Arnie Gundersen explains how containment vents were added to the GE Mark 1 BWR as a “band aid” 20 years after the plants built in order to prevent an explosion of the notoriously weak Mark 1 containment system. Obviously the containment vent band aid fix did not work since all three units have lost containment integrity and are leaking radioactivity. Gundersen also discusses seismic design flaws, inadequate evacuation planning, and the taxpayer supported nuclear industry liability fund.
Hi I’m Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds and it’s been a little more than a week since our last video. The video computer we used had a meltdown and I’m sorry that that has set back our production schedule a little bit here. However, I’d like to thank those of you who donated: we were able to go out and get a better computer and hopefully these productions will be up and running again permanently. Thanks again.
Today, I wanted to talk about the lessons that could be learned worldwide for the operating nuclear reactors that are already done and in use, not under construction. The first and most obvious thing is the containment. Containments were made to contain radioactivity. The vents you hear about and how they failed were an add-on. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when these plants were designed, they weren’t designed to have a vent. As a matter of fact, the pressurized water reactors around the world don’t have a vent even now. So these containment vents were a bandaid fix to a problem that was identified after they were built. The vents have been tested three times, at Fukushima 1, Fukushima 2, and Fukushima 3, and they failed three times. That’s a 100% failure rate. That’s an indication that this design is seriously flawed. And it CAN happen here. It can happen in Germany where they also have this type of reactor and at the other BWR reactors around the world.
So first and foremost, the vent system that is on every boiling water reactor, needs to be evaluated to see if it can be made better or if it should be eliminated. And if it’s eliminated, what should we do about the containment that can’t withstand the pressures of an accident.
Vents can also cause problems. For instance, here in Vermont, the reactor is designed to be pressurized after an accident to push water into it. Well, if they open the vent and it stays open, they will lose that pressure and they won’t be able to cool the reactor and we can have a meltdown. That doesn’t apply just here, that applies at Dresden, at HB Robinson, and other plants. The NRC allowed this to happen. They allowed utilities to take credit for the containment pressure to push the water to the pumps. There are regulations on the books prohibiting that, but the NRC waived those regulations when they increased the power at Dresden and Vermont Yankee, Robinson and some others.
So it’s important to remember that vents were designed to prevent a problem over pressure of the containment, but now they can actually create a problem if, when they are open, they don’t close.
If you take a look at Fukushima, it’s hard to be able to believe that you can guarantee those valves will close after an accident. I’ve been on the NRC’s case about containment leakage for a long time. At Beaver Valley, there was a hole in the side of the containment. I brought that to their attention several years ago. The full report is on the website. At Fitzpatrick, there was a crack in the side of the containment. I brought that to the NRC’s attention last year. And at Millstone, it has the smallest containment for the power output of any of that type of reactor in the world. I brought that to the NRC’s attention about two years ago and they actually said from Millstone that they don’t have the capability to analyze containment. It’s in the notes. Yet, the NRC still assumes that containments will not leak. They have actually said that in an Advisory Committee to Reactor Safeguards meeting back in October of last year. So we’ve got a containment that doesn’t contain. A regulator who doesn’t have the capability to regulate. And an industry with a series of cracks or holes in containments that continues to believe that there is zero probability of a containment leak.
Well, moving on, I wanted to talk about seismic criteria. That’s earthquake resistance. We now know that Fukushima 1 failed because of the earthquake, NOT the tsunami. It was leaking and in the middle of a meltdown before the tsunami even hit. We also know from another report that was on the website by Siemens, that Unit 4’s fuel pool cracked from the earthquake, not from the tsunami. What that means is that the codes we use to analyze these plants are flawed. They shouldn’t crack, they shouldn’t break.
This wasn’t, at Fukushima, that big an earthquake. It was, out at sea a nine, but by the time it got to Fukushima, they should have been able to ride out that storm, at least the seizmic issues of it. But what that says is that what we have been relying on in analyzing these plants may not be working. Two out of the four plants developed cracks from an earthquake and they should have been able to get through this. In the US reactors, we have got another reactor down at Crystal River in Florida that developed a 60 foot long crack in the containment when they cut a hole in it to replace the steam generator. What that means is that this was the most analzyed containment in history and they still never saw that crack coming. They tried to fix it and spent two years on the repair and as they were ready to run again, they found another crack had grown in a different direction. We clearly don’t have the seizmic code capability to analyze these massive structures. Crystal River proves it here in the States and Fukushima proves it around the world.
Couple other ones that are really obvious are the batteries. There are not enough of them. The longest lived batteries in an American plant are eight hours, but most are only four. We could not ride out a loss of power accident like Fukushima. In fact, it would be worse.
The other thing is the tidal surge. Now, Fukushima had a tsunami. They were designed for a six or seven meter tsunami around 20 feet and, in fact, the tsunami was 15 meters. At the California plants, San Onofre, they are designed for a 30 foot tsunami, but yet we know there was a 45 foot tsunami in Japan. So, we need to take a look at these tidal surges that can wipe out, maybe not the diesels, but the pumps that pump the water to the diesels.
On the East Coast, you have Florida and the tidal surge from a hurricane. What that means is that the hurricane can push an enormous wall of water inland. For instance, the Turkey Point plants can get inundated by the flood from that tidal surge. We need to look at these events, that right now we have said are impossible, in light of what proved to be possible at Fukushima.
Two more things: First is emergency planning. In the United States, we analyze for ten miles out and there is really no basis in science for ten miles. Basically, we didn’t know which way the wind was going to blow, so we put a ten mile circle around the plant and said everybody has got to be able to get out of here
within a couple of hours. But Fukushima showed us that the accident continues for weeks and it goes with a meandering plume deep inland. We are not prepared for an evacuation that would be 50 miles away. Fukushima is already contaminated now beyond 50 miles. There are some plants, like the Dresden Units in Illinois and the Indian Point units in New York State, that have major cities, Chicago and New York, within that zone. We really need to take a look at siting of nuclear plants and REAL emergency plans in place of the paper plans we have in place.
The last thing is multi-unit sites. Fukushima showed us that if one unit blows up, it can impede your ability to solve that problem On other units. Here we have Palo Verde out in Arizona and they have 3 units on one site and just two weeks ago the NRC gave them a 20 year license extension. Well, how could they possibly have analyzed the results of Fukushima and come to an adequate analysis of a multi-unit site?
Well thats a technical wrap up. There is one more political issue and it’s Price-Anderson. Price-Anderson is the insurance program that utilities have in place. In the event of an accident, all of the reactors in the country pony up about 100 million dollars apiece and there is a ten billion dollar cap on their liability in the event of an accident. Fukushima is going to be around two hundred billion dollars. If it happens here, what does that mean? That means that you and I as tax payers shoulder the rest of that. We are on the hook for 190 billion in the event of this. And that’s what Price-Anderson is. I think in light of Fukushima, we should evaluate whether or not it is right to give these reactors a free ride on their insurance.
Well that’s all for now. Thank you very much