Arnie Gundersen and Akio Matsumura: Fukushima, Forty Good Years and One Bad Day

Fairewinds Podcast Interview with Arnie Gundersen and Akio Matsumura  18 June, 2013

Watch the entirety of this highly disturbing interview on the state of the Fukushima Daiichi site here. Then, ask yourself why the world is just letting this happen?

From Fairewinds: About This Video

In this video, Arnie Gundersen talks with international diplomat Akio Matsumura, the former special advisor to the United Nations Development program, the founder and Secretary General of the Global Forum of spiritual and parliamentary leaders for human survival, and the Secretary General of the 1992 Parliamentary Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro.  Arnie and Akio discuss the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi site, and come to the conclusion that Tokyo Electric must be removed from the clean-up process. Arnie also discusses his 40 years in the nuclear industry, and how the worst day of that career led him to conclude that a nuclear power plant can have “Forty Good Years and One Bad Day.”


Arnie Gundersen:     The condition of the site right now is precarious. As long as there’s no earthquake, it’ll be okay. But that’s a big if where you’re sort of counting on an earthquake not occurring in a country that’s prone to earthquakes. And by an earthquake, I’m talking about a Richter 7 at or near the site. Now there’s three problems with the site right now. The first is the enormous amount of water that’s stored on the site in hundreds of tanks. Tokyo Electric isn’t letting us know exactly what the radioactive material is in those sites but there’s so much radiation in those tanks, we do know that the exposure to people who are outside of the plant boundary is very, very high. That tells us – there’s this phenomenon called Bremsstrahlung and the decay of radioactive material in those tanks is releasing x-rays in very high quantities off site. That means that those tanks are extraordinarily radioactive and if there is an earthquake, none of them are seismically qualified. So we could easily have a situation where 700 tanks spring leaks, it runs across the surface of the site and into the Pacific Ocean. That’s more contamination in those tanks than has already been released into the Pacific Ocean. So number one is an earthquake destroying the tanks and causing them to leak. Number two is the concern I’ve had for years, which is the structural condition of unit 4. Unit 4’s fuel pool has the most fuel and the hottest fuel. It was recently changed out. So a loss of cooling in the unit 4 fuel pool can still lead to a fuel pool fire and contamination of vast amounts of the country. The chance of a fuel pool fire diminishes with time because the fuel becomes cooler. It’s not there yet but it is approaching the point where if the pool were to lose water, it’s likely that the fuel would not catch on fire. That assumes the fuel stays intact. If the earthquake is significant enough to distort the fuel and cause it to collapse, all bets are off and you can still get heating to the point of creating a fire if the fuel were to break and not be cooled. But the third thing, Akio, is what you referred to as the unit 3 problem. Unit 3 has less fuel in it than unit 4. That’s good. The bad news, though, is that unit 3 is much more severely damaged than unit 4. So if unit 4 could ride out a Richter 7 earthquake, it’s likely unit 3 will not. So the risk of a structural failure in unit 3 is higher, although there’s somewhat less nuclear fuel in the fuel pool, it still presents in my mind now rapidly becoming the single biggest risk on the site is a structural failure of the unit 3 building because of all the damage from the massive detonation shockwave that hit the building. The magnitude of this problem is huge. It’s as if we – the Japanese should be fighting this as if it were a war. And you don’t fight a war on a budget. And I think that’s what’s happening in Fukushima. Tokyo Electric has minimal funds and they’re doing the best they can with minimal funds. And the Japanese government, it’s easier for them to blame the problems on Tokyo Electric rather than face the fact that at the root of this problem is that there’s not enough money being spent. So if you’re going to solve the biggest industrial accident in history, you’re going to need the funds required to do that. And I don’t think either party – Tokyo Electric or the Japanese government – want the Japanese people to understand just how deeply in debt the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has put them. I think it’s about a half a trillion to three quarters of a trillion dollars in debt to clean up the site and to clean up the prefecture.

Akio Matsumura:    What would be really the best way to solve this environmental and health issue that’s happening now at Fukushima?

Arnie Gundersen:     To my way of thinking, there’s two problems at the root of the Fukushima issue. The first is the ground water is continuing to leak into these reactors. Now you have to remember, after the earthquake, the entire Pacific side of Japan dropped by three feet. Japan sunk down three feet. Well, if you’re a building and your structure suddenly drops three feet, that causes the floor to crack. And more importantly now, it puts more water pressure on the bottom of the building. So water is flowing into these reactors at Fukushima Daiichi in large quantities – 400 tons a day. Now if the buildings were clean and had no radiation, that wouldn’t be a problem. Let them flood. They’re not going to run anyway. But the problem is that the containment has holes in it. The containment has penetrations that  – where wires came in and out and where pipes came in and out. And the insulation on those penetrations was never designed for high radiation, high temperature, and no one ever thought that it would be exposed to salt water. Well, all three of those things happened at Daiichi and the penetrations have now all failed. So the radioactivity that was supposed to be contained in the nuclear reactor is now leaking through those penetrations to where the water is leaking into the other buildings. The net effect is we’ve got pieces of nuclear fuel, small powdery nuclear fuel mixing in on the floors of these buildings that are now getting large quantities of radioactive water. So you have two choices: you can either stop the water from going in; or you can stop the radiation from going out. Both are difficult. I proposed building a trench around the Fukushima site and filling it with something called Zeolite. Zeolite is a volcanic material. It’s really good at absorbing radiation. Another Japanese scientist, Dr. Koichi Nakamura has suggested building wells outside of that trench to drop the water table. So if you can drop the water table and just pump that water into the ocean, because it will be clean, the Zeolite trench will prevent the radiation from getting to those wells, that would reduce the amount of water going into these buildings that have cracks in the foundation. The other alternative is to prevent the radiation from going out. Well, the horse is already out of the barn on that. The radiation is pretty much thoroughly throughout not just the reactor containment but also the other buildings. But it’s still critical to seal all those penetrations that are leaking. You have to find the leaks and plug them. Now that’s exacerbated by the fact that this already a very high radiation zone. It’s not like you can send somebody in with a caulking gun to slap some caulking in these. The radiation levels are frequently near lethal and finding and stopping those leaks – there’s a priority to get the nuclear fuel out of those nuclear reactors. But it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult because of the high radiation levels. So the best solution for the amount of water that’s being built up – 400 tons a day – is to drop the water table and to prevent any further water from going in. Fairewinds has been approached by two American manufacturers with solutions to the problems at Daiichi and trying to get that technology implemented in the Daiichi cleanup. The Japanese have rejected both of these American manufacturers. And I’m sure there’s been others. But the fact of the matter is that the technology for the Zeolite trench is in use in America right now at the West Valley site and has a proven track record of being very, very effective. So we’re in a situation where an effective American technology is being prevented from being implemented in Japan by either the Japanese government or Tokyo Electric, and I really don’t know which.

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Nuclear Power is not the Answer