March 19, 2011

Special Interview: My Dad, a Nuclear Engineer, Talks with a Japanese Citizen in Nagoya, Japan

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

In Interview 7 I mentioned how my dad was threatening to replace me as his interviewer because of the problems I was having with call quality (high-pitch and echo on my side). Fortunately, the call quality has improved (thanks again to the Skype PR representative!), and my new internet tech friends are helping to improve the quality of all of the audios. Mike is enhancing the call quality to the best of his ability. He improved the audio for Interview 1 significantly and is doing his best with other ones. The echos are difficult to fix, but he is trying. Since kiwi6 took down most of the audio files, I have decided to host them elsewhere. Gerald kindly offered to host him on his server, which has good bandwidth. By the end of the weekend or early next week, I hope to update all of the audio links to the permanently-hosted, improved audio files. For now, everything is still available on the vimeo channel. Brandon, who is helping me run the vimeo channel, also plans to update all the audio on the vimeo videos. I hope that Brad is able to update the audio on his YouTube channel.

Also, I am happy to announce that all 8 Interviews now have full transcripts. Thank you to all of the transcribers: Ashlyn, Jesse, Chris, Kirsten, Gregg, Michelle, Maria, and Sophie.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has posted comments and sent me emails. Your kind words mean a great amount to my dad and I, and we will continue to answer as many of your questions as possible. Thank you also for spreading the word. Please do continue to take these interviews and spread them far and wide on the internet.

Thank you so much for all of the help. Because of time constraints, when it comes to technical problems and the transcripts, I have been executing what my dad calls “3D Leadership” : Decide, Delegate, Disappear. I appreciate that I have many volunteers to whom I can delegate. Without the help of volunteers, my dad and I could not do what we do here.

As I was saying, my dad jokingly threatened to replace me because of the technical difficulties we were having for a couple of days. I didn’t think my dad was serious– I mean, I’m his daughter– but he was serious! For today’s interview, my dad is interviewed by a Japanese citizen currently living in Nagoya, Japan. My dad informs me that I am not permanently fired– tomorrow we will continue with our regular update in Interview 9. If you have questions for tomorrow, please send them in by tonight (georneysblog@gmail.com).

Late last night (EDT) my dad did an interview with Anthony Tatekawa, who is currently in Nagoya, Japan and very concerned about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Anthony is a Japanese citizen of mixed descent. His mother is Japanese and his father is Columbian. Impressively, Anthony is fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and English!

Late Thursday night, I received this facebook message from Anthony:

Hi Evelyn,

How are you?

My name is Anthony Tatekawa, Japanese citizen currently refuged in Nagoya city in south Japan. Due to the problems with the reactor in Fukushima I decided to go south mainland Japan for safety.

I have been following your interviews with your dad since day 1, and I think they are extremely valuable. Some of my foreign friends in Japan have commented and contacted you already.
However, I would like to see if there is a possibility we could have an interview with your father regarding the current situation in Fukushima.

We have several concerns we would like to discuss. Do you think that could be possible. If not, are you planning to interview your father in the future? Maybe we could talk and I could give you a direct account of what is happening here so you can ask your dad.

I believe what your dad has been doing has made many people understand the complexity of nuclear issues, and that further explanation about the risks could save lives here in Japan.

Anyways contact me if you have any questions.

I replied to Anthony right away and called my dad. My dad and I had just decided that we didn’t have time for the few media interview requests that were coming in. Much as we would love to accommodate these requests, we just don’t have time. I told my dad about Anthony’s facebook message, and my dad asked “This is a Japanese citizen?” I said yes, and my dad said to tell Anthony to email him to set up a time to talk.

Late last night, Anthony spoke with my dad for about an hour and recorded the call. You can find Anthony’s interview on YouTube and on the Georneys vimeo channel (also see below). You also might want to check out Anthony’s blog.

After the interview, Anthony send me another facebook message:

Hi Evelyn,

How are you doing?

I just had a conversation with your dad over yahoo messenger. It was over an hour! It was great to have first hand information about all the different issues we are concerned here. I am currently splitting the conversations to upload them to YouTube. I’ll send you a link when its finished.

I really appreciate the work you and your dad are doing bringing hope to all this people.

Do not feel sorry about this tragedy, with the work you are doing you are doing more than enough, this is what we need, first hand scientific information.

Thank you, Anthony, for your kind facebook messages. And thank you, Dad, for taking the time last night to talk to Anthony.

Update: vimeo fixed.

Update: One YouTube seems to be missing (I’ll have to ask Anthony) and the vimeo is still slow. We will fix the vimeo soon, but there is now a better link (much faster) for the audio below.

Update: Because the vimeo is having trouble, below is the audio (again hosted at kiwi6, will move it soon). I’ve asked my tech team volunteers to look into this matter. The slow loading problem might be  because this is in podcast format with chapters and such.

Here is their conversation on vimeo:

Please see the announcement page for more information about these interviews:

Thanks to Kirsten and Gregg, there is now a transcript below:
Transcript for Special Interview:
Part I from Kirsten:
Q: Hello?A: Yeah, I’m here.

Q: Okay, sorry. Yeah, so, so we were on, uh, this information that is, this information that is going on in, in Tokyo, and uh, and uh the stuff that the, the media, the Japanese media, is not saying. What kind of information do you think that they have been withholding? Or they are afraid of …

A: No, I don’t know that… I don’t know that the media is necessarily withholding the information.

Q: Yeah.

A: Uh, I think, I think moreso the *inaudible* needs to be more forthcoming with the data.

Q: Yeah.

A: So the, the fire that was in the, the spent fuel pool of Reactor 4 was 2 or 3 days ago.

Q: Yeah.

A: And, and that was when they had the explosion…

Q: Yeah.

A: …that damaged that building.

Q: Yeah.

A: To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a fire since then.

Q: Yeah.

A: But the concern is that they’ve lost water…

Q: Mmmhmmm.

A: …in both the Number 3 and Number 4 spent fuel cooling pools.

Q: Yeah.

A: And that’s why you’ve seen on the news the attempts to drop water by helicopter…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and the use of the water cannons.

Q: Yeah.

A: So they, they’ve put a lot of water on the Number 3 reactor building today…

Q: Yeah. That’s true.

A: …um, in order to try to get, get uh, enough water, uh, in the pool to, to cool some of that spent fuel.

Q: Yeah, but that area…

A: And yesterday…  Go ahead. I’m sorry.

Q: Yeah, in that area, the people that are working there are basically risking their lives. I mean, they’re, they’re going to die from radiation sickness or something like that. Do you think so?

A: Well, there’s no doubt that the people that are there are, are risking their lives.

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: It’s hard for me to speculate whether, um, any of them are at risk of either getting very sick or, or death.

Q: Yeah.

A: Hopefully, hopefully they are rotating those people enough…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …that their radiation exposure is kept…

Q: Yeah.

A: …below a reasonable number, but the, the radiation levels at the plant are definitely limiting what they are able to do. That’s why the helicopters had to fly so high.

Q: Yeah.

A: And that’s why they wanted to use the water cannons…

Q: Yeah.

A: …so that they could, they could be farther away because it would not be possible for someone to go directly up there with a firehose.

Q: Mmmhmm. Yeah.

A: But, but, but that type of radiation, um, would be gamma radiation…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and, uh, the reports today say that the radiation levels at the site boundary are only 2-3 millirem…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …which, which, uh, is quite, quite good *inaudbile* a couple days ago…

Q: Yeah.

A: …where there were reports of 35-40 millirem at the site boundary. But if you were to go a kilometer or so away from there…

Q: Yeah.

A: …you would not be picking up any radiation.

Q: But you, you mentioned before there were 3 types of radiation, right? How dangerous are those?

A: Right. So, so that’s the gamma radiation.

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: Um, if you are outside of the 30 kilometer evacuation area…

Q: Yeah.

A: …there’s absolutely no concern whatsoever.

Q: At the moment.

A: Right.

Q: But the worst case scenario? Even in the worst case scenario?

A: Worst case *inaudible* even at that distance should not be a problem.

Q: In the worst case.

A: The, the bigger concern is the particulate radioactivity.

Q: Yeah.

A: So, cesium, iodine, strontium, and, and others that would be released, uh, in larger quantities if there was more fuel damage or if there was more damage to the spent fuel pools.

Q: Yeah.

A: That, that can be carried by the wind and, and even though, uh, it’s a geometric expansion- in other words, the farther away you get, the…

Q: Yeah.

A: …the more volume there is and the concentrations are lower-

Q: Yeah, but the area is bigger.

A: *inaudible*

Q: The area of the damage is bigger.

A: Well, no, when, if you have a certain amount of radioactive particles released…

Q: Yeah.

A: …as it travels…

Q: Yeah.

A: …it, it expands…

Q: Uh, huh.

A: …right, to a larger and larger volume of air, so…

Q: Ah, okay.

A: …the, the concentration…

Q: Yeah.

A: …will be lower. So, so for instance, today they were able to detect some of the radiation in California…

Q: Oh.

A: …that came from Japan.

Q: Oh, really?

A: But the levels are so, so low that it’s of no concern.

Q: Oh, right. Right.

A: In… A couple of days ago in Tokyo, they were able to detect increased levels.

Q: Yeah.

A: But, but the levels were relatively low, and today they are even lower.

Q: That is…

A: But…

Q: *inaudible*

A: The particles are more of a concern…

Q: Mmmhmm. Yeah.

A: The particles are of more concern because they can travel distances…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and, and generally speaking, if they were, um, to get on your clothes or on, on your skin, it’s not really so much of a problem.

Q: Yeah.

A: The problem is if you were to breathe them in or ingest them or if some of them were to get in your eyes where you don’t have as much protection, because on your skin, of course…

Q: Yeah.

A: …you know you have several layers of skin…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and the first couple layers are actually dead, right…

Q: Yeah.

A: They’re, we’re, we’re at- You know, you don’t notice it so much but your outer layer of skin is always flaking off.

Q: Yeah. Yeah.

A: So those, those particles are not so much of a concern, um, except for breathing them in and ingesting them. That’s where *inaudible* because inside of you, you don’t have your, your skin to protect you.

Q: Ah, okay. That’s why they recommend to use soap?

A: Well, so that’s why, that’s why, often times they’ll be, people will be told, within a certain distance you should evacuate and then at a farther distance out you should shelter in place…

Q: Yes.

A: …where they will tell you to go in your house, close all your doors and windows…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and, and, because that will help keep the vast majority of the radioactivity out.

Q: Okay.

A: Um, again, um, where you’re at there’s really no concern whatsoever…

Q: Mmmhmm. Yeah, um, the other thing is like, uh, these part- particles, when they spread out, how long is the lifetime of these particles? I mean how long are they going to be around, right, radioactively speaking?

A: So, uh, a lot of these, uh, half lives on these materials are, are quite long.

Q: Yeah.

A: Many, many years, and in some cases, uh, you know, thousands of years…

Q: Oh, right.

A: …so again, the, the levels, you know, outside of the plant area, have, have, have not been of, of much concern, and again we have been very fortunate because of the winds.

Q: Oh, right. Yes.

A: …so the, the problem of course is, um, while, while the situation at the plant, um, hasn’t been getting any worse over the last day…

Q: Yeah.

A: …there is still, you know, much, much work to be done, and there is still the potential that something else could go wrong…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and, you know, the worst, the worst case scenario, obviously would be for there to be a, a major release of radiation in con-

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …in conjunction with the wind shifting inland.

Q: Yeah. Okay.

A: And certainly, um, in the, in the area of the plant…

Q: Yes.

A: …uh, they, when this, when this is all done and they’ve finally been able to get water and cool things off, they will have many, many years of dismantling and decontamination…

Q: Yeah.

A: … because these, there will be a lot of these particles, of course, right in the plant area.

Q: I understand. Uh…

A: But again, as far away as you are, um, I don’t think there’ll be any concern, like I said, unless there were some additional major release of radiation and the wind shifted and carried that all inland.

Q: Which is possible.

A: It’s possible, but, um, they are making progress so… I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest news report, but they have, they now have electricity to Units 1 and 2…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and they are now in the process of slowly trying to *inaudible* some of the equipment in those plants.

Q: Yeah.

A: And, um, if you heard the, the last couple of my updates…

Q: Yeah.

A: …they had restored, uh, power…

Q: Yeah.

A: …from a diesel generator…

Q: Yeah.

A: …to both Units 5 and 6. So Units 5 and 6 are stable, which is good news. I also saw a report that the, that the, the shared spent fuel pool is stable and the water level is stable so that’s good because there had been no news on that all week. So although we have a very, very serious situation, it’s at least not getting any worse. And, and as you know, everyday for the last week, it got worse everyday.

Q: Yeah, yeah.

A: So, so, and, you know, today, I don’t think we have any great news, but we have news that it’s not getting any worse.

Q: Where are you getting the news? What kind of source?

A: So, I, I have to take a lot of time to look at a lot of different websites.

Q: Yeah.

A: Um, the internet community has been great in, in keeping, uh, Wikipedia updated.

Q: Yeah.

A: Um, there’s actually information that is posted by, actually I would have to look, uh, the, the Japanese equivalent of the NRC has a website…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …and they post information.

Q: Yes.

A: Um, the Nuclear Energy Institute here…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …the International Atomic Energy Agency…

Q: Okay.

A: …in Vienna. So… And then, of course, the normal news, um, Yahoo, CNN…

Q: Okay.

A: Um, Associated Press.

Q: Yes.

A: And, I take all these little bits and pieces…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …and, and try to put them together…

Q: Yes.

A: …um, so that I can do the updates everyday. It, it takes me normally about an hour, hour and a half, to, to collect all this information and then, uh, be ready to talk to Evelyn and give her an update.

Q: All right. Well, I’m really-

A: That’s, I think, frustrating because…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …because there, there should be one place…

Q: Yeah.

A: …that people can go for information. And I will, I will say I think that after some days now…

Q: Yeah.

A: …more and more good information is out there, so today, or I should say in the past 24 hours, and I was, I’ll bring this up on the update tomorrow…

Q: Yeah.

A: …the, the Nuclear Energy Institute has posted a lot of good information. They’ve posted some YouTube videos…

Q: Yeah.

A: …that help explain things, and, uh, and I, I think that that’s really helpful and hopefully, you know, one of two things are going to happen. Either, either in a couple of days, uh, we’ll get, get power back and the situation will be better…

Q: Yeah.

A: …and the, there’ll be more information available on the internet so that my updates won’t be needed. The only concern I have is, um, once the immediate crisis passes…

Q: Yeah.

A: …then there’s no news anymore because it’s not, it, it’s nothing that they want to show on TV.

Q: I understand.

A: And, of course, this is going to be something that will take weeks and months to actually bring to a completely safe situation.

Q: I understand. We were speaking-

A: So we’ll have, we’ll have to judge how long we continue to do these updates because…

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: …um, I think there is getting to be some good, good news out there, but on the other hand, I’m, I’m afraid that once it’s no longer…

Part II from Gregg:
[from part I] MM: We’ll have to judge how long we do these updates…[starts] MM: Because..

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: I think there’s getting to be some good–good news out there, but on the other hand I’m afraid that, once it’s no longer sensational….

AT: Yeah.

MM: that the regular news will disappear; and, so, tonight….

AT: Yeah.

MM: I watched the news here…

AT: Yeah.

MM: and most of it was about Libya and…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: They only had like one minute….

AT: Yeah.

MM: On the nuclear power plants in Japan, so…

AT: So, it’s cooling down?

MM: It’s not, you know–unfortunately, I don’t know if the news in Japan is the same way, but here it’s, you know, whatever is the most sensational and then they move on to something else.

AT: Yeah, I think that in Japan the best source of information at the moment is the TV, but I haven’t seen the TV for the last two days because the place I moved there is no TV and…

MM: Okay.

AT: the internet is a little bit limited. Yeah, I wanted to ask you two more things. Continue with the radiation topic and a little bit about Chernobyl, okay? But the radiation–you were talking about the three types, right? So we’ve spoken so far about gamma radiation, the particulate radiation, and the other one would be?

MM: So there’s–well there’s two types of particulate radiation.

AT: Okay.

MM: There’s alpha and beta.

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: And I’m actually going to do a little bit of studying because it’s been a long time for me. And give a more complete update this weekend on Evelyn’s blog,

AT: Yeah.

MM: But the alpha particulate is essentially not much of a concern unless it’s inhaled or ingested because it will not penetrate the skin.

AT: Yes. Okay.

MM: So I had mentioned in one of the updates that in the U.S. we–in our houses–we normally have basements.

AT: Yes.

MM: And radon is a radioactive gas that is naturally occurring that comes out of the rocks here in the U.S.

AT: All right.

MM: And it’s normal when you buy a house to have it tested for radon.

AT: Uh-huh. Oh.

MM: And, if there’s too much, you have to install a ventilation system to remove it. And why that’s such a big concern is radon is an alpha emitter…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: And, although it can’t hurt you on your skin because it won’t even go through the first layer,

AT: Yeah.

MM: If you breathe it in, it gets in your lungs.

AT: All right.

MM: And you don’t have that protection.
AT: Okay. I see.

MM: And the concern about all types of–

AT: But it’s like a gas?

MM: particulate radiation.

AT: It’s like a gas or …?

MM: It’s a gas.

AT: It’s a gas. Okay.

MM: It’s a gas.

AT: Mm. Okay.

MM: And the concern about that is the long-term exposure of breathing that in could cause cancer.

AT: I see. But the…

MM: So it’s not going to kill–it’s not going–it’s not like you’re going to breathe it in and you’re going to die

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: It’s a long-term, cumulative effect.

AT: Oh, the–

MM: The–

AT: Yes, you were saying?

MM: The beta [particle]…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM:  is similar.

AT: Yeah.

MM: Except it does penetrate a little bit deeper. So it will go through the outer layer of your skin.

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM:  But, generally speaking, if you have clothing on and skin, again it’s not so much a big concern; it’s did you get it in your eyes or did you
ingest it or did you inhale it…

AT: Yeah.

MM: that makes it a concern. And, again, that’s why there would be one recommendation normally to evacuate up to a certain distance…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: [and] shelter in place a little bit farther out.

AT: Oh. I understand. The…

MM:  And like I said, I’m going to do a little reading….

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: over the next day and give a more comprehensive update on Evelyn’s blog because it’s been many, many years.

AT: I see.

MM: I’ve actually had to do a lot of homework in the last week. (Laughs).

AT: (Laughs). That’s great. Thanks. So the Fukushima reactors are sources–are sources of these types of radiation–all three, right?

MM: They are. Yes.

AT: I understand. So the–for example, the radioactive iodine and cesium, it’s traveling through particles that it gets impregnating dust or something or it’s just like, you know, the…

MM: So some of the radioactivity will release in gaseous form…

AT: Uh-huh.

MM: Some of it is microscopic particles.

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: But all of it would be picked up by the wind and carried…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: you know, some distance.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And, of course, the farther it goes, the volume increases, so the concentration…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: becomes lower.

AT: I understand. So I understand–I believe that these airborne particles they land somewhere in time due to gravity…

MM: Yep.

AT: And then they will pollute, like, the land and crops and everything, right? Within that thir–

MM: Right.

AT: Thirty-kilometer radius?

MM: Correct. So, so you were going to ask about Chernobyl, so…

AT: Yeah.

MM: You probably know that for the area surrounding that plant…

AT: Yeah.

MM: it’s still very contaminated…

AT: Yeah.

MM: and it’s not possible for human beings to live there on a long-term basis.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And, again, in this instance, the release of radiation and radioactivity has been much lower….

AT: Yeah.

MM: the winds have been very favorable…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: So, without knowing any specific details, …

AT: Yeah.

MM: I think the amount of land…

AT: Yeah.

MM: that will be problematic is probably relatively small.

AT: I understand. But you think…

MM: It may turn out that it’s only, you know, the immediate area around the plant, but…

AT: Okay.

MM: we’ll have to ….

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: we’ll have to see, you know, if we get some data that we can look at.

AT: Is there–is there a way for another country to see the radiation levels through a satellite or, you know, some type of instrument that can measure radiation through, like, hundreds of kilometers of distance?

MM: So it’s my understand that the United States has actively supplied a specialized aircraft to do exactly that.

AT: Ah, okay. But there is–is there like…

MM: [unintelligible]

AT: Are they publishing or releasing results or measurements on this information?

MM: I have not seen anyone that’s put out a comprehensive report, but…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: my guess is that will be coming in the next few days

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: because resources from other countries are starting to arrive…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: to help with the sampling and the data; I know that we now have this aircraft available from the United States.

AT: Yes.

MM: I know that the International Atomic Agency

AT: Yeah.

MM: excuse me, Energy Agency has air teams that are arriving in Japan; so, there will be a lot more teams that will be able to collect samples
and do monitoring and I’m confident that in the next week or so…

AT: Yeah.

MM: that we’ll start to get those findings published. As you know, I mean, we can criticize TEPCO and the government and I think fairly so…

AT: Yeah.

MM: but part of the problem is, you know, it’s not just the nuclear catastrophe; we have extreme devastation in those areas so…

AT: Yeah.

MM: it’s very difficult to even move around as you know.

AT: Yeah, I know.

MM: which is–and, of course, a lot of resources have been lost with respect to telephone lines

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: And cellular telephone towers.

AT: Yeah.

MM: So it’s–I think that’s making it extra difficult…

AT: Yeah.

MM: for the response teams to get organized and for this data to be made available.

AT: Yeah. And there’s a little bit of panic for the misunderstanding about the harmlessness at the moment of this radiation. That’s why people, they, like, they don’t want to get involved in many cases.

MM: Well, and I think part of the problem is if you feel like–if you feel like the company or the government are not being transparent…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: then you think they’re hiding something. So what happens is they actually hurt themselves because, when they tell the truth, people don’t believe it.

AT: Yeah, that’s true. (Laughs). That’s true.

MM: But again, my–you know, for your friends that are in Tokyo…

AT: Yeah.

MM: and, like I said, certainly where you’re located…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: to the best of my ability from the data that I have seen–what limited data is out there

AT: Yeah.

MM: there’s no concern at the moment.

AT: Okay, one concern and one question I have about the design of these reactors is why do they make them at ground level? Why don’t they make them, like, 200 feet underground or something like that, it could be safer, easier to contain because this is like…

MM: Yeah, that I don’t honestly–can’t explain. I mean I, you know, didn’t really have any familiarity with this power plant until this happened. And…

AT: Yeah.

MM: And it is quite puzzling…

AT: Yeah.

MM: to see a lot of the infrastructure so low.

AT: Yeah.

MM: I mean, I know this tsunami was quite a large one, but it didn’t even look like the plant would survive a small one.

AT: Yeah. (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s true.

MM: So I think that’s–you know, as a citizen, I think that’s a fair question…

AT: Yeah.

MM: to ask the government.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And I would think that it should be a requirement…

AT: Yeah.

MM: that any other plant that is in a similar situation

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: would either be shut down or not allowed to restart…

AT: Yeah.

MM: until there were changes made…

AT: Yeah.

MM: to protect the plant, either through construction of seawall barriers or by moving some of the more critical systems higher up.

AT: Or lower–underground.

MM: Well, underground might be problematic as well, depending on how well you’re able to seal things. The problem, of course, is diesels need exhaust

AT: Oh.

MM: You know, things need cooling. But, you know, clearly, if you look at the location of this plant

AT: Uh-huh.

MM: and where some key components are…

AT: Yes.

MM: it doesn’t look like it could survive much of a tsunami at all.

AT: Yeah.

MM: Much less, the one that we had.

AT: Yeah, the problem is in the design of the structure that, you know, created the whole problem too. [?? That’s my best guess] About the radiation, well the radiation now is pointing to the sea–right?–to the Pacific, it’s-is it going?– it’s going to definitely affect sea life, right?

MM: Somebody asked that question, which we tried to answer today, and again without any data it’s, you know, hard to give an exact answer.

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: But, again, my feeling would be, except in the immediate vicinity of the plant…

AT: Yeah.

MM: that because of the geometric expansion…

AT: Yeah.

MM: And how much water’s in the ocean and the fact that the currents cause the water to move….

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: I don’t think the concentration in the water…

AT: Yeah.

MM: is going to be of any concern. So I would, I would doubt that there would be any impact whatsoever beyond the immediate vicinity of the plant.

AT: I understand. Going back to Chernobyl, I–from a report I read, it said that the reactor meltdown provoked an explosion that launched radiation up to 3000 feet. What–how did that explosion occur?

MM: Well, there were–there were a couple of factors with Chernobyl. First, that was a graphite-moderated reactor.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And all of the power plants in the western world are water-cooled, water-moderated reactors.

AT: Yes.

MM: And I gave a brief explanation in one of the other interviews, but

AT: Yeah.

MM: In the RMBK reactor, which is what Chernobyl was, it’s inherently unstable.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And in a water-cooled reactor, it’s inherently stable. So–or I should say a water-moderated reactor is inherently stable.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And the way that works is–in order–when you have a fission, the neutrons that are generated– [end Part II]

[Beg of Part III ***Note: just a fragment to join up with next transcript correctly***]
MM: they can cause a fission.

AT: I understand.

MM: So when a water-cooled reactor [ed: water-moderated?] starts to heat up

MM: We would not be in the situation that we’re in, but these–there are no plants to my knowledge in operation in Japan…AT: Yeah.

MM: that would not require electricity for cooling. There are none of the new generation in existence yet except for some under construction in China, I believe.

AT: I see. Uh, Mr. Mervine, how…

MM: So what needs to be done–all, you know, is all the plants along the coast need to look at their protection against the ocean.

AT: Yeah. Especially in these, you know, earthquake-prone regions.

MM: Right and I don’t think that we can say “Well, it’s a newer plant, so it’s not a problem.” So every single plant in Japan that’s on the ocean needs to be looked at as well as every single plant around the world that’s on the ocean needs to be looked at because none of them are yet these–what they call Generation 3-plus plants that don’t require any cooling or electricity for, I think, the Westinghouse design for three days after an accident, they can run without any additional water or electricity.

AT: I understand. There’s another inquiry I have about the fuel content of the rods–I mean, I heard that there’s uranium and there’s also, like, plutonium. Is that true?

MM:  All fuel rods that have been in a nuclear reactor…

AT: Yeah

MM:  have both uranium and plutonium.

AT: Why is–

MM: as well as iodine, cesium, strontium, et cetera.

AT: So plutonium is part of the fuel mixture of this reactor.

MM: So a conventional fuel rod when it’s new…

AT: Yeah

MM: is uranium and it’s normally enriched to 3 or 4%. And what that means is that normally, natural uranium is about 1% uranium-235 …

AT: Yeah

MM: and 99% uranium-238.

AT: Yes

MM: And, in order to make it useful for a reactor, it’s enriched to, say, 96% uranium-238 and 4% uranium-235.

MM: And the reason why is in a reactor uranium-238 does not fission. Only the uranium-235 does. So only the uranium-235 percentage is used as a reactor fuel. But what does happen is uranium-238 will absorb a neutron…

AT: Yeah

MM: And it becomes uranium-239 and then after a couple of decays…

AT: Yep.

MM: it becomes plutonium-239.

AT: Okay.

MM: Plutonium-239 will fission. And so, in a normal commercial reactor, about 30-40% of the power generated actually comes from the fissioning of plutonium.

AT: Yes.

MM: And all spend fuel rods contain plutonium because it’s created as the neutrons bombard the uranium-238.

AT: Okay. So is plutonium more dangerous in terms of, like, radiation?

MM: Plutonium is considered more dangerous because it has more health impacts on human beings and–again, I have to do a little homework–but, from my memory, plutonium has a much longer half-life. So it will stick around  in the environment much longer.**
AT: I see. Yesterday there was an announcement from the U.S. space here in Yusuka, the area close to the disaster area. They ordered the evacuation of all the personnel–all U.S. personnel–at the embassy from the U.S. Do you think this is a sign of–that things are not going to progress or the Americans are going to give up on Japan situation?

MM: I think that that was a result of one or two things. Either that was the result of a very, very conservative call…

AT: Yeah.

MM: Or it reflects the lack of confidence in getting good information from the Japanese government.

AT: Yes. Okay.

MM: So…but again, based on any information or data that’s seen, you know, outside of the recommended evacuation zone and even the expanded one from the U.S. of 50 miles or 80 kilometers, there doesn’t seem to be any concern. So I think it’s a very conservative call, but it also may have been a move to demonstrate to Japan the lack of confidence that we had….

AT: Uh huh.

MM: in how they were performing. You know, it may have been to make a very strong political statement.

AT: All right, I understand. I also thought that–you know, I was talking with a friend  about that, that it was more political with the current situation anything it was not justifiable to make such a…

MM: Yeah, I’m only hypothesizing because the data doesn’t support evacuating anybody from Tokyo.

AT: I see. In the case of Chernobyl, the area was–the maximum area–I mean the area of evacuation was about also the same, like 30 kilometers, right, I heard?

MM: I honestly don’t remember it’s been so long.

AT: Okay.

MM: I do know that the released level of radioactivity was much higher…

AT: I see

MM: and, you know, could be detected in many countries around Europe.

AT: Is there some type of radiation that cannot be detected by the normal instruments? I mean, like the–for example, the instruments that are sold to the normal population and these Geiger counters and radiation meters that are about $300. Is there some type of…

MM: I’m really not familiar with those, so I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you that different types of radiation require different types of detectors.

AT: Yeah.

MM: So, I would speculate that, if it’s something that’s available to the general public and low cost, that it’s certainly not of the quality that would be used by a professional monitoring team and probably cannot detect all the different types of radiation and radioactivity.

AT: So I guess an instrument that’s very reliable would cost thousands of dollars.

MM: Correct.

AT: I see. Which type of radiation should I be most concerned about in this case?

MM: Well, again, at your distance, it’s really the particulates, the radiation…

AT: All right

MM: because it’s the alpha and beta particles that would be carried on the….

AT: Uh huh.

MM: Or it’s not so much that the alpha and beta particles are being carried, it’s the elements that decay and would release these particles.
Right?

AT: Should it be useful to start taking, like, potassium iodide pills?

MM: No.

AT: No?

MM: No. No. So what potassium iodide does is it will be absorbed in your thyroid

AT: Yeah

MM: and the principle is that it will absorb the iodine from those pills

AT: Yeah

MM: so that your thyroid can’t absorb any more iodine.

AT: Yeah

MM: So it’s the timing of when you take that is critical.

AT: uh huh.

MM: If you take it too early…

AT: Uh huh.

MM:  it will come out of your body. And then, when bad radioactive iodine is there…

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: your thyroid will absorb it anyway.

AT: Ah, okay.

MM: If you take it too late…

AT: Yeah

MM: then you’ve already absorbed the radioactive iodine–then it does no good either. So, again, based on the data, there would be no reason to take that.

AT: Uh huh.

MM: And you wouldn’t want to take it until directed by your government because the timing is so critical.

AT: Yeah. It could be dangerous for your health too.

MM: Well, it wouldn’t be dangerous for your health to take the pills

AT: Uh huh.

MM: It’s just if you take it at the wrong time–you take it either too early or too late

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: It won’t have the effect to block the radioactive iodine.

AT: I understand. Is there any other pill or any other medication to avoid the particulate radiation?

MM: Well, you–No. So, in that case, you don’t really avoid it, you just avoid it being absorbed into your thyroid…and the reason why the thyroid is because it’s one of your most active glands in your body.

AT: Ah. I understand. So, during your career as a nuclear engineer, were you ever at risk of radiation sickness and contamination, or anything like that? I mean, were you ever exposed to a lot of radiation?

MM: So in my career I was never exposed to a significant amount of radiation. And, in some cases, we do such a good job during normal operations that the radiation levels are oftentimes lower than they are  in the natural environment.

AT: Ha ha.

MM: You know some of the workers that receive the most radiation every year…

AT: Yeah

MM: Are people that work on airplanes.

AT: Yeah.

MM: Pilots and flight attendants.

AT: Yeah.

MM: Because they fly so far up in the atmosphere

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: The atmosphere is a very good shield against cosmic radiation.

AT: Yeah.

MM: And airline crews get a lot more radiation than nuclear power plant workers normally.

AT: Ha ha. That’s interesting.

MM: But I did work around places where there was a lot of radiation and radioactivity. And when we go and work on and open up systems where there would be radioactivity, of course, we have to wear the suits–depending on whether it was dry or wet, you might have a different suit–and there’s parts of plant in which you could expect contamination then you have to wear the suits, and then when you leave there you take the suits off and you have to be scanned.

AT: Yeah.

MM: But for myself, you know, personally no. Of course, a lot of the other people, the operators, and in particular the maintenance workers that had to do a lot of work during the outages would, of course, be exposed to a lot more radiation and radioactivity than I was.

AT: I see. So the suits are quite effective, right?

MM: They’re effective against getting particulates in your body or on your body.

AT: And the gamma radiation?

MM: They will have no effect against gamma rays, which are very similar to x-rays.

AT: They can [can’t?] stop that, right?

MM: They cannot stop that. The only thing that can stop that is either only working in that area for a short period of time…

AT: Uh huh.

MM: So that the amount you receive is less.

AT: Uh huh.

MM: Or sometimes, if we have to work in an area, we’ll install temporary shielding.

AT: Uh huh.

MM: Either lead sheets or concrete blocks that will attenuate the radiation.

AT: Uh huh. I understand.

MM: Or maybe it’s a job that takes an hour

AT: Mm-hmm.

MM: If it’s a very, very high radiation area…

AT: Yeah.

MM: You might have to split that against three people so that each individual person doesn’t get too much radiation.

AT: I understand. Okay, sir, I think I covered most of the information and the issues I was concerned about. I–if I have your permission, I would like to publish this interview–which, I think, it’s really valuable information and very critical at the moment. So, once again, I would like to thank you for your time and your patience and really this information could truly save lives here. Okay?

MM: Well, most importantly, I hope it gets people more information and …

AT: Yeah.

MM: helps them understand what’s going on.

AT: Okay. And yeah, I mean I’m also working with another friend and it’s Ruben. So he also helped me draft the questions for this interview. So, yeah, also thanks on behalf of my friend, okay?

MM: Okay. Thank you.

AT: Okay, thanks. Thanks to Evelyn too. Bye. Have a good night.

MM: Good night

AT: Bye.