tv [untitled] August 10, 2012 9:00pm-9:30pm EDT
hello tonight we're bringing the special edition of the big picture with one of our conversations of great minds and bigger picture discussions we start with our bigger picture discussion beyond fukushima last month an in-depth conversation with paul gunter and kevin camps of beyond nuclear we discussed a variety of challenges in the nation of japan and the fukushima nuclear plant still face and we touched on the role nuclear power still has in the world despite its obvious health and safety concerns here is our bigger picture discussion beyond fukushima.
on the afternoon of march eleventh two thousand and eleven a massive nine point zero earthquake struck just off the main island of japan rattling that nation to its core nestled on the east coast of japan not too far from the epicenter of that quake was the fukushima daiichi nuclear plant that was six nuclear reactors three of which weren't designed to handle an earthquake of that magnitude better to the ground started shaking reactors one two and three at the plant went into automatic shutdown reactors four five and six were already shut down for inspection the main power source to keep the reactors cool the electric grid was knocked out by the earthquake so thirteen emergency diesel generators of immediately kicked in to keep the reactors cool within ten minutes the emergency cooling systems at reactor one failed to radioactive fuel rods within the reactors begin to melt down but things are about to get a lot worse approximately fifty minutes after the earthquake a giant forty five foot tsunami slammed into the east coast of japan and right into the fukushima daiichi plant it swept across the plant's sea walls and one of the
turbine buildings shutting down the emergency diesel generators and cutting off critical cooling to the reactors at this point the operators of the fukushima plant knew they had a crisis on their hands at approximately three forty one in the afternoon less than an hour after the earthquake tepco which operated the plant notified the authorities that they. they had a first level emergency on their hands reactors were melting down by themselves time operators began relieving pressure from the reactors by releasing radioactive steam out of the reactor buildings and into the air and in a frantic attempt to keep the reactors cool nearby seawater was pumped into the plant but that wasn't enough and there's not much else the plant operators could do since the radiation around the plant was spiking soon the reactor buildings began exploding one day after the earthquake on march twelfth reactor one suffered a hydrogen explosion collapsing its roof over the next few days reactors two three and four would give way to similar hydrogen explosions mangling the reactor
buildings and exposing a highly radioactive spent fuel which was stored in pools built into the ceilings of the reactors into the atmosphere helicopters flew in to drop seawater into the crippled reactor buildings trying to preserve the spent fuel pools from igniting meanwhile on the ground teams of tepco workers began working in shifts to bring the melting down plant under control these shifts were essentially suicide missions as radiation levels were well above lifetime dosages during that march an estimated nine hundred thousand tera becker rolls of radiation were released into the air that's roughly one sixth of the radiation released during the churn noble nuclear crisis but again this was just during the month of march between then and december of two thousand and eleven when tepco finally said the plant was stable more than three hundred workers were exposed to lethally high levels of radiation and millions of gallons of highly radioactive seawater were dumped into the ground and the ocean effects of this radioactive dump are still not known in february of this
year tepco began pouring cement around the plant as part of a decommissioning process a process that operators believe could take as long as thirty years but despite assurances from tepco the plant is stable evidence shows the nuclear crisis is still far from resolved you know for reactor building with tons of radio act. fuel and waste still stored in its rough is lean and in danger of toppling over and triggering a chain reaction radioactive fire that could blow exponentially more radiation into the atmosphere than even sure ennobled it and radiation levels in reactor one recently reached all time highs yet japan is still moving forward with nuclear power just this month reactor at the oyo nuclear plant was turned on marking the first time a japanese nuclear reactor was operational since the march earthquake the question is have the lessons of fukushima been learned and not just in japan the crisis continues and could worsen but also have they been learned in the united states
that's the topic for tonight's bigger picture discussion. joining me now are paul gunter the director of reactor oversight project at nuclear and two thousand and eight recipient of the jane bagley lehman award for environmental activism has been on the front lines fighting back against nuclear power for more than thirty years and kevin camps radioactive waste watchdog to be a nuclear has testified before officials at the highest levels of the u.s. federal agencies dealing with radioactive waste management going to the department of energy and nuclear regulatory commission the e.p.a. welcome to both of you gentlemen thank you first of all was there anything in that the paul that was in error or not at all i mean this is a well we've set a precedent now with nuclear accidents that i think is going to remain with us
we're certainly concerned about the future and certainly the future of residents in japan and and kevin the the it's been sixteen months now is the focus shima anywhere anything close to being out of the woods well just in. the last couple weeks there was a breakdown and the cooling system in the unit for pool for high level radioactive waste storage so the fear for many many months since the beginning of this catastrophe was that the unit for pool could suffer a catastrophic drain down of cooling water from a large earthquake but what was shown repeatedly now over the course of months is that simple breakdowns of the mechanics will start that pool to boiling and if it boils for long enough for a couple three days it's going to boil the cooling water down to the tops of the irradiated nuclear fuel which can then catch on fire so it doesn't take a bigger earthquake to lead to that catastrophic release of ten times turn all that
you mentioned now paul wondered when did this whole idea of putting nuclear waste on the roof of a ten story building come along i mean this is a one nine hundred sixty s. vintage design from general electric. essentially they decided that the shortest distance between refueling the reactor in temporarily storing the nuclear waste was the fueling channel to a pool that's forty feet deep. six stories up so it's on the line alignment with the reactor vessel head. what this does though is it puts the. you know hundreds of tons of nuclear waste in a very vulnerable position and this is this is our turn today so this was done so that they could get the the rods into the reactor and out of the reactor more conveniently than having to lift them all the way down to the ground or lift them up from the ground this is a quick and dirty solution as this whole mark one reactor has turned out to be and
this was this was designed by general electric and yet it's operating in japan well it's actually g.e. had touch you know. it's remarkable i have got a couple of graphics here i'd like to go through actually here's the number two is the fukushima this is the fukushima reactor. are we showing up here it is here it is yes we can show it on the plasma here this is the spent fuel pool is that it. oh i see this is the this is the. heavy duty crane that moves fuel in and out and there's a there's a channel between the vessel head and the spent fuel pool so you see this is the shortest distance and originally they thought the fuel was only going to be in there matter of months before as reprocessed or hauled off to a high level radioactive race to pause course none of those it turned out to be viable options now so the fuel has been primarily accumulating over decades in
getting in denser and denser. storage configurations appear in this elevated storage configuration and this this is the actual reactor vessel here yes and then all or everything around it basically is concrete and cool and there is a steel shell here that is called the dry well it's one and a half inches thick it's basically welded plates together but this is essentially this component in this eight hundred foot diameter. what wells it's called it's a hollow down at the contains a million gallons of water this is what's credited for the containment of severe accident at these g a mark one designed of course you know this is one sixth the volume of the larger dry containments like you would see at three mile island or the pressurized water reactor so this was inherently undersized as
a competitive plan so that they could build these things chip cheaper and quicker and be competitive with these larger designs now at that focus at the various reactors of what parts of this these things failed. the taurus failed. in fact what happened during the accident as they lost cooling to the reactor pressure vessel the fuel which is cladding zircaloy interacts and overheats it generates hydrogen gas and fags kone m is used in high explosives so you have one hundred tons of nuclear waste in these reactors and hundreds more in these fuel storage ponds that are surrounded by zirconium which is used for high explosives so you know when this stuff over heats it it burns like an
intense flare generating hydrogen gas and of course the hydrogen gas found an ignition point when. they tried to vent the taurus so that the pressure would be released and the gas would be released but it found an ignition point and it blew out these outer structures and ruptured the primary containment and that happened in how many of the six reactors it happened in the three operating reactors and the fourth unit unit four which was not operational at the time right now it's thought that hydrogen gas generated in one of these other operating units wundt through three somehow was vented in by a common route into route four into unit four and that's what caused the explosion you know this is this is the explosion house number one that was number one ok and the it's remarkable the. the end that spent fuel pool of at the top and
you know four is still there kevin. the building is. listing because of the work you have has been since almost the beginning of the catastrophe so it's described as listening the new york times last week called it there's actually two bulges. the walls the exterior walls of the building which is not a good sign despite all of this tokyo electric power company assures everybody everything's fine except when a high level government minister went there at the end of may it was disconcerting that he said to the process that we're following him around in radiation suits all this is a good structure it's good up to a six point zero earthquake well that's not what's being discussed what's being discussed is the ninety percent probability that there will be a seven point zero earthquake in the next three years at that site could bring the whole building down that waste could go up in flames more of tonight's bigger picture conversation beyond focus right after this break.
welcome back tonight we have a special bigger picture conversation on nuclear power around the world post fukushima joining me now are paul gunter the director of reactor oversight the project of beyond nuclear and kevin camps radioactive waste watchdog of nuclear let's get back to it i have a graphic of the human body here and the various types of of the compounds that the accumulate in the body kevin i think pretty much everybody knows about the thyroid and you know iodine here that that only lasts for eight days before it's starts breaking down that's the half life half life eighty day hazardous persistence or hundred sixty to be more so at eight days it's half it sixteen days it's a quarter as you know so it takes a while. but there are some some really concerning ones here the ovaries for
example the point plutonium half life of twenty four thousand years i think it's a little more than the human lifespan potassium or cesium rather thirty years. in the muscle tissue throughout the body cesium thirty years in the bone radium sixteen hundred twenty years twenty eight years in our long as your aim to thirty three hundred sixty two thousand years what. given all these numbers and all this stuff what are the probabilities that any of these elements and the relative. concentrations that any of these elements of actually started showing up inside the bodies of people in japan and in the united states well certainly the japanese population has been the most directly impacted by fukushima daiichi especially fukushima prefecture or the neighboring prefectures but something on the order of ten percent of the japanese islands are now contaminated with a substance like radioactive cesium one thirty seven which like you said has
a thirty year half life a three hundred to six hundred year hazardous persistence it bio magnifies in the food and then it seeks human muscle tissue so it turned all bull which involved a huge release of radioactive cesium as well as the semen daiichi there's a condition now called turn noble heart it's actually the title of an award an academy award winning documentary film so in children her pathology that should not be seen in children is showing up including holes in the heart that can be repaired with cortex surgical patches but the technology training does not exist on the ground in belarus so mash teams of western doctors have gone over there and done hundreds of these surgeries to try to save these kids' lives that will now unfold over time around fukushima effect you went over and saw those two are joined valving the turntable children's project yeah our involvement in michigan at the time in the late ninety's was to bring children from bruce to michigan to get them
out of the radioactivity and our nets because of a friend of ours who taught blind rehab at a university in kalamazoo was visually impaired children and sure enough i mean you look at the disease around turn ople and it went up after the catastrophe including visual impairment and children so they got some medical attention they got out of the radioactivity for a time and that's the tragedy of these meltdowns these disasters as we have to create new organizations and literally now there are food. much older and organizations and how many of these nuclear catastrophes i we're going to put up with. paul are we seeing any evidence that these radioactive elements these radioisotopes have made their way to the united states. i'm not aware of any tests that have shown. what we've seen in japan for example there are now tests that are turning up cesium one thirty seven in the urine of japanese infants we've not seen that here in the united states at this at this point is that because we're not
looking for it or is it because it's hasn't made it i think that certainly the monitoring efforts are lagging behind here in the united states where you know the cesium one thirty seven has been evidenced in fallout it all throughout the northern hemisphere so iceland as well as new york so it's not that it's not there but we've not seen any such evidence as the lab tests that are coming out of japan right now are indicating so japan is the real horror site that's ground zero right now but as we know from ground zero this fallout can travel and in fact kevin in this case the you know with with the chair noble it blew into the air with this stuff is being dumped into the ocean what does that mean. well you know just last month the news broke that radioactive bluefin tuna had actually been caught off the california coast last august of two thousand and eleven the news didn't hit until
last month so there's also a lag in the truth coming how you know in scientific studies but that was because those bluefin tuna. just stated and grown on the coast of fukushima and then migrated across the ocean and they swim pretty fast and they swim very far so by august they made it but what's falling behind them is this massive plume of radioactive contamination in the ocean that a couple months back had likely reached the hawaiian shores another year or two from now will reach the western coast of north america granted it's going to dilute and dissipate with distance and with volume in the ocean but this was the biggest release of radioactivity into the ocean in history and bio concentrates in the food chain we started out this conversation about the the mark one reactors that we were looking at fukushima and we have we have a graphic you're either number four or five whichever you guys can easily pop up here. here we go this is these seismic this these are nuclear reactors in the
united states in the red areas the darker the red area the higher the probability of it being a seismic zone an area where there could be earthquakes. how many of these reactors are the same kind of reactors that that went down the hall in fukushima and and how old and vulnerable are our reactors and how many of them are in these earthquake well there are now twenty three mark one boiling water reactors in the united states that are operating in primarily there. east of the mississippi although cooper station right here is a is a mark one but throughout illinois and in. you know new england in the mid atlantic region we have these mark ones that are sensually. antiquated and dangerous because the.
the designs have been known to be vulnerable since one thousand nine hundred seventy two declared by the atomic energy commission affirmed again by the nuclear regulatory commission in one thousand nine hundred six is vulnerable to failure and so any number of events in earthquake which could lead to a fire or of or just a fire initiating from worker error like a candle which started the browns ferry fire in one thousand nine hundred seventy five and actually fukushima almost had another name and it could have very well have been browns ferry after a fire there cut out all of the cooling systems to the browns ferry units and we narrowly escaped a core melt accident at a vulnerable reactor system like the smart one and last fall was not fort calhoun that we had a flood floodwaters came within a few inches of shutting down the well we're right now where we're following the
fort calhoun facility it's it's a pressurized water reactor so it's not a fukushima design but you know the vulnerability. that's in this in her. danger in in all nuclear power plants could play out in any number of disasters this point for example there are miles and miles of electrical cable that are underground in vaults that were submerged for months for during the flood and these electrical cables are safety related and they were never qualified to be wet or submerged for any any time so this boat the four calhoun plant remains shut down now but clearly we don't know you know we doubt that it's safe because they never qualified the electric cable that stretches out into these plants we have a graphic of when basically these things fail this this the bathtub curve for
nuclear accidents kevin three mile island and chernobyl were early on in the life span the break in phases here of the reactors and then the break down phase were seen indian point david explain what this means sure yeah thanks to dave lochbaum and enough concerned scientists for this graphic put together it shows that there's elevated risk of reactor accidents at brand new reactors like t.m.i. intern overall which were a year older last and the reason for that is bugs in the system flaws in the design operator an experience that gets worked out in a very bad way that's what happened there but then what's really significant the united states now is the ever growing number of breakdown phase reactors so these incidents here indian point february two thousand the steam generator to bursts in the steam generators you lose enough steam generator tubes you have a loss of coolant accident in the core another pathway to loss of coolant acts as if you corrode through the reactor lead which they almost did at davis bessie ohio
and february of two thousand and two these were the closest things to breakdown phase disasters we had was there something very much like this that just happened was a santa for a it's not a no for a is. a big concern right now because of the degradation of seam generator tubes where this is and there are different mechanisms of. degradation as well so the. the center know for a nuclear power station had only operated ten months with these steam generators that are bad designs here it was more wear out but clearly what we're also seeing is bad designs being put into. the older reactors exactly it's remarkable the knighted states what what. are we in the risk come in is this. and maybe it's you know let me ask you you know anybody you know are you willing to play russian roulette regardless of how many
cylinders are on the gun i mean if you load them up and use and you spin the cylinder and pull the trigger you know we're basically involved in this game of russian roulette now where the problem we're we're gambling probabilities against vulnerabilities and we know the vulnerabilities are increasing as these plants age and as margins of safety where thinner and thinner and thinner and now we're also introducing the fact that we have a regulator where the nuclear regulatory commission in our sea clearly stands more and more for no regulatory control and as we lose control as we see plants agent deteriorate we're only as converging courses for a catastrophe and then that's our concern right now that that this is an inherently dangerous industry that's losing oversight and getting older and deteriorating
in with new acronyms that we haven't even talked about and that frankly wouldn't even exist if we the people through prices. anderson didn't insure it is it if it's a little ride the market will have nothing to do with it all thank you so much great to have you kevin thank you thank you for showing up time. you can watch this conversation again by going to our website conversations with great minds dot com. wealthy british style moves on. time to write in the. markets why not come to. find out what's really happening to the global economy
welcome back to the special edition of the big picture recently i had the opportunity to speak with thomas drake and kirk wiebe both better whistleblowers who have revealed startling new information on the national security agency's use of domestic spying programs american citizens what was once the type of story reserved only for spy thriller movies suddenly become reality here in the united states and now our conversations with great minds with thomas drake and kirk will be.