it's happening.

Now, even if it is happening, these would be -- you know, there's no evidence of, you know, a large-scale, long-term return to criticality of the core.  These would be isolated parts of the molten fuel where borated water is I'll say not reaching where it should be, and there was perhaps compactification of the fuel when it collapsed that led to a greater concentration of the fission material. But these are probably self-limiting events, and I think it's unlikely that the entire core would become critical again under these circumstances.  But I just don't think there's enough evidence here yet to say one way or the other.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning. I was wondering what options you think TEPCO might have in dealing with the contaminated water, to store it or move it somewhere.  And if you don't want to speculate on their options, what are the difficulties in dealing with and storing that water? Thanks.

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks for the question. I mean, it looks like the first difficulty is just not having tanks to hold it, the capacity to hold it.  So, there was mention of bringing in, you know, seaborne tankers.  I gather there's some issues there associated with them being able to dock.  So, I'm not sure if that option is realistic.

But, you know, the question is doing it quickly.  I mean, you know, in the long term, they certainly would be able to manage that water.  You could evaporate -- I mean, reprocessing plants that manage highly radioactive solutions are able to evaporate the water and just concentrate the radioactive isotopes, but you need special, you know, equipment to be able to do that. There's filtration, but as I said before and I also heard the Japanese confirming, that when you have such high levels of radioactive materials, it could challenge conventional filtration methods, so you would need more sophisticated techniques. But over time, you know, assuming the situation is stabilized and they were able to get at least the physical capacity to store the liquids, then they would just be left with potentially a high-level radioactive waste problem, you know, like the U.S. has in spades with liquid waste left over from defense production.  But, again, they just need tanks.

MR. NEGIN:  Next question.           

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning. I'm just wondering that -- you know, as the NRC begins to reassess the current regulations and the emergency planning and other procedures, what would you say are the most likely regulations or procedures that would realistically be tweaked or altered as we learn more from what's happened in Japan?

DR. LYMAN:  I can't say what's realistic, because the NRC is still not conceding there are any problems with U.S. regulations, and they're calling for a review, but it's still not clear if that review is going to be more than just a rote exercise, unless there's public or political pressure to make sure it isn't.

I can tell you, you know, what we would like to see, just referring to the testimony of my colleague, Dave Lochbaum, over the last few days in the Congress.  There has to be more serious attention to dealing with post severe accident management, and in particular, examining what happens -- well, first of all, trying to shore up alternative power supplies so that there's diversity and redundancy in that they have to be hardened to cope with probably more severe spectrum events than they currently are, and there has to be renewed attention to what you do when those power supplies are finally depleted, and serious thought has to be given to how additional support can be brought to the site if you face a situation where there's severe damage to infrastructure, as has happened in Japan and might happen in the aftermath of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack here.

So, there really has to be -- right now, those issues are dealt with largely on a voluntary basis by the utilities, and there really has to be a much more formal process of plan development.  Those plans have to be -- you know, should be regulatory requirements, reviewed and tested to make sure they're credible, so that we just don't base it on the industry's assurances that they will know what to do, as I think if anything at Fukushima has shown, that they won't.

You know, we would also like to see, from that point of view, as I said, expanded attention to the credibility of emergency planning, making sure the emergency planning addresses all the populations that may be at risk based on the best modeling and not assumptions, you know, overly optimistic assumptions about how bad things can get. We also believe that the accelerated transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry casks is a no-brainer, and, you know, it's not a panacea, but it could increase the time available to intervene if you do have a crisis involving spent fuel cooling and get a lot of additional safety margin there, and we think it's well worth any additional cost and expense.

Now, I know I didn't address what I think is realistic, but that's our short wish list right now.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi, yes, good morning. So, I have a question regarding safety. Given the lack of credibility right now that TEPCO has in Japan, even assessing the amount of radiation in the water, giving false readings or mistaken readings, given that the control centers, from what we last heard, still don't have power, critical instruments needed for making critical measurements still aren't working, and the damage done to the buildings from the earthquake itself, making it hard to assess what's, in fact, going on.  The footage we've seen has been pretty frightening in terms of cave-ins and a jangle of wires and pipes sticking out of windows.

To what extent do you think TEPCO is playing a guessing game and how accurate is their assessment of what's going on?  And do people in Japan -- I just got back from there. I was covering this story for a couple of weeks. To what extent do you think they have a right to be vary nervous or do you think they're overreacting?

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks for your question.

I mean, I think it's clear that there is severe deficiencies in the ability of TEPCO to assess the current and ongoing situation in the reactors.  They do have some instrumentation.  They do report some values for pressure and temperature, but there are indicators that are repeatedly unreliable or out of service.  So, you know, they're flying partially blind, at least.

I think it's more or less symptom-based at this point, is that they're throwing water in what they can't see and hoping that they don't get more radiation out than they're now seeing, you know, and they just have to treat the symptoms, but the only real symptom or the only real cure is more water.

So, it's pretty crude, and we don't know exactly what's going on, and I think there's still risk that there could be the inability to provide enough cooling to make sure that there isn't further damage to the fuel or to the vessels or the containment.

Again, the fact that they're encountering, you know, these larges sources of contaminated water and still are unable to say exactly where it's coming from is troubling, because, you know, if you don't know where it's coming from, then, you know, it would be very hard to stop it.  So, if you just keep on doing what you're doing, you don't know how to fix the problem, and you may just end up with more of the same.  So, I think there is cause for concern.

The one thing that's working in their favor is time, and the longer they wait, the longer they can defer any significant breach to a vessel or containment, the less iodine there is, and that at least is one bright spot.  But I think there's still significant risks that there could be further damage to the cores or the spent fuel pools and we might see further radiological releases to the atmosphere.

There's clearly measurable increases in the release to seawater, and I'm not sure they understand where that's coming from either.  So, if you don't know where these leaks are coming from, then it's going to be very hard to stop them.

REPORTER:  So, just to follow up, so do you think that the people living sort of even a couple of hundred kilometers away from there have a right to be nervous, because they are. They are in some cases hoarding water, people are moving children and elderly as far away as possible from these areas.

Do you think -- because other nuclear reactors have written articles about how the Japanese overreacting and even 30 kilometers isn't required.  Of course, these articles are written from the comfort of Oxford, not Fukushima, but I'm wondering what you think on that.

Do you think the Japanese are being prudent -- not the government, the people -- or do you think -- I mean, if you were with your family, would you move as far away as you could or would you stay put in that area?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, I defer on that last question, because I guess my own feelings really aren't that relevant, but I think that they undermine their own ability to manage this kind of confusion by not being as honest as they can with what the potential consequences are.

Now, the U.S. put out this calculation two days after the accident that showed their crude estimates of what could happen if the situation got worse, and they made the decision that you shouldn't be within 50 miles of the facility.  Certainly, you know, there's already been demonstrated -- you know, radiation leaks have been demonstrated to reach as far as Tokyo's water system.  So, it's at least proven that there are, you know, prevailing atmospheric conditions that can drift the plume in that direction, and so there is probably -- you know, 80 percent of the radioactivity that could be leased is still contained within the fuel and the spent fuel.

So, there is still a lot of material that has the potential to be released if there is further fuel damage and if, as the Japanese are saying, they believe containments both 2 and 3 have already been compromised.  So, there certainly is the potential for larger exposures downwind, you know, as far as Tokyo.

But, you know, I can't say how individual people should react, because, I mean, again, the information is very uncertain, but if the authorities -- you know, if they had a more realistic attitude from the beginning, they could have perhaps implemented plans even for further away regions that would have prevented things like shortages of bottled water.

You know, again, with tunnel vision, you are going to end up with situations that you can't manage, and I think it just says that the lesson is that there has to be greater appreciation of the widespread damage that these kinds of accidents can cause.

  OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Good morning.

Can you hear me all right?

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.

REPORTER:  Good morning.

Could you speak a little bit about the reports that we've had the last couple of days about criticality events?  Do I understand you correctly that you're a bit skeptical of these or, in fact, what do you believe, and if so, what does that portend?

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah, we’ve had a question like that, maybe you weren't online at the time.

But the short answer is I don't think the evidence that's been presented so far is conclusive one way or the other.  So, you know, I just don't think that there's any real evidence to be able to say at this point.  And even if there were, I mean, the real risk of recriticality is if you have some sort of stable configuration -- well, actually, it wouldn't be stable.

I mean, if a large part of the core went critical, with all the damage to presumably the control rods that's occurred, you know, that could lead to a situation where you had a reactivity insertion, you might have a transient that could increase the power of the core, but I think it's unlikely you would see that over the whole core.

And so to the extent that there are certain areas where there's -- briefly, the conditions are right for a chain reaction to start, it would burn itself out pretty quickly.

In the -- there's a famous example of a uranium deposit in Gabon called Oklo, where when the earth was a lot younger, the concentration of uranium 235 in the earth's crust was a lot higher than it is today, and that actually presented conditions that that could go critical when there was water infiltration.  We're talking about hundreds of millions of years ago.

But you had essentially local areas where it would go critical, the water would heat up, it would evaporate, and then it would go subcritical again.  And so that deposit, you know, maintained its structural integrity, there was no explosion or anything, for, you know, probably millions of years.

So, just because there's -- if there's intermittent criticality in some parts of the core, it doesn't mean it could be potentially catastrophic.

REPORTER:  Are there conditions of serious criticality or do you think it's not likely to happen?

DR. LYMAN:  I'm sorry, could you speak louder?


What would you need to see to be convinced that there is a serious problem with criticality at one or more of the reactors?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, like I said before, I don't think a single radioisotope measurement should -- one can't hang one's hat on a single measurement, because they have had demonstrated problems with their analytical chemistry, and I also think that there -- I mean, if you did have criticality, you would have generation of additional short-lived fission products that would be another the signature.

I don't know -- I haven't done the math to see if it would be plausible that you would be able to detect those in the turbine building 1 or not, but my guess is you would, and so the absence of some of those additional short-lived fission products would suggest there hadn't been a recriticality.  But, you know, again, I haven't done the math.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you for taking my call.

How do you think the American Government or the American technology can help the (inaudible) cool the system successfully? For example, some technology company is going to send their robots to the Fukushima site.

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.  I think that robots are really more reconnaissance than anything else, and they will be able to transmit images that may shed some light on where the damage might be in areas that are inaccessible to humans.  So, you know, that might provide some visual information that could help in assisting where potential problems are.  I don't know if those robots are capable of actually making repairs.  I haven't looked at the specifications.  You know, so I can't really say more than that.

I would expect the solution to this problem is not going to be high-tech, but it's just a matter of getting enough water into the right places and managing what comes out.  So, you know, it's a pretty low-tech solution to this problem.

REPORTER:  I have one follow-up.

It seems like the Reactors 1, 2 and Number 4 has to be abandoned, so what kind of steps do they have to take, you know, to successfully abandon those reactors?

 DR. LYMAN:  Well, I believe -- I mean, first they are going to have to achieve cold shutdown, meaning you reach a stable state where you're getting enough water to the core that the temperature remains low, well below boiling, and you have a stable supply of water to achieve that, and that will have to be achieved for the cores in the spent fuel pools.

I don't believe, you know, talk of, you know, dumping concrete over the entire site or something is plausible without first stabilizing the fuel, because, you know, you can end up with a potentially unstable situation under -- what you're burying doesn't make sense to me.  So, I think it will have to proceed according to, you know, established principles of decommissioning once the fuel and the spent fuel is stabilized.

It might take years, but eventually, they will have to inspect the damage and then determine how that fuel can be removed and stored safely.  I don't think just leaving it in situ there is a good solution.

So, in the case of Three Mile Island in the United States, it took several years before they even accessed the core.  They determined the damage, they packaged it, and they eventually shipped it to a burial site out west.

So, you know, once the material is stabilized, then you can start worrying about how to deal with the other structures, many of which are contaminated and will probably be at least low-level waste.  But you're talking about a potentially pretty long process before the site can be finally decommissioned.

And then you have to deal with the contamination of the soil.  There's already been some plutonium detected.  There's probably more that will be an additional expense and hazard for cleanup crews.

REPORTER:  Thank you so much.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

Your line is open.

REPORTER:  Hello?  Can you hear me?

DR. LYMAN:  Yes.

REPORTER:  Okay, good.  Sorry about that.  I was moving around.  Anyway, just a couple things.

One, the IAEA said that they found elevated levels of radiation in that small village northwest of the plant, and it never said anywhere or I couldn't find -- maybe you knew -- what that level was, because they didn't say, you know, what it was compared to.

And the other thing was, I didn't know if you had seen any evidence -- you had mentioned there's no evidence of localized criticality, but there's been elevated levels of radionuclides out in the discharge canals, and I'm curious, is there any evidence at all that there has been an actual core breach anywhere or if that's just -- if they're still working on the hypothesis that some of this kind of contamination could be from the spent fuel?

And also, if you could tell me in the process of that what are some of the sort of markers -- you know, what's sort of the evidentiary standard you could use?  What are the sort of markers for this kind of stuff?

DR. LYMAN:  Okay, thanks. So, the first question, yesterday, in the March 30th briefing, the IAEA put up information on its website that did indicate the peak measurements of both iodine 131 and cesium 137 deposition in a region from something like 23 to 58 kilometers from the plant.  The highest level there was 3.7 megabecquerels per square meter, which is what I referred to at the beginning of the call as exceeding significantly the level of cesium deposition that triggered mandatory resettlement after Chernobyl.  So, those numbers are on their website, and our blog,, there is a post with a link to that page.

They didn't specify exactly how much was in the village of Iitate, which is, I think, the area that's been mentioned in the press reports, but I did see at a press conference, they said something about two megabecquerels per square meter in Iitate, so...


DR. LYMAN:  With regard to breach, I mean, the authorities -- TEPCO themselves have said they think that the high level of contamination in turbine building number 2, which is still, I believe, much higher than it is in 1 or even 3, is an indication that something else is going on there, and they believe that there's been some breach of the containment.  So, I think it's plausible.

I'm not sure that it couldn't be explained without a significant breach, but just a leak, but, again, you know, if they don't -- if they can't even hazard a guess, I wouldn't even try.

You know, the suggestion that -- well, first of all, there is a high level of iodine 131 in that water.  So, that does suggest that it was water that had come in contact with the core as opposed to discharged from the spent fuel pool, but it's also plausible that there was iodine 131 released in plumes, that that plated out or that settled over the whole area, and that could have been washed also into this water.  So, you know, again, I really can't hazard a guess at this point.

But all I can say as the authorities concluded, even the U.S. NRC said in congressional testimony yesterday that they believe that Units 2 and 3 have compromised containment, this is a big change from the same official statement two weeks ago where they said they believed the containments of all units were functional.  So, even the U.S. has changed its view on that.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yeah, sorry.

Ed, I realize that you are not keen on the idea that recriticality may have occurred. If it has, does that complicate the decommissioning scenario that you laid out?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, you know, what it does do is it increases the quantity of fission products and also some activation products, activation products meaning if you generate a lot of neutrons, that will react with some elements to produce these radioactive elements.

Clearly, if that goes on, it will go counter to the notion that, you know, at least the total quantity of radioactivity is decreasing, and so it could add additional -- you know, to the extent it's occurring, it could increase the potential source term and the amount of radioactivity that would have to be cleaned up.

The generation of neutrons could pose a hazard to areas that aren't shielded, but it's not clear to me what kind of personal access would be required in areas that weren't at least on the other side of the concrete biological shield that surrounds the vessel.  So, I can't say more than that.

REPORTER:  So, what you are saying is given the amount of radioactivity that's already in there, it's unlikely that anybody is going to be exposed to these, because they won't be there to be exposed.

DR. LYMAN:  Well, you know, they measure it in -- you know, a part of this theory about recriticality starting, because there was one report that they measured neutron streaming one day, but, again, those dose rates were pretty low outside of the -- you know, outside of the building.  So, it's only -- the neutrons from a criticality would only be a real threat if you were in the immediate vicinity and without shielding between you and the vent.

And there was this -- pretty much the most severe criticality accident that ever occurred, which actually occurred in Japan in 1999, where the conditions were just right for a criticality event to occur in a building that wasn't really designed with that possibility in mind, so it was just an ordinary concrete structure, and that led to this, you know, criticality event that lasted for a couple of days.

But even then, only three workers who were initially directly next to the vessel when it went critical suffered, you know, lethal injuries from radiation.  So, I think, again, it's a problem that could be managed and certainly could be detected, you know, if they have neutron flux detectors operating.

REPORTER:  Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Hi.  Thank you for having this call.

I guess most of the headlines this morning were about the four reactors being deemed ruined.  I was thinking that that had already sort of been established once they started dumping the seawater on there, but -- and I suppose the number two company official made it official.

 But what, if anything, does that have on the actual stable -- the need for actual stabilization and cleanup of this site, and what, in your view, are the chances that two of the six reactors could one day actually generate electricity again?

DR. LYMAN:  Thanks for the question.

I'm not sure how to answer the first part, because, I mean, whether or not the reactors are decommissioned, I mean, there's still an enormous amount of cleanup that's going to have to occur.  I mean, the explosions that scattered debris all over the place, you know, now radioactive debris, I mean, it's going to be a massive effort no matter what.

Whether or not Reactors 5 and 6 should still operate, we did have the situation in Ukraine where one of the four Chernobyl units continued to operate for a decade or more after the Chernobyl accident, which I don't think was advisable.

I think it will have to do with whether or not they can decontaminate the site to make it habitable for, you know, long-term -- for occupancy by workers.  I'm not sure right now what the dose rates are at Units 5 and 6, but there are generally elevated dose rates all over the entire site.  In some cases, in some areas, it's a thousand or 10,000 times background.

So, I think they would be foolish to make any promises with regard to returning Units 5 and 6 to service until they can demonstrate that the personnel at the site will actually be safe.  So, that will be, I think, the top issue.

MS. VANCKO:  Ed, this is Ellen, if I am allowed to ask a question on that, a follow-up question?

DR. LYMAN:  Sure.

MS. VANCKO:  I guess the question I would have, understanding the obvious personnel issues there are, but there is no way to run these plants without people.  I mean, there is no such thing as remote operation of these plants due to higher radiation levels.  Is that correct?

DR. LYMAN:  Certainly not these plants, and I wouldn't -- you need to have -- if you can't have routine access to the sites, I don't see how you can operate them.

MS. VANCKO:  Okay.  That was my assumption, but I just thought we could use that clarification.

DR. LYMAN:  Yeah.

REPORTER:  Okay, thanks.

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

Our next question.

REPORTER:  Thanks for taking this again.

Just to be clear, you had mentioned the levels that you said were high enough to trigger resettlement, and that was, as I understand it, sort of spotty and localized, but the thing I was -- again, if I may just clarify this, the problems they have had, when you said that they believed there might be some containment breaches, you mentioned there were some isotopes -- I guess I was trying to understand just what some of the -- you said isotopic signatures might be.

I spoke to one expert who said that the appearance of the chlorine 38, for example, is probably a measurement error, because the half-life on that is so short, but, you know, that's what I was just trying to make sure I understood, especially given the way that the thing is structured with where the -- you know, with where the water is discharged from and then how it might come in contact with whatever's in the core or in the spent fuel.

DR. LYMAN:  I mean, they haven't -- you know, they don't even understand what the pathway is, so it's just very hard to -- make -- you know, again, it's symptom-based, you know, and until they get a better -- maybe those robots will help.  Until they get some eyes and they can actually do inspections, I don't know how much you can say.

With regards to the chlorine 38, that was the Unit 1 turbine building, and that was what triggered the speculation that there was a recriticality, and I also agree that unless there were repeated or other indicators, I wouldn't go just by that one measurement.

But, I mean, the main thing you might be able to look at is really the relative concentration of iodine to the cesium, and also the isotopics of cesium, cesium 134 versus cesium 137, could tell you something about the age of the fuel that was the source, but there are a whole mix of different ages.  You know, you have four different spent fuel pools that may have suffered some damage.  There was relatively fresh fuel; there was old fuel.

I just think -- I don't know right now what kind of test you could use to try to ascertain that.  There are other isotopes as well, various isotopes of ruthenium that might give some clues, but, you know, I just can't say right now.

REPORTER:  Okay, thanks.

OPERATOR:  Our next question.

REPORTER:  Yes, hi.  Thanks for having me again.

To what extent do you think the, I guess, leaking -- I don't know how else to put it -- of cesium 137 will affect the health of those living in the area once, I imagine, people move back into the 10-kilometer, 20-kilometer evacuation zone, because that doesn't have as short a half-life as the other isotopes have, say iodine.  So, do you think that's going to become a factor or do you think that they will manage -- if it's manageable?  Can they contain the damage and the leakage?

DR. LYMAN:  I think there's already been enough cesium 137 that's been released that -- I mean, there may be areas that cannot be reinhabited without significant decontamination.  Certainly it is going to affect agriculture in a wide region for a very long time.

The persistence of cesium 137 in the environment has been demonstrated after Chernobyl, even areas quite far from the plant, that there is still readings in game and certain wild plants, edible plants, in Scandinavia and elsewhere, that still turn up with unacceptably high concentrations of cesium.  So, it's going to be a long-term problem.

And just looking at some of the current dose rates, again, it's going to be a matter of what it's going to cost to decontaminate a certain area to below a certain level versus the value of the property, and that's how, you know, condemnation decisions will be made.  If the highest rates are considered the hot spots and they can be mapped and identified and remediated, but if there's kind of a widespread, you know, contamination, it may just make more sense to condemn certain areas.

REPORTER:  Just a follow-up question to that.

Is Chernobyl really an apt comparison given that that was an actual explosion and that, so far anyway, that Fukushima has not blown up to that extent?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, the impact of that is that the releases from Chernobyl are -- actually, there were greater concentrations further away from the site because of the height of the plume.  The explosion caused mechanical damage to some fuel, which changed the characteristics of what's called the source term or the type of isotopes that were seen and released, but independent estimates are showing that there's already been a significant or a fraction of the amount of cesium that was released at Chernobyl already at Fukushima, and to the extent that you don't have a hot, long, graphite fire that's wafting it higher into the area, that would lead to more concentrated deposition closer to the plant.

So, I think when all is said and done, you know, they're going to find there are areas within the current exclusion zones that I would expect to be a pretty big concern.

REPORTER:  Thank you.

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

MR. NEGIN:  All right.  Thank you.

MS. VANCKO:  I have one.  This is Ellen Vancko again.  I'm sorry, I shouldn't be asking questions, but this is a follow-up to the last question, Ed, and then I'll shut up.

But the question is outside of Chernobyl, what other data is there for cesium deposition and longevity in the environment?

DR. LYMAN:  Well, there were a couple of other examples where there was a large release of cesium into the environment.  One was the Kyshtym explosion in 1957, I think it was, in the Soviet Union.  If I'm not familiar with -- I mean, there are certainly -- and also, in that region, there was systematic dumping of radioactive waste into the watershed there, into a particular lake.  That also provides a laboratory for studying the persistence of cesium in the environment.

Other than that, there was an interesting -- well, it wasn't interesting. There was a tragic event going on in Brazil where a radiotherapy device was mishandled and led to the dispersal of cesium chloride into the environment, a rather volatile, dispersible chemical form, and that also provided some evidence on the difficulty of decontaminating -- or how cesium spreads and how hard it is to actually clean up off of structures.  So, there is some other examples out there.

MR. NEGIN:  Any other questions?

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

MR. NEGIN:  Okay.

Well, thank you all.  Thank you, Ed, thank you, Ellen, thank you all for participating this morning.  We will let you know later this afternoon as to whether we're going to be having a press briefing tomorrow morning.  We will make that determination based on the news coming out of Japan, but we will let you know one way or the other.

And in the meantime, if you have any other questions for Ed or Ellen or Dave Lochbaum or anyone else on our staff on these issues, please email us at, 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, the telepress conference was concluded.)

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