March 28, 2011
You can listen to all the interviews on the new vimeo channel Brandon and I created. You can also listen to most of the interviews on Brad Go’s YouTube channel.
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This evening my dad and I recorded our 14th interview on the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Please see the rest of the blog (sidebar) for previous interviews. Please keep sending questions and comments to [email protected]. You can also follow me on twitter @GeoEvelyn but please do not send questions via twitter.
In today’s interview:
1. My dad gives his usual update
2. My dad addresses my question “How does Fukushima compare with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?”
3. My dad answers two questions from listeners: “How will they increase shielding at the Fukushima nuclear power plants now that the cooling water is more radioactive?” and “Is there a way to fingerprint radiation as coming from a specific nuclear power plant?”
Here is a website we refer to in today’s interview:
Hope to have an audio link soon. Here is the interview on vimeo:
Please see the announcement page for more information about these interviews:
Transcript for Interview 14:
Q: Good evening dad!
A: Good Evening.
Q: Are you all ready for the interview?
A: I am.
Q: Ok. Let’s get started then. My name is Evelyn Mervine and this is going to be an interview with my father, Mark Mervine, who is a nuclear engineer. This is actually the 14th interview we have done over the past few weeks about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. If you’d like to listen to any of the previous interviews, or read them (many of them have transcripts), you can do so at my geology blog, georneys – which, I guess is more of a nuclear power blog these days, but will return to being a geology blog. But, that’s G E O R N E Y S – georneys.blogspot.com and because we are doing many of these interviews, I just want to quickly state that today is the 28th of March and it is currently 8:40 PM Eastern Daylight Time. And, in today’s interview, we are going with our usual format, where my dad gives an update on the events at Fukushima; And, our last interview was actually about 48 hours ago, so it will be a 48 hour update. Then, I’m gonna ask him a couple of questions that were sent in by listeners. So…with that, dad, why don’t you go ahead and get started with your update?
A: Alright. Good evening. So, as a reminder to everybody, the Fukushima 1, or Fukushima Daiichi power plant actually consists of six reactors and, we’ve been most concerned about units 1 through 4; units 5 and 6 were least impacted, and, were shut down at the time of the earthquake and tsunami and were the first to be able to get some kind of electrical power back. Those two units are in cold shutdown and are of no real concern to us at this point. We also talked about the spent fuel pools at the site; there are seven, one at each reactor, and then one, shared or common, pool. And as we were able to report, they were able to restore electrical power and cooling to the common pool, and, that has not been a concern to us for the past several days. so..we turn our attention to units 1 through 4, which have been the source of most of our concern, and, in terms of bringing people up to date, on site power has been partially restored to each of these units. They have electricity for lighting in the control room for each of these units and they continue to work on restoration of instrumentation and pump and valves that will, hopefully, allow them to restore some type of normal high pressure or low pressure cooling or injection into the reactor core.
Q: Can I ask a quick question? The cooling right now is still kind of the system they rigged up with sea water, except they are using fresh water now, but it’s not in any way the normal cooling system for these reactors that they are using right now?
A: Correct. The biggest…the two big changes in the past several days; the first was, that we reported on in the last couple of interviews, is that they have shifted over to fresh water for injection into reactors 1 through 3. Per my people, unit 4 was shut down for refueling and maintenance at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, so all of the fuel has been removed from it and moved to the spent fuel pool, so, there is no concern about the actual reactor or containment of unit 4. The other thing that is unknown is, that for most of the duration of the past two weeks what pumping was able to be done with seawater was by diesel powered pumps. And now that they have some electricity back, they’ve shoved it over to electric powered pumps.
Q: But those are still temporary pumps. They are not the normal pumps used for cooling, correct?
Q: Ok. I just wanted to confirm that.
A: The other thing that they’ve been doing, They have been continuing to use fire trucks and the concrete pumping truck to pump sea water into the spent fuel cooling ponds at units 1 through 4. And, also, today, it was indicated that they hope, going forwards, instead of using seawater they will be able to use fresh water now to pump into the spent fuel pools. And, as we had reported, the United States had sent two, large barges full of fresh water, to a port nearby, so they will, I assume, truck the water from these barges to the plant. So, they have a fairly significant supply of fresh water available to them now. And, the reason that is important is – as we had reported – we were really in uncharted territory where we got a significant quantity of sea water injected into these reactors and as the water boils off, it will leave the corrosive salt residue behind, and the concern is, of course, making even more difficult to cool the fuel, and, the potential for clogging the pipes, the valves and the pumps, once they are able to restore some type of normal cooling.
Q: Ok. I’ve got two quick questions for you.
Q: So…spent fuel pools numbers 5 and 6 – those are at the stabile reactors that are in cold shut down – Are they using their normal fresh water and normal pumping for those pools? Have they been doing that all along? Do you know? For those two pools?
A: That’s a good question. And, the answer is I don’t know for sure. My belief is that that is the case, that they never had to add any seawater to those units, so that is what I would believe.
Q: I know they haven’t had to add seawater to the reactors, so, presumably they probably would not have added seawater to that.
A: I do believe that they might of…I do believe that…Well, I am not 100% sure that they might have added a little seawater to the common spent fuel pool, but they do have electrical power restored to that, so, if they did have to add some seawater, they, by now, made good progress in diluting that and cleaning it up.
Q: so it sounds like reactors 5 and 6, including their spent fuel pools and also the common fuel pool are in pretty good shape right now and are sort of stable.
A: Right; and one of the….One of the … Obviously they were less impacted by the tsunami to begin with, but, the biggest advantage they had was the physical separation. If you look at a photograph, units 1 through 4 are close together, then there’s a significant space, and units 5 and 6 are close together. So. They didn’t incur damage from any of the explosions…
Q: The four explosions that happened.
A: We know, for example that we had some cooling in unit 3 that we lost when we had the explosion in unit 4, and, they thought that was because of the damage caused by the explosion of unit 4.
Q: Ok. My second question for you is: I know we have talked before about adding boron to the seawater. I presume they are still adding boron to the fresh water, cause we are concerned about fuel damage so they probably are trucking in this water, and adding boron, which absorbs neutrons and keeps those fuel rods from interacting with each other. Is that probably what they are doing? I don’t know if you can confirm that…
A: well, I can’t 100% confirm it, but, that’s what was reported and that would be logical.
Q: Ok. I just wanted to check on that point. Sorry…go on with your update…
A: Ok. The other thing that has been a big news item, obviously, is the radiation and contamination levels that they found in the turbine halls of these things. And…we talked a little bit about this last time, and, I think it’s important for people to have a perspective. There was a report that the radiation levels were, I don’t know…a million times normal or something, then, it was retracted and they said “oh no, they were only 100,000 times normal”. Ah. Well, Ok…That’s great, but, what’s normal? In these turbine halls, even those in a boiling water reactor, you would expect that the background radiation level would be almost zero, and, certainly, when the plant is shut down, they would be zero. So…even though the steam and the water in the pipes would be slightly radioactive, and when the plant was operating you would see some slightly elevated radiation levels, once the plant shuts down, the radiation levels would drop, and, certainly you would not expect any particulate contamination in the building, outside of what’s physically in the pipes. So, saying it’s any percentage above normal isn’t really a good measure, doesn’t really tell you anything other than being maybe a sensational report, in that it’s almost nearly zero, ah, so virtually any level could be 1000, 10,000, or 100,000 times the normal level.
Q: I mean, zero times a big number is still zero, so, I mean it isn’t exactly zero….
A: If the normal was 0.001 something, then, you can multiply that by a large number and still not have a very high radiation level. So, what’s important in reality is what are the actual radiation and contamination levels in absolute numbers. Not in a multiple of what it normally is.
Q: It’s a little bit deceptive for people, because they hear that multiplier, which is huge, and, they panic. And, it’s not that there isn’t a radiation concern, but, it’s sensational.
A: It makes for a sensational news story. Now, with that having been said, there have been actual reports of levels that have been quite high, but, I think it’s important not to get carried away with 100,000 times, or a million times normal because normal levels would be almost nothing. What is important is what are the contamination levels and what are the dose rates and they are quite high, apparently, in the bottom of the turbine hall and some of these piping trenches. And some of the speculation from early reports was Oh! We have a breach in the containment. Well, I cant’s say if we do or if we don’t, and, honestly, I would say at this point, it’s probably irrelevant because the big…the big goal of containment, obviously, is to keep any radiation that would be released due to the damage of fuel inside of containment from getting out into the environment. But, unfortunately, in this case we know that we’ve got damaged fuel, in at least one of these spent fuel pools, and at least unit 4, and potentially some of the others. And…because we’ve had to take these extreme steps of to drop water from the helicopter, spray it with a fire truck, pump it in by concrete pumping truck, we know that some of that…actually we know only probably, of all the water that’s imported, only a small percentage, or, less than half, actually, went where it was intended to go. And the rest of it washed down…ran down into the basement. The other thing is, and, we know, because we explained this early on, that they only had these relatively low pressure pumps – these diesel pumps – pump seawater into the reactors, that they had to lower the pressure in the reactor by venting steam. And, we know that that steam was vented into the reactor building which caused them to have the hydrogen explosions which we explained and, so, we know that whatever was in that steam also got out into the environment and certainly, by spraying of this water has washed down to the lower levels of the building
Q: So, it sounds like we should be concerned with radiation being released into the environment because we’ve already had significant radiation released into the environment. Not that there’s going to be, but, it’s already happened and we just need to keep it from getting worse.
A: Well, let’s clarify this. Right now, we have water and particulate contamination at several of the units at Fukushimi 1. This is probably….probably not a concern to the countryside. It’s different from when we were having to do a lot of venting and a lot of materials carried up into the atmosphere.
Q: Um hum…
A: There’s still some happening obviously, because when they pour water on these units we still see steam so there’s still some small release of radiation taking place, but, not…and radioactivity….but not to the extent that we had, you know, a week or ten days ago. The more likely scenario here is some of this is getting out into the ocean, and, you know, is causing some of the elevated levels that we are getting from the readings they are taking from the ocean. So, I just…I want to be clear that there shouldn’t be a concern about this water contamination in the turbine hall continuing to spread to farmland and those type of things in the air.
Q: It’s basically the major radiation is basically confined to the plants and so the only people affected by it are the ones that have to work in it. I mean, that is a concern because you do need people to get in there and operate these plants , and fix these plants, right?
A: The contamination rates and dose rates are impacting the workers, no doubt. But what they’re trying to do is clean up this water, but the problem is that there is a lot of it and where to put it. In a couple of these units they were actually pumping it into the condensers, so if you remember, way back in the beginning of the interview, we explained that the reactor generates steam that goes through pipes and drives a turbine. Attached to the turbine is a generator, and that’s how we generate electricity. But, then, that steam has to go into a condenser, and be cooled, usually by intake seawater on the other side of the condenser, which cools the steam and turns it back into water, so, the condenser has a lot of room in it, so, they’re trying to pump some of this water into the condenser and, basically, use the condenser as a big tank…which is a good idea. You basically have a big tank sitting there, that you’re not going to use again, so why not take advantage of it?
Q: Eventually, you’re not using that water, and it needs a temporary holding place so it’s not going in places where people need to be working, repairing things, so it sounds like that is a good option
A: it’s a good, temporary solution.
A: The other thing that we saw in the news in the past day or so, was that they’re detecting plutonium in the soil. Ok. So…if you actually read the article, it’s true, they did detect plutonium in the soil. But…the levels were extremely low. I mean, barely above what you would find if you took any sample of soil and sampled it for plutonium. So, many, many places around the world, because of all the nuclear testing that was done over the last 50-60 years, you’re going to detect small quantities of plutonium. So, again…that was the headline, but, if you read the whole article, there really isn’t much of a concern there, and, none of us should really be shocked by this, because we’ve explained over and over again, that, although unit 3 did use MOX fuel, plutonium exists in all fuel rods once they have been in the reactor for a significant period of time. Actually, I wanted to thank one of your listeners…one of your listeners sent you a link to a paper that was done by somebody from the American Nuclear Society, and, it did clarify the amount of MOX fuel used in unit 3. and…it was only 32 fuel assemblies, which is only about 6% of the core. So, we had said we knew for sure that it was no more than 1/3 because they had only started using it during the refueling last Fall. But, in fact, it was a much smaller amount, so, given….given the small number of fuel assemblies that were used, I think we can stand behind our comment that we didn’t think that the core from unit 3 was really any more significant than any of the spent fuel pools or the cores in the other units.
Q: And as you said, several times, they’re all dangerous, whether they use MOX fuel or not. They’re all bad.
A: It’s all bad. It is true that a Mig Oxide fuel assembly would have more plutonium in it than a normal one, even a normal used one, but, most reactors cannot operate with a full core of MOX fuel cells, because it does change the, and again, we said this isn’t a really good word, but, it does change the burn properties of the core, and so it changes the power distribution and the power density in different parts of the core, so it would have to be engineered correctly, so, most of them cannot do 100% Mg Oxide anyway, so we knew it only going to be 30% to 40% of the core and, in fact it was only about 6%. But, again, the point is…we knew we had some fuel damage. We know all fuel has plutonium in it so, it shouldn’t be a shock that we would have some level of plutonium contamination in some of these areas.
Q: Just speaking again, quickly, on the radiation that was released; just to clarify. A lot of news reports they talk about this being either similar to or different from to Chernoybl or Three Mile Island. I mean, I think we’ve covered this before, but, we’re not expecting to get a major radiation release like we saw at Chernoybl, right. I mean, this is a different situation and a different type of plant. Can you comment on that? I know you did that right at the beginning, just a little bit…actually a friend was asking me about this just tonight…is this like Chernoybl? Is this worse; is this better? Sorry to spring this on you dad. Just in terms of the radiation released into the environment, there was much more released at Chernobyl. Is that true?
A: At the Chernoybl plant you actually had an explosion of the core and, this is a refresher, it was an entirely different kind of nuclear power plant than is used by traditionally what we call The West. In the West there are two types of reactor in common use. There is the Pressured water reactor and the boiling water reactor. Both types are water cooled, water moderated reactors and, the Chernoybl reactor was graphite moderated and they were conducting a test, and had over-ridden safety features. Those reactors are not inherently stable, like a water moderated reactor and, the core actually exploded and caught fire, and these plants did not have a containment building, so,literally, the entire core was released to the environment and because of the explosion, and because of the fire, a lot of radioactivity was carried up in the atmosphere and spread, pretty much, world wide.
Q: And eventually, they had to put a sarcophagus over that. Right? So…
A: Yes, and now, they’re actually building a new one around that one to further contain it.
Q: I mean, is that the sort of thing they could ever build at Fukushima? I know it is a different type of plant and a different amount of radiation being released, but, eventually, might they do the same thing at Fukushima?
A: I don’t think…I don’t think we’ll go down that route and I’ll explain that in a minute..
Q: Ok…sorry to spring that question on you, but, I had that question today, and I was not 100% clear on it myself.
A: Well, let me pull the other question…Then we go to Three Mile Island which is actually coming up…I don’t know if it is today or tomorrow on the 32d….
Q: I think it just happened actually.
A: In that case, we had virtually no release of radiation or radioactivity into the environment and eventually after a number of years they were able to fully decomission that unit, and, I think the big thing was after four days, the situation was under control. We’ve got something in between here. Now, we talked about this in some of the other interviews. Law experts are saying “well, if Three Mile Island was a 5 and Chernoybl was a 7, then this should be a 6” And, I think it’s really how you literally interpret the scales, and, I’m not sure it really matters, to be honest with you. It’s definitely worse than Three Mile Island because so much radioactivity has been released into the environment and the fact that we have multiple reactor cores and spent fuel pools involved. It’s not as bad as Chernoybl because we did not have this catastrophic explosion and fire, and, the spewing of, basically, an entire core into the atmosphere and surrounding countryside. So, although it’s been a long, tough road, the containment buildings have done their job. The situation that…you know, you hate to use 20/20 hindsight…but, the situation that we should have taken more care to prevent was the damage to the spent fuel pools. The potential and, I don’t know, When we’re finally able to get up there with a camera and see, I am sure we will find damaged fuel in those spent fuel pools. We need to find a way to prevent that from happening, because I think, from where I sit, and of course, I may be proven wrong at some day in the future, but in light of the problems that we’re having now in terms of the contamination levels in the water at the plant, is probably a result of the spent fuel pools.
Q: Certainly, they were pouring a lot of water in there and it wasn’t hitting it perfectly, so some of that water was washing off, and, highly radioactive
A: My point was, you know, we had actually brought this up before they really started having problems…was, you know, they could have gotten or something up, and refilled those pools and avoided this whole scenario. Certainly, you know, with unit 4. So, again, we weren’t there. We weren’t dealing with what those people had to deal with, but, perhaps, a little bit of action a little bit quicker, the actions they ultimately did take might have mitigated it a little bit. But, it is what it is; we are where we are, from my perspective, it’s definitely worse than Three Mile Island, not as bad as Chernoybl…somewhere in the middle.
Q: Ok. That’s a good question to hear, because I know we asked that question at the beginning and, at the time, you said it was at least equal to Three Mile Island and, now, it sounds like you’ve rated it as being worse. It’s good to know where it is on that scale. So…
A: And I think the other important thing to point out is that we are not out of the woods; This is not over It may not be front page news to the extent that it was two weeks ago, but, you know, here we are, two plus weeks into this, and we don’t have a single cooling system restored at any of the four, impacted units. There’s a long way to go before we can consider these plants to be safe and not at risk of any additional releases of radiation into the environment.
Q: From both the reactors and the spent fuel pools.
Q: Which, uh, Correct me if I’m wrong, but we had the earthquake and we had…which, I don’t think there was too much damage from the earthquake, the plants pretty much withstood the earthquake well…And there was the tsunami, which did have flooding, which affected the generators, and affected some of the electrical systems; and then, finally we had an explosion, correct me if I’m wrong, each of those four plants. We had explosions in three reactor buildings, then, spent fuel pool number 4. Those explosions have done significant damage to all of the, sort of, controls, and regular cooling systems so even if they have power restored, there’ve been just a lot of things that have been destroyed, right?
A: Well, they have very limited power restored. So, power to control room lighting; power for cooling pumps for units 5 and 6 and the shared spent fuel pool. They’ve got electrical pumps instead of diesel pumps for the fresh water injection that’s taking place, but, not a significant amount of progress in terms of restoring electrical power to instrumentation or cooling systems in the plant.
Q: And I mean, looking at the pictures, And we were talking about this earlier, there’s just so much damage to those plants, right, from the explosions and flooding or whatever. It’s gonna be an enormous task to restore all that isn’t it?
A: And now it’s being impeded by the high radiation and contamination levels so that’s why they are taking steps to try to mitigate that and, as we indicated, try to pump this water into the condensers or somewhere else in order to drive those radiation and contamination levels down a little bit, which will enable…make it a little easier to work.
Q: And meanwhile we have a cooling system which is temporary and, not ideal at all, right? So, its not the most stabile of situations, right?
A: And, it’s not really a cooling system. We’re just pumping fresh water in, and monitoring the pressure. If the pressure gets too high, we have to vent.
Q: And that releases more radiation into the environment.
A: That’s not the normal cooling system, and, just so we’re real clear here, the best they’ve been able to do is cover about half of the core of these units. That’s how high the water level is.
Q: So there’s still lots of fuel exposed.
A: If it’s still there. If it’s not a melted blob.
Q: Oh, my God. Wow!
A: Ok? Just to be clear, we are by no means in any kind of safe condition with these reactors. Um…As we’ve indicated, The good news is that it’s not getting any worse. Every day. It’s getting a little better, but, we have a long way to go
Q: Why can’t they fill the water up? Is it just being…is the heat just high enough that it evaporates as soon as they put it on?
A: I think…I think there is some regard for minimizing the amount of radioactivity they release into the environment.
Q: By venting that steam?
A: Right. So what…Basically what they are trying to do. I think, is hold their own and not make the situation any worse until they can restore some high-pressure pumps and finally fully flood so then have the cooling turn off the heat.
Q: So, they’re still using these low-pressure pumps which, basically, they can’t cover the core with those because they don’t work when the pressure is too high.
A: Well, it’s a balance of if I still have heat, I’m going to be generating steam. If I generate too much steam, I’m going to generate too much pressure, which means I’m going to have to vent to the atmosphere, which you don’t wanna do, right? You don’t wanna leak any more radioactivity into the atmosphere then we have to, so, it’s a balancing act.
Q: And if they don’t vent it, there could be an explosion within the containment itself? Which is why they have to vent it even though it’s a bad option?
A: We…If We…you have the reactor vessel itself, and then you have the containment around the reactor vessel, so, depending on exactly what we are venting and where, if I was to vent within the containment building, and allow too much pressure to build up in the containment building, I could jeopardize the containment building. And, of course, I don’t really want to vent any more to the atmosphere from the containment building, so, like I said, it’s a balancing act.
Q: they need to get those high-pressure pumps working as soon as they can…and they have none working at any of those three reactors.
A: We need to get, ah, some type of higher pressure pump, and, also the capability to provide coolant.
A: Alright….One further update then I’ll pull you out a couple of questions.
Q: Um Ha.
A: I think today, in particular, there is a lot of good information on the International Atomic Energy Agency website (the IAEA website) so, that’s www.iaea.org. They actually have Some slide shows listed that you can watch in your web browser. And, there’s status of the plant; there’s information on sampling that they’ve done in Japan, both water and particulates…
Q: That’s great, because we talked about that yesterday, that there wasn’t good information that you could find yesterday…On Saturday, rather…
A: Yea, its not 100% clear, in terms of, OK, this is the level and this is what it means, but, it is there. And, there’s also a slide show on the water samples they’ve done in the ocean. And, they show those results over four or five different days. So, I think that’s great. I know you posted the link there yesterday, but, people should definitely go check it out. A lot of good information there today.
A: Right. So, what have you got for questions?
Q: I have a couple of questions from listeners. And, these might actually be two questions from a single listener, but, I’ll just go ahead and ask the questions. SO, I know you’ve talked about this a little bit before, but, one listener wanted to know about the additional shielding they might have to add to the plants cause, now, we’re not in a normal situation, as I think you emphasized in today’s interview and previous interviews, so a lot of the pipes the different equipment that is transporting, I guess, mostly water that normally wouldn’t be very radioactive has now become quite radioactive. So, for people to work in the plant, in sort of the normal way, they are going to have to increase the shielding from what they normally have. And, I guess he wanted you to talk a little bit about how they might go about increasing the shielding in the plant, making the plant safer, so people could continue to work there for many years because, I mean, even if they get this situation stabilized, from what I understand, it’s going to be many years until the fuel cools down and they…they’re going to have to monitor this for many years so they’re going to have to increase that shielding so, just talk about the practicalities of how they might do that.
A: Ok, so, it’s gonna depend a certain amount on the actual, physical construction of each of the units, and, although the plants are similar, they are probably different, because they were, ah, built at different times. Unit 1 is actually a smaller plant, then, units 2. 3 and 4 are very similar in size but the physical layout may be slightly different, because as nuclear power plant design was kind of evolving, in the era these plants were built; and, unit 6 is actually a completely different type of boiling water reactor – ah – the next generation after, with a completely different containment design. A Mark 2 instead of a Mark 1. but, generally speaking, in a nuclear power plant, it’s not – these pumps and valves won’t all be all in one room. They’ll be on different levels; They’ll be in different compartments, so there might be a compartment where the two pumps are located, or, depending on the design, they may have had physical separation of the ????? so they are not in the same compartment. But, what I’m trying to say is; some of this piping and valves and pumps may be in semi-isolated compartments behind concrete walls and those type of things, so, what they’re gonna have to do for shielding will vary a bit based on the exact layout of the plant and in some cases, the concrete walls that are already present may provide enough shielding to reduce the radiation enough that it is not a significant danger. In other cases, where there may be openings in walls for doorways and windows and that sort of thing, they may have to put up shielding. And, that could be in the form of lead blankets that could be hung, or it might be in the form of concrete block – solid concrete, obviously, -that they could bring in. And, in some cases if it’s a localized, high radiation spot, they may actually put like a lead…a sheet of lead, that was designed to be hung, on some sort of temporary form. So, it’s just gonna vary, based on the layout of the plant. But, the key is that the water that normally flows through the system, , which is usually slightly radioactive, given the extent of damage that I think exists with the core, that water is going to be very radioactive and so the radiation levels will be much higher than normal, so there’s no doubt the are gonna have to take extra precautions, and, there’s gonna be some, if not a significant portion of the system that will have to have extra shielding put around them. It’s kind of hard to explain, but, if the piping comes out, and went into a heat exchanger, and the heat exchanger sat in a concrete bay by itself, that concrete bay may provide enough shielding except when you physically went into it, you might not have to do anything else, except in the opening where you would go in. to inspect it.
Q: Although, this questions a .little bit putting the cart before the horse, because, before we can think of all the details of long-term safety at the plant, we need to get the basic cooling up and running. I mean, I don’t think they are thinking about shielding every little pipe
A: No, but, the point is, That when you, …Once you’re able to get these systems working, the minute you turn it on, you’re going to have these really high rate issues ????.
Q: So that’s why they do the shielding before they turn it on.
A: That’s why you have to give some consideration to it beforehand, because once you turn it on, you aren’t going to be able to get in there to put the shielding in place.
Q: Yep, That’s a good point, I am sure they are thinking about all these things. Ok…So, I think you’ve answered that question. So, the second question…
A: I did…I did to the best of my ability, and tried to think of another analogy., And, well, it’s like if you had a big tank of radioactive water, but, it was in your basement, If you were standing outside your house, you may not have the radiation level, but if you were standing in your house over the top of it, maybe you would. So, you might put a sheet of lead on your floor…
A: that would keep it from coming up. It’s going to depend on the physical construction of the plant and where these components are located, whether they were in individual compartments already or not.
Q: Well, as we have talked about many times, we have never been in a situation of this kind before, so, many of these adaptations, they are just going to have to come up with. It’s not like there is a handbook that tells you how to deal with this situation. I mean, We’re beyond the worst case design cases for these plants, so they’re having to improvise pretty much everything right now. Would you say that’s true, Dad?
A: there is no manual for the situation we’re in, that’s correct!
Q: but, as we said, there are many smart people working hard on this, so hopefully it will be under control soon. But, it does seem like it’s quite a serious situation at those four plants.
A: Well, I think there’s some definite good signs in the past week. It’s pretty clear they’re getting advice from the outside, and a lot of advice was given to them with respect to the use of fresh water. They’re obviously getting a lot of support from the United States on that, so, very clearly… early on, it may have been all Tokyo Electric Power company, but, now, clearly, there are a lot of smart people engaged, and they’re getting a lot of advice, and, they are definitely taking the advice, and, the key is, the more information that TEP co. shares with experts around the world, the more help they can get in coming up with solutions to solve these problems.
Q: It sounds like they’re being somewhat more transparent. I mean, there’s no saving these plants, and, uh, there have been significant radiation releases, so they need to just get them in a safe situation.
A: How transparent they’re being is still to be determined. Because, as we said, just a couple of days ago, the Japanese government was very stern with them with respect to lack of transparency, so, again, there’s a lot of people willing to help, a lot of smart people out there I hope they’re taking advantage of all that.
Q: I hope so too. Ok…So, let me ask the second question for tonight, and, then we’ll wrap up,
Someone wanted to know…I mean, we’re in a situation here where we haven’t really been before, where we have six nuclear reactors that are in trouble, and, also, In Japan there are, I forget, I believe he said there were 54 nuclear reactors in Japan. Is that right; a right number?
A: Something around that
Q: There’s about 50, let’s say…so, Japan relies heavily on nuclear power and I think that we have been fortunate that only one, I guess, system of nuclear power plants has been affected by the earthquake and tsunami in a significant way. But, this person they said they wanted to know, if you have radiation in a place in the environment that’s far away, for instance, .Tokyo, is there any way to tell which reactor it came from? Say you had not only Fukushima at Fukushima Daiichi, but, you had another plant which was also having trouble, would there be any way to tell, sort of, fingerprint that radiation source?
A: Well, that’s a good question, and, really it’s not my area of expertise. I would think that, in some respects that might be possible because the fuel for these reactors is custom made, and, I guess if you knew the exact core makeup and the amount of years it had been in service, you could probably get a fingerprint, but, in this particular case, We’re pretty sure where the radiation’s coming from. With that being said, people have to keep in mind that there’s always radiation in the environment. We talked about the radon gas in the US that’s buried…that’s found a lot. In some of the….
Q: Rocks, Dad (laughs)?
A: You Know, I was going to say that it’s found a lot in the East, in the mountain areas, but, in fact, I think it’s pretty prevalent probably throughout the US, because there’s a certain amount of uranium in the crust of the earth everywhere, and, you’re gonna get radon gas pretty much. Pretty much everywhere. We know that there’s radioactivity from cosmic rays. I mean, We talked about in one of our interviews, that airline crews get a lot more radiation than the average person because they’re flying higher in the atmosphere where there’s less shielding. SO, there’s always radiation in the environment, and, actually if people look at the information that’s on the IAEA website,it shows the radiation levels in Tokyo, kind of on a graph over a few days, and, it’s pretty much at a normal background level right now, so there’s always some radioactivity out there, and, when you see it going up, or more in the environment, I guess in theory you could fingerprint that to a source, but, again, that’s not my area of expertise and there’s no other plant that havehad these kind of issues, so, I think we are pretty confident that we know the source.
Q: I think this person was wondering if there was any possibility that any of the other nuclear plants in Japan were having troubles as a result of the earthquake. And, see,now we did talk about one plant that did have problems initially, but, now they are in cold shutdown, that was the Fukushima 2.
A: that was the Fukushima 2 plant which is about seven miles to the south.
Q: I think it would be pretty clear if there were troubles with any of the other plants. I mean, that would be on the news, I would hope. (laughs). So, I think its clear that the radiation is coming from the Fukushima Daiichi…
A: And the other thing that people do not talk about is that there is a lot of radiation released from a coal plant. So, when you crush and burn that coal, you release a lot of that radon, and, it goes up the smokestack.
Q: Into the atmosphere.
A: And, uh, again, the point is, there’s a lot of naturally occurring radiation and, if the people are expecting the samples to be zero, they’ll never be zero.
Q: Well, and you talked about this before…you have to know that everything is radioactive to an extent. We all have traces of uranium in us. And, the rocks that I study, for example, have trace amounts of uranium in parts per billion, which, sounds pretty small, but, believe it or not, I can crush that rock, and extract that uranium, and actually measure it. But, all the geological samples I work with, even things that have high levels of uranium, and, we’re talking here about parts per million, so, the key is not whether the radiation exists or not, it’s whether it exists at a level high to be harmful to human health. And, that is what we’re concerned with here, not is there zero radiation, because as he said, there never will be zero radiation. Everything is radioactive, just some things are more radioactive than others.
A: And so, as we’ve mentioned several times, a lot of effort is going into monitoring the water and food supplies in Japan, and, I know people probably remain very concerned, as we would probably be if we were in Japan, but, my advice is to follow the advice of the government, and, it does appear that any food that is found to be suspect is being removed from the food chain and, if you’re told the water is fit to drink, it’s actually fit to drink. And, I would point out that here, in New England, we’ve been able to detect now, some radioactivity from the fall out from this disaster in Japan. Again, the levels are at such a low level that it’s just not a concern, but, for sure, since a lot of the water supplies in New England are open lakes, for sure some of that has gotten into the drinking water here. But, .we’re not going to stop drinking our water when the levels are so low as to not be an issue. And, as we pointed out, there’s plenty of naturally occurring radioactivity in the water anyway.
Q: Alright. I think that answers that question. Do you have anything else before we end?
A: Yea. We really did not answer the question, and, yea, there’s probably a way to do it, but it’s just not my area.
Q: It sounds like that is not something they should be putting a lot of energy into right now, because they know where it’s coming from, and, they need to reduce it, and, not worry about which reactor it’s coming from at this moment. So…good question. Sorry we can’t answer it better. Anything else, Dad?
A: I don’t have anything else.
Q: Ok, I just want to announce that we are going to do an interview tomorrow night, so send in your questions, if you have them, but, then, because of travel schedules, we’re not going to do our next interview until Friday and, then, unless there’s something major in the news, we’re actually going to take a break for the weekend, and do the next interview on Monday. I know we keep saying we’re going to stop doing these interviews, but, I guess there’s still news; still things to be concerned about, so, I guess we have to continue with this for a little while longer, don’t we?
A: Yes, but, I do think we’re getting closer. I think….I think today, for example, there was quite a bit of good information on the International Atomic Energy Agency website, the more days that go by where we get better information, and those sources are available to people,then, I think there will be less need for this. But, we’ll interview tomorrow, and do it on Friday, and take it from there.
Q: Ok. And we have promised, so we have to do this; to do an interview towards the end, so when you’re ready, talking a bit about the improvements made in nuclear power plants since the Fukushima plants were built, and, also talking a little bit about Thorium, but, my dad still has to do some homework on that, so, we’ll do that one…maybe we’ll think about doing that one later next week or the following week.
Q: Ok, Dad…thanks very much!
A: Alright…good night.
O: Have a good night!