The Ongoing Damage and Danger at Fukushima
Arnie Gundersen: Hi Helen, thanks. It is nice to be back again.
Helen Caldicott: I needed to get you back because you have been saying some new things about Fukushima. And I have got quite a lot of questions too. So I think as usual, you need to give us a complete update of Units I, II, III and IV, where they stand, what your thinking is now, and the like, please, Arnie. So the floor is yours.
AG: O.K. Thank you. Well, let's go IV, III, II, I, for a change. On Unit IV, the walls have been knocked down and that is a good thing. The plan is . . .
HC: What do you mean the walls have been knocked down? I do not know what you mean by that.
AG: The explosion kind of devastated everything _(within?)__ the last 2 floors of the reactor. So they ripped out the remaining structures and they are down at what we would call the operating floor.
HC: Well you mean the building still stands but they have taken out the 2 upper floors, is that right?
AG: Yes. If the building was 100 feet tall, now it is 60 feet tall. They have taken out all of the superstructure above the nuclear reactor and that was a very high bay area where the massive cranes moved and where the refueling bridges moved. So all of that has been removed and there is going to be shortly, essentially a flat area where Tokyo Electric plans to work.
HC: Well wait a minute. So they have taken out the 2 upper floors which were damaged anyway, where the cranes were. So you are left with a reactor containment vessel and next to which is the cooling pool full of over 100 tons of very radioactive fuel. Is that right?
AG: Yes, that is absolutely correct.
AG: Now the plan is that once they do this, they will build a building on top of the rubble that is still there, the refueling pool especially. They will use the existing foundation to, on one side, on the water side, and then they will build a new foundation on the land side to build a new bridge for this huge crane. Remember, there was a crane in there, but it collapsed, so they will have to put a new crane in. The reason it is such a monumental job is they need a crane that can lift a heavy spent fuel cask and that weighs something on the order of 130 tons, so it is a huge crane.
HC: Are you talking about a spent fuel bundle? or, I do not understand what you mean.
AG: Well each bundle will have to get lifted and put into a shielded container underwater.
AG: As soon as those things come out of the water they are so highly radioactive, they would kill the people on the operating floor. So all of this has to be done with the fuel pool full of water. So they will lift out one bundle at a time and of course the question is, are the bundles distorted because of the heat or have they been damaged because of all the rubble that fell into the pool. But in theory anyway, they will be able to go down and grab the bundle, pull it out still underwater, carry it to the side of the pool, and underwater still there will be a huge canister. They will lift the fuel into that huge canister, put a lid on it. That huge canister weighs something like a hundred tons.
AG: They will lift that up, put that in the big crane and lower that to the ground. And that will have to occur dozens of times and over perhaps a year, when they have to empty that fuel pool.
HC: Well OK, so wait a minute, each fuel bundle will be lifted up underwater, and they will have to bring, the canister is not yet in the pool, right? They will have to make the canister and put it in the pool, ready to receive each fuel bundle, to be then transferred to the ground, is that right?
AG: That is right. Goal number 1 on that site is to get that pool empty. And it will take, once the building is built, it will take a year or two, so they are not out of the woods by any means because if there were a seismic event and the pool were to drain, it could still have a fuel pool fire and contaminate the entire country. So it is improving because they are in the process. You know Helen, they finally figured this out this year. I was on Chris Martinson's show back in June of last year in 2011, and I was saying you have got to build a building over the building.
AG: So they are very slow. And unfortunately Mother Nature has her own timetable. So I view this as a battle against the clock and I hope that there will not be any major earthquake to destroy the building again.
HC: Well now, how long is it going to take to reinforce the building? You say they have got to build a new wall on the far side from the ocean, on the land side.
HC: To make it strong enough to be able to put this incredibly heavy crane on top of the building. How long will it take, a) to build the building, per se, before they
AG: They claim it will take a year.
HC: A year. So you have got a year to build the building. Then they have got to put the crane on top of the building. That probably will not take so long, right?
AG: Right. Something on the order of 18 months from now, they will be able to move fuel.
HC: 18 months before they move the fuel and then it is going to take another year to totally remove the fuel from the pool. So we are talking about 2 1/2 years.
AG: We are talking 2015 or 2016 before that gets done.
HC: Oh God.
AG: Yes, and the last fuel they move is the most radioactive, which is still the most dangerous. So removing the fuel at the beginning is actually the easy part. The last fuel is the newest fuel and is physically hot and of course has the most radiation so that fuel will be the last stuff they move in perhaps 2014 or 2015.
HC: So when they get it down to the ground in this container weighing 100 tons, and they move one fuel bundle at a time, how many fuel rods in a fuel bundle, Arnie?
AG: So they are 9 by 9; about 80.
AG: Yes, 80 rods in a bundle and there are over a thousand bundles.
HC: So how much does a bundle weigh?
AG: Around a ton.
HC: A ton?
AG: Yes, around a ton. Now you have to remember the big problem is going to be, have these things been distorted by the earthquake or by heat during the process or by rubble falling on them? They may not be able to pull them. They may get on to them and try to lift, and they will be jammed.
HC: And then what?
AG: That is another problem. Right. So we will see as time develops. Unfortunately, they are taking way too long. So then they will get them on the ground, they will bring it over to the other fuel pool they have got there. They have a huge pool, and they will empty it. And they will do this process again and again and again. And gradually, once it is on the ground and in a canister, that is a lot better than having it up that high in the air in a damaged building.
HC: So they are going to take it to the common fuel pool. The common fuel pool, how much spent fuel is presently in that common fuel pool (a) and (b) where is it located?
AG: It is about 7,000 bundles in the common fuel pool and it is located on the water side of the nuclear reactor which did not flood after the tsunami. So it is a little bit uphill from the plant, on the land side of the plant. So they will have to take the oldest fuel out of that and put it into canisters on site, that will stay there for decades. And then they will take the stuff from Fukushima Daiichi Unit IV and put it into that, because that common pool is chocker block full.
HC: Well if it has got 7,000 bundles now and each bundle weighs a ton, there are 7,000 tons of spent fuel in that common fuel pool.
AG: Right. And then each reactor II, reactor I, reactor III, all have 500-600 bundles, so there is, if you do the math, there is 600 tons of material in each of those reactors. There is a huge amount of nuclear waste. There is 40 years of nuclear waste on that site. Plus what is already in the dry cask storage. They have a dry cask facility on site too. And that survived the tsunami and the earthquake just fine. So the goal here is to get it all into dry cask over the next 10 years.
HC: Well I have done the math and it seems like there is 8,800 tons of spent fuel at the site or maybe round it up to 10,000 tons of spent fuel at just that site at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex. And that has not included spent fuel pools at Units V and VI. So I wonder how much spent fuel Japan has in toto, Arnie Gundersen?
AG: I do not know, Helen. They are all old plants; some like Tokai only have 2 units and Onagawa has 3 so they vary, but I am sure you can, there are 50 reactors and I am sure you can say at least 600 bundles for each reactor, perhaps more. So that is 600 tons per reactor times 50 reactors. You know it is a big number.
HC: 30,000 tons. Yes, O.K.
AG: That is a minimum.
AG: Now the beauty of Unit IV is that there is nothing in the nuclear reactor. As they go up, to I, II, and III, of course, you have got to empty the fuel pool and that is not clear, especially Unit III, how much damage is in the fuel pool. I think the damage in Unit III's pool is extensive. But then you have got to get in the nuclear reactors on I, II, and III. Of course, the fuel is melted down there, so it is not as simple as grabbing the bundles and lifting them out. The fuel is actually melted and is a blob on the bottom of the reactor if you are lucky and in fact, more likely has leaked through the reactor and is a blob on the concrete. So they are going to be much more difficult than Unit IV.
HC: Well I mean, the only time they have ever tried to remove melted fuel was at Three Mile Island. And that took them 10 years, did it not?
AG: Yes. And that was easy.
HC: But that really was not melted like the way these 3 have really . . .
AG: Right. TMI had a blob of nuclear fuel on the bottom. But it had not breeched the vessel. All of these vessels have been breeched, the control rods come in at the bottom and they are leaking like a sieve. So it is likely that fuel has oozed out through the control rods, if not burned it's way right out. It is likely Unit II has burned it's way right out and is now lying on the concrete. And I think that is really the big change . . . , in my view of the problem, is what they are finding in Units I, II, and III now. Let's think of a nuclear reactor as a pressure cooker.
And the nuclear reactor is in a containment so we will build a real strong box around the pressure cooker and then the containment is in another building called the torus building in the reactor building. And then next to that building is the turbine building. So we have got 3 or 4 different buildings here. We are finding in the turbine building, there were about 3 different barriers before you even get to the turbine building. Concentrations of radioactive material on the order of a million becquerels, a million disintegrations per second in a liter. So think of a liter of Coke and think of a million sparkles of light every second. That is the water, not in a nuclear reactor, not in the nuclear reactor containment, not in the reactor building, but further away in the turbine building. So what concerns me is worker exposure at this point. And my mind has flipped on this. I thought eventually in 60 years or so, they could dismantle these reactors. But I do not think that is fair to the workers at this point. The exposure these guys are going to get in the process of dismantling the reactors is going to be extraordinary. A little bit of physics here. The nuclear fuel is very hot in the first day and less hot the next day and less hot the next day. It is still physically hot, you can still see steam coming off these buildings. But it is much less hot than it was after the accident and about 5 years out, there is not a lot of heat coming off the nuclear fuel. So 5 years out, a meltdown becomes impossible. It is likely to be impossible now but certainly 5 years out it is impossible. So you have to cool the nuclear reactor building and the nuclear reactor, what is left of it, for about 5 years. But after that, you can turn off the pumps.
HC: Oh, so they are still pouring water over the molten fuel?
AG: It is probably not molten, Helen. It is probably a solid lump that is very hot. But yes, they are still pouring water over it, to the tune of tens of tons a day for each reactor. And that water is coming back out incredibly radioactive and rather than pump it right back in, they are cleaning it with the mineralizer system that is very sophisticated, and very expensive. But in the process now, they are creating hundreds of demineralizer residues. Think of like a Brita filter, hundreds of those, but of course those are the size of a car, that are highly radioactive with cesium that has got a 300 year lifetime, that they are putting out on a field behind the plant. And still the concentration of radioactivity in the water is not going down because it is in direct contact with nuclear fuel.
AG: So they have contaminated the reactor, the bottom of the containment, the torus, which is that donut-shaped thing, the reactor building which is outside that, the thing that blew up, the floor of that is contaminated, and the building next to it, the turbine hall, should be the least radioactive and it is still a million disintegrations per second per every liter. So my thought is now, considering the extent of this contamination, that it is not fair to the workers to have them going in and clean this. And I think if I were Tokyo Electric's management, a couple of more years out after the cooling is completely done, I would consider filling up those containment buildings with concrete and walking away for 300 years. You know, obviously monitoring it, but I do not think it is fair to the workers to expose them to the extraordinary levels they will receive if they were to try to turn that site back into a green field.
HC: They could not turn it back into a green field. That is ridiculous. But anyway . . .
AG: Yes, you are right. And of course the big concern would be you have got to make sure you have got it all captured and it is not going down into the water table.
HC: But it will, and if you put concrete on it, you know it is going to keep going down into the water table and you know it is going to keep contaminating the Pacific Ocean for the rest of time.
AG: Right. So there is no good solution.
HC: No there is none.
AG: Absolutely no good solution. But the solution would be to bore holes underneath and constantly pull water out from under the building so that whatever leaks down gets treated. So we are still back with these big de-mineralizers again. But to my mind, I could not, as a manager, order a couple of thousand workers to pick up extraordinarily high exposures to dismantle these plants at this point in time.
HC: So Arnie another question: is there only one turbine building where the electricity is generated from the steam or does each reactor building have it's own turbine building?
AG: Each reactor building has it's own turbine building.
HC: Well which is the turbine building that is so radioactive with a million becquerels?
AG: Well they all are.
AG: Unit III is worse. And it is interesting, now Unit III is contaminating Unit IV.
AG: Yes, they are connected. So we are finding water from Unit III leaking into Unit IV. And you know if it is leaking between the buildings, it is leaking into the ground next to the buildings too. Yes. And the question is, how is it getting out? And a good friend of mine was an electrical engineer for General Electric. And he told me how. He said a containment is not a monolithic block. It has got pipes in it for the wires to go back and forth, electrical wires go in and out and the wires are caulked with a rubber. Well, the rubber was not designed to handle this radiation level. The rubber was not designed to handle the heat. And the rubber was not designed to handle salt water. So all of these electrical penetrations between the reactor and all the other buildings on the site are leaking and are causing this radioactive material to move everywhere on the site.
HC: Oh. I am a little bit speechless. OK, my next question: so the 3 turbine buildings each are exhibiting a million becquerels per liter of radiation, is that correct?
AG: The worst one, Unit III, is the million, and the others are around that. I do not know precisely, but they are huge numbers. Certainly not something you would send somebody in to voluntarily scrub the walls.
HC: So that indicates if in the turbine buildings which is 3 buildings distant from the reactor itself, therefore you would extrapolate back and say that if the radiation is as high as that in the turbine buildings, it will be higher in each of the other buildings to the reactor itself, right? So you extrapolate.
AG: That is exactly right. And if they dismantle this building, they still have the same radioactive material. Now they have got to move it some place where it is clean. That does not make a lot of sense. So it very well may be that the Japanese will say, OK, we made a huge mistake. But we are going to use the Fukushima site as the ultimate waste repository for everything we are finding on the site, rather than contaminate another location.
AG: This one, let's just call it a sacrifice and walk away.
HC: Yes, but then you are sacrificing the Pacific Ocean and the people who eat the fish from the ocean and the people on the west coast of America and people in Australia, because the fish swim everywhere. I mean you are sacrificing the Pacific by leaving this stuff there for the rest of time, which will leak and drain consistently into the Pacific.
AG: You are right. It needs to be constantly pumped out for 100, 200 years until they want to go back in and dismantle it.
HC: Yes, but what are our descendants going to say? There are 3 generations per hundred years, so say for the next 300 years, that is 9 generations of people. How will they be thinking? Will they be doing it? Will they want to do it? Will they have the apparatus to do it and the knowledge and you know? I mean we are assuming an awful lot, Arnie. We are assuming people 9 generations from now think the same way that we think?
AG: I know. And we also think that society will be functioning 300 years and at least at as high a level as we are. And we also have to figure, where is all this money going to come from? I do not see the international community saying, here Japan, here is a half a trillion dollars. It is coming out of the Japanese treasury. Now they are not admitting that. The Japanese are not admitting that their treasury is going to take a half a trillion dollar hit. Right now it is 10 billion in this month, 10 billion this quarter, 10 billion another half a year out, but nobody is looking at the big picture and saying, when you add up all of this for 50 or 60 or 100 years, you are looking at a half a trillion dollar expenditure. Japan's population is aging and declining. So they are carrying a huge burden on an aging, shrinking population. It is not a great situation, that is for sure.
HC: Well, let alone the number of malignancies and diseases that are going to accrue from this accident. I mean, we know that the data from Chernobyl shows that within the first 25 years, up to a million people have died and we are going to talk about the next 300 years or 600 years as long as cesium remains radioactive. But there are other elements that remain radioactive for hundreds, thousands, if not millions of years. And they are similarly in the mix, as is the cesium. And you have said so far, Arnie Gundersen, that you think the Fukushima releases of radiation were 2.5 to 3 times greater than those from Chernobyl. And the Japanese population is much more densely situated than people living around Chernobyl. So if you multiply one million in the first 25 years by 2.5 or 3 from your data, you could end up with a figure like 3 million people dying in the first 25 years in Japan.
AG: Well, I am at a million. Well the nuclear industry is obviously throwing barbs at my number, but they are claiming that maybe a hundred people will die from the accident.
HC: Oh, that is ridiculous.
AG: But I used Steve Wing's data from Three Mile Island. And he shows pretty clearly that 10,000 people died of cancer from Three Mile Island. And of course we know a million at Chernobyl. So it seems to me, based on the fact that we had larger releases after Fukushima in a higher population zone, that a million people is certainly credible. The difference around Chernobyl, is that on one side of Fukushima you have water, whereas at Chernobyl there was land all the way around. But the industry knows that there will be . . . Japan has got a population of 140 million. And about a third die of cancer. So you are looking at roughly 40 or 50 million over that time period will normally die of cancer. So if I am right and there are a million people, that is only a 2% increase. And so it will be extraordinarily hard to measure if you are not looking for it.
HC: But they will be doing epidemiological studies and I think that you are underestimating that number because do you still stand by your data that 2.5 to 3 times more radiation escaped from Fukushima than Chernobyl?
AG: I am certain of that for the nobel gasses.
AG: With the xenon and krypton, there is measured data in the northwest quadrant for the first week of the accident, where every cubic meter, 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, of air was a thousand becquerels, a thousand disintegrations per second for every cubic meter up that way. Now that has got to be causing lung cancers and whole body exposures that the industry is not willing to address. The other thing is that they found that apparently on March 16th, Unit II had an internal explosion. It looks fine if you look at Unit II from the outside. It does not look bad at all. But it cracked the containment at the same time the operators had all of the vents open in the nuclear reactor. And a huge cloud of radiation was released on the 16th and the wind was blowing toward Tokyo. Now there is not a lot of radiation monitors that early in the accident. You know there is chaos within Japan and Tokyo Electric, and yet no one is really willing to say, oh my god, what was the exposure in Tokyo on March 15th, 16th 17th? There is not a lot of good data and what that data there is, the Japanese are consistently downplaying. They are underestimating the exposure. But you know, I was in Tokyo back in February, and I found on the ground, 7,000 disintegrations per second in every kilogram of soil. That would qualify as radioactive waste in the States. And the Japanese government is saying, don't worry be happy. Business as usual.
HC: Smile, they say, smile. OK, so at the point I was making by the number of diseases, not just cancer and leukemia, but diabetes, premature aging in children, increased incidence of cataracts, increased incidence of severe congenital anomalies that we have seen in Chernobyl and the effect. Today I am going to interview a pediatrician who is a specialist in Teratology, meaning damage to fetuses, about the incidence of congenital anomalies around Chernobyl, which is still ongoing incidentally. We will be seeing that around Fukushima for sure in the population, so we are not just talking about malignancies. There are many other diseases related to radiation exposure and so what I wanted to point out as a physician is that the expense to the Japanese government and the people in general to care for these people and try and treat them, is going to be enormous. And that is not being factored in to the accident at the moment.
AG: I think you are absolutely right. On top of that is the generational genetic damage. There is a study out just last week about the radioactive butterfly damage. What they are finding is that in successive generations, the genetic damage is getting worse, so that 3 generations of butterflies seem to have more genetic damage than the first generation. So there is obviously a lot more study needs to be done here but we are looking at a damaged gene pool that will not manifest itself in 10 years or 20 years, it will manifest itself in a generation or two.
HC: That is the most serious part of the accident and of anything nuclear. It is called genomic progression, genomic progression. Now I have got some other questions, Arnie. You said earlier in the accident that a lot of hydrogen was building up in buildings Units I, II, and III. And they were injecting nitrogen into the buildings to dilute the hydrogen so there would not be a hydrogen explosion. Is the hydrogen still building up?
AG: And they failed. I mean, Unit I, II, III, and IV all blew up from hydrogen explosions. They may have had different causes and things like that and I believe Unit III started as a hydrogen explosion, but then became something called a prompt moderated criticality, which is worse. Interesting, I'm sorry, I'm thinking a little bit off topic here, but there was a Japanese study which is now calling the explosion in Unit III a detonation, not a deflagration. And that has to do with the speed at which the wave front travels. There is no containment in the world that can withstand a detonation shock wave. That is something that the nuclear industry does not want to address but we now have . . . TMI had an explosion but it was a deflagration. Unit I at Fukushima had an explosion but it was a deflagration, a slower moving shock wave. But Unit III's explosion now, by authorities other than Arnie Gundersen, are now calling it a detonation.
HC: Meaning that . . .
AG: Well that means that the shock wave travels faster than the speed of sound and it cracks the concrete or . . .
HC: Yes, but what caused the explosion? You were saying it probably was not a hydrogen explosion. Was it a nuclear excursion?
AG: I think it is something called a prompt moderated criticality.
HC: What is that?
AG: It is not a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb, the rate at which the explosion grows is it doubles every millionth of a second. A prompt moderated criticality doubles every thousandth of a second. You know it is still a blink of an eye. But what you saw at Unit III was a slower doubling than a nuclear bomb, but much faster than a nuclear reactor was designed to . . .
HC: So was it a moderated nuclear explosion?
AG: Moderated means that the neutrons left the uranium atom very fast, but then they bumped into water and they attenuated and became what we call thermal neutrons. We are really getting into a lot of nuclear physics here. But the net effect is that the growth rate of the explosion in Unit III was moderated, which means it doubled every thousandth of a second.
HC: But it was a nuclear explosion, not hydrogen, but nuclear. Would you say that?
AG: In my opinion, it was a prompt moderated criticality. I am not going to call it a nuclear explosion because that would be a prompt UNmoderated criticality and I do not believe that happened.
HC: But it was related to the nuclear fuel.
AG: Yes, but the rate at which it grew, I will not call it a nuclear explosion.
HC: OK, you are being very careful, Arnie. But you still have not answered my question. Is hydrogen still building up in Units I, II, and III?
AG: You are right, I have not answered your question. Yes, the hydrogen still is building up because of electrolysis with water. The gamma rays from the fuel are crashing into water and creating oxygen and hydrogen. So they still have to inject nitrogen into those vessels all the time.
AG: As a matter of fact, just recently they put a little bit too much nitrogen in. They wound up with these puffs of radiation coming out. If they put in too much, they will squeeze too much radiation out. So they are trying to maintain the nitrogen without forcing more and more radiation out. But the containments are leaking like sieves. And again, for 5 or 6 or 7 years they are going to continue to create hydrogen. And the only way to prevent that from exploding again, is to feed in nitrogen, which is inert.
HC: So then there therefore still is a risk of a hydrogen explosion in Units I, II or III?
HC: My God. What about steam explosions? You talked about that initially too, Arnie Gundersen.
AG: Yes, the decay heat is now low enough that the blob is sort of hot but solid, as opposed to molten. So we will not get steam explosions at this point. We are far enough along in the accident where these blobs of nuclear fuel are still physically hot, but not hot enough to turn into molten lava anymore.
HC: OK. Now how much radiation would you estimate is still escaping every day from Units I, II, and III which are leaking like sieves to quote you.
AG: It would not surprise me if it was a billion becquerels a day from both water and gaseous . . . A billion disintegrations per second of radiation in a day. And of course once that billion leaks out, it is going to continue to decay, but just not in the reactor. As it moves around the world, it will continue to decay. Now a billion is a big number but the initial accident had about 12 more zeros behind it. So compared to the first day or week of the initial accident, it is small. But compared to an operating nuclear plant where everything is just fine, it is huge.
HC: A billion becquerels per day. Could you set . . . A billion disintegrations per second, that is not a billion becquerels per day.
AG: No, a billion disintegrations per second per day. So every day they are going to be releasing about a billion becquerels of radiation.
HC: Or one billion becquerels. OK. Because a becquerel is a billion disintegrations per second. So initially, what was the size of the release?
AG: Oh God, it had 15 zeros behind it. I do not even know what that number is.
HC: (counting) One two three, four five six, seven eight nine,
AG: I think they are measuring it in terabecquerels.
HC: What is a terabecquerel?
AG: That is 15 zeros.
HC: 15 zeros.
AG: It was like a hundred thousand terabecquerels. So it is pushing 20 zeros worth of . . .
HC: 20 zeros! 20 zeros per day!
AG: Yes. You put a 1 with 20 zeros behind it and that is roughly . . . I do not have my calculator here with me Helen, but it was a hundred thousand peta becquerels. Now peta is 10 to the 15.
HC: Peta becquerels. So that is one by 10 to the 20, one by 10 to the 20.
AG: Roughly. It is one by 10 to the 18. It really does not matter it is such a huge number.
HC: And what are the elements producing that extraordinary amount of radiation? Name them.
AG: Initially, the initial burst, of course, was xenon and krypton, nobel gasses and you and I talked about that and they are fat soluble and you use them in hospitals to . . .
HC: Very high energy gamma emitters, yes.
AG: Yes. Then of course after that comes the iodine. Now that only has an 8 day half life, but it is selectively absorbed by thyroid. There is a good study out I think last week, that shows in Hiroshima victims, the kids continued to have thyroid problems up into their 50's, 60's and 70's. So it used to be thought that if you got through the first couple of years, you are out of the woods, but for the children, whose thyroid's are growing, apparently that is not true and that they are seeing continual thyroid problems essentially for life for the kids who were attached, who passed that . . . the iodine.
HC: Yes, the children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were affected mostly by external gamma radiation, there was not a lot of internal radiation from radioactive iodine. Even now, so many years later, how many years is it? It is 45, it is . . . 60 years later are still developing thyroid cancers. And one third of thyroid cancers metastasize and kill the patients. But we are now seeing within the first 18 months after Fukushima, they have examined 18,000 children under the age of 15 or 18 in Fukushima Prefecture, sorry 38,000 or so and 36% of them are showing thyroid cysts and/or nodules by ultrasound examination. They are not being biopsied to see if the cells are malignant. That is really gross medical irresponsibility. And they are downplaying it and they are not really informing the parents what it means.
AG: The number I heard in comparison is that a normal population of children of that age have 1%. So clearly this is . . .
HC: This is 36%. That is off the chart. But it is early, see, and you do not expect to see in Chernobyl, they did not see thyroid tumors until 3 to 4 years post accident. This is in the first 18 months. So therefore you would assume that these children got a whopping dose of radioactive iodine into their thyroid glands by inhalation and ingestion of contaminated food. And that is the tip of the iceberg. That indicates that lots of other cancers are going to start developing too, from internal emitters that get into their livers, their heart, their brain, their muscles, their bones and the like.
AG: Yes. So we talked about noble gasses, we talked about iodine and all of the other ones which everybody seems to lump into cesium. But it is cesium 134, cesium 137, it is strontium and rubidium and on and on and on.
HC: Well you are a nuclear engineer. Give us some of the others, just name them Arnie. So people have an idea.
AG: I am most concerned about uranium. We are finding uranium in samples which indicates fuel melt and stuff like that and as a heavy element, we are surprised to be able to pick it up a couple of hundred miles away. One of the samples I took in Tokyo had uranium in it. So that is just an indication of a gross core breech and things like that. So we are finding some data out of Europe that talks about dust in homes and the homes are 100 miles away. And we are looking at per kilogram so for 2.2 pounds, 100,000 disintegrations per second in a kilogram of dust. Now that is a lot of dust. But the Japanese sleep on the floor.
HC: Ummm . . .
AG: So people 100 miles out are sleeping in a radioactive dust that is going to be causing either lung ingestion or mouth ingestion, etc. So they are not out of the woods and so I think you were getting to the point a minute ago that we have got a government that does not want to admit, and a medical community that will march in lockstep with the government unfortunately. I think they have forgotten the hippocratic oath. But they are in a lot of cases, refusing to say that these illnesses are radiation induced.
HC: Well we are not seeing the radiation induced illnesses yet, except for the thyroid abnormalities in these children, although we are now starting to see low white blood cell counts which could be a preliminary indicator of leukemia developing, and apparently abnormal lung function in children. People are reporting a lot of nosebleeds in children which means that their platelet count may be low, damaged by radiation exposure. So there are indicators but you see these are only anecdotes. And in medicine, you cannot just take an anecdote and say look, this is because of this, this and this. You have to do an epidemiological study, compare an exposed population and their diseases to a non-exposed population and that takes many years, (a), (b) it is expensive and ©, at the moment, it does not seem like the doctors want to do that. And the other thing is that I am finding it very difficult to get real data from the hospitals about the actual tests they are doing in their patients and what the real tests are showing. And without that data, I cannot make judgments, nor can any other physician. So we are stumbling around in the dark, not really knowing what is going on, but clearly indicators would suggest that things are looking grim in Japan.
AG: There was a story in the Wall Street Journal just this weekend and basically it came to exactly the opposite conclusion. They said the tragedy of Fukushima is that they shut the nuclear plant down. And they estimate 100 people will be killed over 30 years from the numbers.
AG: I went through this on Three Mile Island as an expert. And the industry did the same thing then. They underestimate the release, they underestimate the dose from the release, they underestimate the population that received the exposure, and they totally forget about internal emitters. And the net affect of that is you come up with these crazy low numbers.
HC: Yes well that article in the Wall Street Journal was written by a physicist. How dare he? He does not understand radiobiology, he is as you say, ignoring internal emitters. How dare he? These people are worse than apologists. I mean you must not lie in science and particularly you must not lie when it comes to medicine. Because if you lie when it comes to medicine, you are going to be damaging or killing patients. If we lied in medicine, we would be de-registered. You cannot practice medicine by lying. These people have no right to even comment because they do not know what they are talking about. Or if they do, they are actually lying and are criminals, I would say. Because by lying, people do not know the truth and they cannot protect themselves or understand and it will . . . The ignorance will lead to illness and possibly death in the future. This is a really, really serious issue Arnie.
AG: The thing that makes me the most upset about the Japanese government and the Japanese infrastructure is, you know doctors all over the world take the hyppocritic oath.
HC: It is not hypocritic, it is hyppocratic! Actually, you are truer: it sounds like hypocritic but it's . . .
AG: You are right, you are right. So they think that they are taking the hyppocritic oath in Japan, apparently.
HC: Yes. (laughter)
AG: Well you are right. It concerns me that doctors are putting the welfare of the state in front of the welfare of their patients.
HC: I know, it just takes my breath away. Now, I have got another question unrelated to what we have been discussing. But it occurred to me in the last week thinking about all this. You know the water they use to cool the spent fuel pool. Is that extremely radioactive? And what happens to it? Does it get recirculated all the time? Is it as radioactive as the water that is used to cool the primary, the reactor itself? The primary coolant? Is the cooling water that cools the spent fuel pool the same level of radiation as the water that is used to cool the reactor?
AG: Unit IV has the least radioactivity in it's . . . compared to the the fuel pools. But all of them run through a filter system and get pumped back in to the reactor so they are much more radioactive than any fuel pool in any picture you see, you know that pristine water in the fuel pool. The fuel is damaged, so clearly it is leaking in the fuel pool. The fuel is destroyed in the nuclear reactor, so clearly it is leaking more. The fuel pools have a separate cooling system from the reactors.
AG: And that water is still clean, is still filtered, but is nowhere near as contaminated from the beginning to the water that is in the reactor. But yes, it is contaminated.
HC: One last question before we end, Arnie Gundersen. What is Japan going to do with all it's radioactive spent fuel?
AG: That is a great question. You know I am going to Japan next week, Aug. 27th to Sept. 7th, and that will be one of the things I am talking about. The nuclear establishment never ever talked about how does this game play out in the end? Where are we going to put the fuel? They always talked about well we can reprocess it. And of course that has not worked. The Monju reactor has had several accidents and is about 100 fold more expensive than anybody thought it would be. On an island that is so seismically faulted, there IS no place to put the fuel. I think they were hoping to send it to Mongolia or something like that.
HC: Oh, really?
AG: Mongolians got smart and said we do not want it. The last move in this game was never thought of in Japan. They never said, we live on the most seismically active piece of rock on the planet. Where are we going to put the fuel? And then work backward from there. Instead they created the plants that created the waste and now people like you and I are asking, what is the end game here? And I do not think anybody knows what the end game is.
HC: I think some people are thinking about sending it to Australia. (laughter)
AG: I firmly believe the Japanese were hoping to export it somewhere. Because every seismologist I have ever spoken to says, there is no place in Japan to put that nuclear waste, that you can assure it will stay out of harms way for a thousand years, let alone a quarter of a million years.
HC: Yes, well you know who built the railway line that transports radioactive waste and will transport it through the center of Australia. Halliburton. You know who was the CEO of Halliburton, don't you Arnie?
AG: Yes, Dick Cheney.
HC: Dick Cheney. Yes, that bodes ill for Australia. They have found a place on aboriginal tribal land just next to that railway line, called Macadie Station, which sits atop a shallow aquifer, which may communicate with our ancient archeological water, the Great Artesian Basin that waters much of the dessert of Australia. And that is where they are proposing to put our small amount of radioactive waste. But there is a deal that seems to be going on between America and Australia called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, signed by George Bush and John Harold, our former Prime Minister that we may be importing other peoples' radioactive waste, including maybe from America. And you could extrapolate and say possibly from Japan because much of the uranium in those reactors was Australian fuel, Australian uranium. So things look grim from every which way at the moment.
AG: You know I have been saying that the proponents of nuclear power say of course it is safe and you got to believe us that we know how to store the nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years. And the same people who are saying that are saying you cannot build solar because we have not figured out a way of storing electricity overnight. (laughter) Well if we can store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, we can certainly figure out a way of storing electricity overnight and go to a renewable economy.
HC: Well we can because solar thermal reactors are now being built in Spain and elsewhere using liquid salt and other such things, molten salt. So that is a furphy (Australian slang for fictitious story) to say that. And I will end by saying what I say to the nuclear industry when they say don't worry, we will work out what to do with the radioactive waste. I say look, that is like me saying to you you have got pancreatic cancer and you will probably die within 6 months, but don't worry, I am a really good doctor; within 20 years I will find the cure. (laughter)
AG: Thank you very much for having me, Helen.
HC: Thank you Arnie once again. We love you.
HC: My guest today on "If You Love This Planet" was Arnie Gundersen, an energy advisor with over 30 years of nuclear power engineering experience in the United States. One of our most popular guests; that is why we keep having him to update us on the Fukushima disaster, which is ongoing for virtually the rest of time, as you heard today.