Arnie Gundersen, Chernobyl, deaths Three Miles Island, Fukushima, Fukushima Daiichi, hot particles, Japan, major hazard management, major hazards, nuclear deaths, nuclear energy, Nuclear hazards, nuclear meltdown, nuclear power, nuclear power plants, Pennsylvania, radiological contamination, Three Mile Island, Tokyo, Ukraine, USA
Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer, safety expert, whistleblower, spoke at a conference this August, in which he clearly explained the risks of nuclear energy and what really happened at Fukushima, as rarely heard. (There have been many more accidents than even described by Arnie Gundersen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_nuclear_disasters_and_radioactive_incidents) As nuclear executive turned whistleblower, Arnie was harassed with nighttime telephone calls: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/12/nyregion/paying-the-price-for-blowing-the-whistle.html Now he calls himself a veteran in nuclear power.
From his speech:
“Today I’d like to talk to you about my observations from the data that’s come out of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Basically, radiation knows no borders. But there’ll be four topics I’d like to cover real quickly. The first is that accidents happen frequently; nuclear accidents happen frequently. The second is that the accidents are getting worse with time, not better. The third is, as bad as Fukushima Daiichi really was and continues to be, it could have been much worse. And finally, radiation knows no borders.
Well, the guy on the screen here – there’s 42 years of difference between the guy on the screen and the guy on the stage here, and a lot of gray hair. But the real difference is, when I got out of school I was a lot of intellect and no wisdom. And I think over those 42 years, I’ve gained a lot of wisdom and perhaps lost a little intellect, so I come to you not as an expert on nuclear power, but I think as a veteran in nuclear power. And I’ve seen near misses and I’ve seen five major accidents in my career.
The first accident was TMI – and the younger people here think TMI is too much information. But there was an accident called TMI – Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. And that was 35 years ago. Then in the 80’s, there was a catastrophic accident at Chernobyl.
And then we went 23 years without any nuclear accidents. And there was a hubris that set in. And people believed that we had it – we understood how to control the atom. And then came Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2, and Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3.
So the first lesson – and the shortest, I might add – is that accidents are going to happen frequently. In 35 years, we’ve had the five of them. 35 divided by 5 is 7. Once every 7 years on average, we’ll have a nuclear accident. The other lesson, though, is that the nuclear industry is talking to our policymakers and they’re saying the chance of an accident is one in a million. Well, if you take a million – per reactor year – and you divide by the 400 reactors that are in the world right now, you wind up with a million divided by 400 is 2,500 years – one accident every 2,500 years. So our policy makers are making decisions based on essentially that an accident can never happen. (4:43)
But history has shown us that on average, once every 7 years we’re going to have a nuclear accident. So Einstein had it right and everybody is quoting Einstein this weekend – that’s kind of interesting. He basically said that if – if as a society we’re going to make a decision on building nuclear power plants, that decision has to be made on the town greens, in the town meeting halls and work its way up. And what we’re having here and especially in Japan and in Asia is a top-down policy on the implementation of nuclear power. We need to expect once a decade there’s going to be a bad nuclear accident. This is Three Mile Island’s nuclear core. It’s a robot picture taken about two years after the nuclear accident. TMI was a partial nuclear meltdown. The nuclear core was destroyed. It melted down, but it was contained in the nuclear reactor. Lots of radioactive gases were released and people did die.
This is Steve Wing. Dr. Steve Wing is an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina. And he put together this map.
You see a white line from the upper left to the lower right. That’s the Susquehanna River where Three Mile Island was. And along the river on either side are red. And further away is green. Well, what does that mean? On the day of the accident, there was no air moving. There was no wind. So the radioactive gases laid in the river valley. And Doctor Wing’s epidemiology clearly shows that people did die along the river valley compared to the people on the surrounding hills. Then came Three Mile Island – I’m sorry – then came Chernobyl. And this is a picture of the nuclear core – what’s left of it – at Chernobyl. It’s called the elephant’s foot.
It’s about 100 tons of molten nuclear material. A robot got in there and took that picture about a year after the nuclear accident. It was so highly radioactive that no one’s gone near that ever since. Because obviously, I think we all know that Chernobyl did release radiation – the map of Europe. And it shows that the – basically the Ukraine was highly contaminated, but it didn’t stop at the border. The radiation didn’t say whoa! This accident happened in Ukraine, I’m not going to cross that line. It was first detected up in Sweden and then later it showed up in England. Even today, cattle in Wales cannot be eaten because they’re contaminated. Even today, wild boar that hunters catch in Germany can’t be eaten because they’re radiologically contaminated. Even today, the Laps in Lapland can’t eat reindeer because they’re contaminated.
Well, where is the core at Fukushima? No one knows. Fukushima is so radioactive and there’s so much destruction that we don’t have a picture of the core at Fukushima. So it’s left to the imagination where those three nuclear cores might be. But we do know that unlike Chernobyl and unlike Three Mile Island, they’re in direct contact with groundwater. I’ll show you a couple of pictures of radiation releases…, though. The first one is a time lapse. This whole event happened in two seconds. It’ll take me maybe 15 seconds to get through it. But this is Fukushima Daiichi 2, 3 and 4 – those white boxes from left to right are 2, 3 and 4.
And unit 1 had already blown up. It’s a little bit to the left on the scale. I want you to keep your eye on the white box in the middle. Okay – right there – that flash is something that the day before Fukushima actually happened, no one believed that that flash was possible. It’s called a detonation shock wave.
And it destroyed the building in a period of two seconds. Kind of looks like a face. That whole event happened in two seconds. It was one of six explosions at Fukushima Daiichi and released an enormous amount of radiation, but it wasn’t just these explosions that released the radiation. It was the chronic and long-lasting radioactive releases that are contaminating Japan even to today.
I have two geeky pictures to show you. This is an infrared picture looking down on Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3. The big white spot in the middle is the boiling nuclear fuel pool. But what’s more important, just to the right of that is a little tiny white spot and it’s labeled 128C. That’s 128 centigrade or 250 degrees Fahrenheit. And if you remember your high school physics, water boils at 212. That’s not steam being released from the containment at Fukushima Daiichi. That’s hot radioactive gases.
The next picture is a piece of dust. It was found in Negoya, which is 300 miles away from the accident. What makes this piece of dust unique is that it’s highly radioactive. If instead of a fleck of dust, I had a pound of it in my hand, the front rows would be dead in about a minute or two, and the back would probably be dead in about 20 minutes. That’s hot nuclear fuel that wound up 300 miles away in Negoya. We call that a hot particle. We saw them in Japan but also in Seattle.
These are air filters from cars in Japan. The lab that we work with asked for people to send us their air filters. On the far right is an air filter from Fukushima City, about 20 miles away. And those black spots are spots where radiation has actually burned the photographic film. A car engine breathes about the same amount of air in the course of a day as a human lung. So imagine what’s in the lungs of the people in Fukushima City. The middle one is Tokyo – again, highly contaminated with hot particles. And the lab we work with at Fairewinds set up a filter in Seattle and we can pretty clearly show that from the end of March all the way through April of 2011, the average person in Seattle breathed in about 10 hot particles a day. And if you were an athlete and you were out running, it might be as high as 20 hot particles a day.
It’s the saddest picture in the bunch. We asked for people to send us sneakers – kids’ sneakers. And the bars on the left are sneakers from Japan; the bars on the right are sneakers from the U.S.
The minimum level of detection is 10. So the sneakers from the U.S. are clean. Kids were in those sneakers. And kids tie their shoes, then put their hands in their mouth. So the kids are contaminated. Now this is just the airborne radiation that’s continuing to come out of Fukushima.
Then there’s the ocean. Unlike Chernobyl and unlike TMI, Fukushima continues to bleed into the ocean because those nuclear cores have melted down and are in direct contact with the groundwater. It will bleed for centuries perhaps and certainly decades to come. So when you compare these nuclear accidents, we have to say TMI was a partial meltdown, all contained.
Then came Chernobyl – full meltdown but didn’t hit the groundwater. And then came Fukushima with its contamination in the ocean….
What’s the impact of this radiation? This is my favorite comic of all time – it’s a Dilbert. The pointy-headed boss asks for an analysis. Dilbert says “I can do this feasibility analysis in two minutes.” And Dilbert then says, “It’s the worst idea in the world. Numbers don’t lie.” And the boss says, “But our CEO loves the idea.” And Dilbert says, “Luckily, assumptions do lie.” And the bottom line here is that if you talk to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about Three Mile Island, on their website they say no one died. And Doctor Wing’s analysis clearly shows that lots did. If you talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency about Chernobyl, they’ll say that 28 people to 100 died. But Dr. Alexi Yablakov (?14:20) who was the science advisor to Boris Yeltsin when Russia was created, has written a book with dozens of collaborators showing a million people did. Big disparity here.
The day that Fukushima was melting down, nuclear experts said working in a nuclear plant is safer than working in Toys R Us. That’s a direct quote. And yet there’s experts out there like me – independent experts – who are saying that as many as a million cancers may result from that accident. … when I speak truth to power at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, they don’t want to hear it. … You’re dealing with an orthodoxy that really doesn’t want to hear the facts. And that’s what independent experts like me face pretty much on a daily basis when we talk to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So the bottom line is that accidents are getting worse; the severity of accidents is getting worse not less worse. Okay.
Nuclear power’s big advantage is also its critical flaw. This is a fission – and see that bright spot in the middle – everyone knows that when you split a uranium atom up it gives off a lot of heat. If that’s all that happened, it would be okay. But what they don’t tell you in that picture in there, what they don’t tell you in the high school texts, are the radioactive rubble that’s left behind – those two pieces – we call them fission products – remain physically hot and radioactively hot. Physically hot for five years; radioactively hot for thousands. Well, what that means is when a nuclear reactor shuts down, it’s really not shut down. It has to be cooled for five years. This is a satellite picture looking down on the intake structures that were on the water at Fukushima Daiichi. The tsunami destroyed the cooling pumps. All that rubble along the coast are the cooling pumps that were designed to cool that chain reaction after the shutdown. It didn’t happen. We call that a LOUHS – Loss of the Ultimate Heat Sink.
Well, it didn’t just happen at Fukushima Daiichi. There were 14 nuclear plants that had their cooling pumps knocked out. This picture shows – in the north, there’s Onagawa that had three nukes. Then came Fukushima Daiichi with six nukes. Then came Fukushima Daini, with four nukes and then just to the south of that was Tokai with one nuke. And all of them lost their pumps. And here’s where luck came in.
Technology failed. There’s no doubt technology failed. And here’s where luck came in. If that accident – the accident happened on the day shift on a Friday. There was a thousand people at Daiichi, there was a thousand people at Daini, Onogawa and Tokai. If the earthquake and tsunami had happened in the evening, there would have been 100 people there. And it was courageous people that stopped the meltdown from being even worse than what it was. So a 12-hour difference in the timing of that tsunami would have resulted in the contamination, the destruction of Japan – and the contamination of the whole northern hemisphere.
So the second – the third point then – the first point was accidents are going to happen frequently. Second is they’re getting worse – and they could have been much worse, is my third point. (18:31) Fukushima was a technological breakdown. Nothing worked. And it was through luck and the courage of perhaps several thousand people that this accident didn’t result in the destruction of Japan. I’ve gotten to know Naoto Kan, who was the Prime Minister of Japan when the accident happened. And he said – I think he says it best in one sentence – he said, “Our existence as a sovereign nation was at stake.” Now he’s not the only one who had to face down a nuclear accident. Mikhail Gorbachev in his memoirs says that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not due to Perestroika. It was due to Chernobyl.
So we’ve got two examples – a democratically elected and a communist dictator – who both believe that nuclear power can fundamentally destroy a culture overnight. We know that it’s too big to fail. The Spanish armada was too big to fail. We all know that. The Titanic was too big to fail. We all know that. And Wall Street was too big to fail. We all know that. Well, we also think that nuclear is too big to fail. And I think in our hubris, that’s a lesson we really should take from Fukushima. This is not a technology that’s too big to fail. I have a way of saying it. I say that sooner or later in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs.
So to sum up, we’ve got accidents that are going to happen once a decade, they’re going to be incredibly severe and the radiation doesn’t stop at the border. We know that from Three Mile Island sort of stayed in Pennsylvania. But then Chernobyl contaminated all of Europe. And Fukushima is contaminating the entire Pacific. So the question is to us, we have an opportunity now. This is not in my way of thinking a sustainable solution. This is not a holistic solution. And I really think that’s why perhaps I’m here today, to talk about maybe sustainability and a holistic solution. This is not that way. And we can implement from the bottom up a policy that convinces our policymakers to change course before it’s too late. Thank you very much.” (Emphasis added; Text and images from: http://www.fairewinds.org/wave/, Fairewinds, CC-BY-SA-3.0. Original video is at the same link. See more on Arnie Gundersen here: http://www.fairewinds.org/fairewinds-team/ For more information on the Hot Particle found and its location see: http://www.fairewinds.org/hottest-particle/
Hot particles from Fukushima were found in Scandinavia and/or Finland from Chernobyl. Whereas UK cattle-sheep and Nordic reindeer are still dangerously contaminated with radionuclides, as Arnie Gundersen explained, in 2012 all UK sheep were released into general circulation. Prior to that, if they had less than 1,000 Bq/kg (radioactive emissions per kg (2.2 pounds), they were considered safe. It’s hard to see how the testing was effective anyway, as it seems to have entailed only holding a Geiger counter to the sheep.
In the European Union the limit for radiocesium is 600 Bq/kg. As we’ve seen already, the trick which is used for reindeer is to feed them clean food or Prussian blue shortly before slaughter to reduce the radiation. Also, reindeer are slaughtered at one year of age. Testing is generally only for Cesium and ignores other dangerous radionuclides. US limit for Cesium is 1200 Bq/kg. Raising radiation limits appears the preferred means to make the problem of radiation disappear, which obviously it doesn’t. For information on the Wales sheep see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/17/radioactive-contamination-controls-sheep-farms