NIRS Telebriefing: Arnie discusses Nuclear Disasters

Spring: The Season of Nuclear Disaster – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi was the title of the April 4, 2017 tele-briefing hosted by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and guest speaker Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen. Hosted by Tim Judson, NIRS executive director, Arnie discusses the myths of atomic energy, the ins and outs of each disaster, and his own personal experiences with assessing the industry failures and magnitude of each disaster. At the end of his presentation, Arnie and Tim also answered questions from listeners in this enlightening segment.

IAEA chief urges global support for decommissioning Fukushima plant

Efforts to scrap the nuclear plant “extremely difficult” an understatement for yet impossible.

This is an admission . After 6 years wasted in lies and obfuscation, they finally admit that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is not resolved, far from being resolved, that they can’t handle it on their own, and need all the help they can get from the international community to find solutions to contain this major nuclear disaster.


International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano has called for international cooperation in the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex.

It is important to gather as much knowledge as possible from around the world and engage in the (decommissioning) with the cooperation of the global community,” Amano said at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, calling efforts to scrap the nuclear plant “extremely difficult.”

While reiterating his agency’s support for dealing with the Fukushima plant, he said getting the international community to work together will serve as a good “reference” in the event other countries carry out their own decommissioning work.

The Fukushima crisis, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, resulted in meltdowns at three reactors after a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Decommissioning the crippled reactors is expected to take 30 to 40 years and the total cost has been estimated by the Japan Center for Economic Research, a private think tank, at ¥11 trillion ($98.9 billion), while a government panel estimated the total cost at ¥8 trillion.

Amano also expressed concern over the threat to regional security posed by North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests and missile launches, saying the IAEA was ready to immediately send inspectors to North Korea, even for a brief period.

In 2009, North Korea kicked out the IAEA’s monitoring staff from its Yongbyon nuclear facility. Last year alone, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and test-fired more than 20 ballistic missiles.


Fukushima’s Ice-wall Blossoming or Not?



Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, it was rapidly discovered that owing to the unfortunate location of the plant and its construction, its buildings’ basements had become flooded by groundwater ingress, which subsequently became highly contaminated. In order to avoid reverse diffusion of the contaminated water into the environment, those managing the site were compelled to continually pump out and treat the contaminated water, at a rate commensurate with its inflow. It was anticipated or perhaps it would be better stated as ‘earnestly hoped’, that by keeping the water level in the flooded building basement below ground water levels that contamination would not defuse out of the flooded basement. Naturally as a consequence TEPCO are accumulating and endeavouring to store and decontaminate the net amount of water ingress each day.

To facilitate containment necessary for the safe decommissioning of the immediately contaminated reactor buildings in September 2013 TEPCO commissioned the construction of their controversial ‘ice-wall’.[1] Installation of the facilities to create the ice-wall commenced in June 2014 and was completed on February 9, 2016 at an estimated to cost some ¥34.5 billion (circa $339 million). Activation was on March 31, 2016, with commencement of the freezing of the seaward side wall. Freezing of the land-side wall commenced on June 6, 2016, with the secondary phase of sealing the last openings in the land side wall commencing on December 2, 2016. At this point we should note that the ice-wall in not penetrating to the depth of the aquifer, has no base to its containment, thus the wall is little more than a skirt, with water free to percolate in and out from below the contaminated site.

We now find ourselves in the spring of 2017, with the ice-wall’s chillier plant having run flat out for a year with seemingly little net impact on water ingress. Frustrated by this apparent lack of progress, on December 26, 2016 the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) citing “limited, if any effects,” advised TEPCO that the “frozen soil wall” should be relegated to a secondary role in reducing contaminated groundwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.[2] Yet TEPCO still persisted in asserting that the ice-wall was effective stating “We are seeing certain results.” Which begs the questions: What results were they seeing and as TEPCO’s response would suggest, have the NRA been too presumptive in dismissing the ice-wall’s impact and groundwater ingress? Or perhaps TEPCO’s engineers, being so bought into their radical ice-wall concept they don’t want to ‘lose face’ or perhaps they have simply lost the plot?

In a bid to head of criticising of their activities for being less than transparent and tardy in properly advising the public, TEPCO have conveniently put certain of their findings into the public domain, in the form of press releases.[3] From this data, it’s possible to get a rudimentary grasp of what’s going on beneath TEPCO’s ice-wall. Regular updates on volumes of contaminated waters pumped from drainage wells and the reactor buildings’ basement, along with local rainfall have been regularly published. These indicated the seasonal cycle of rainfall in the Fukushima area and further show a relationship between local rainfall and the volumes of water, (Figure 1).

Figure 1


Working on the basis of the limited available data and an anticipated lag between rain falling and its impact on groundwater, and assuming a direct relationship between water ingress and the total amount of water transferred or pumped out of the system, we can drive a relationship between the averaged daily water transfer (a measure of approximate water ingress) and the rainfall total for the prior month, (Figure 2). These criteria show very plausible cause effect linear correlation (i.e. of the type, y = mx + c), (Figure 3). Thus, we can envisage the contributions to groundwater flow within the aquifer beneath Fukushima being comprised of two portions (a) a large steady flow arising from rainfall which may have fallen years to decades ago on the mountains to the west of the site and equating to the linear equation’s constant and (b) a highly variable amount of flow arising from recent rainfall, predominantly within the last month.

Figure 2

Figure 3



Whilst the linear relationship between the phenomena is simplistic, on the available data application of 2nd or 3rd order polynomial curve fitting does not give any significant improved correlation coefficient (R). Given we have identified the correlation and observe seasonality, we can factor out the seasonality and project rolling annualised rainfall and water transfer (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Within the scope of natural variance, the annualised rainfall at Fukushima shows no significant long term trend, being flat and circa 1.5 metres per year. The water transfer level does show some improvement and notwithstanding the slightly higher than average autumnal rains in 2016, water transfer levels are on the decline. Alas given the magnitude of that decline in relation to that hoped for by the ice-wall’s advocates to 50 tonnes per day, it was understandable that the NRA were rather less than impressed.

We also have to consider that our original correlation between rainfall and implied water ingress was conducted on all available data. The reality is several operational events were being executed over the period, such as the commencement of 24 hour pumping from inland relief wells with the aim of reducing groundwater around the stricken buildings, as well as the phased installation of the ice-wall itself. Thus our initial correlation is a composite of parallel events. If we reapply our linear relationship model on a rolling 12 monthly period, to exclude any rainfall seasonality, we see some interesting features, (Figure 5). 

Figure 5

Had the ice-wall achieve a positive effect we should observed both a reduction in total amount of water transferred (y) being made up by a reduction in the overall basal flow (c) and of course a reduction in the recent rainfall component as reflected in a reduction of its independent variable (m). We see a reduction in apparent basal flow. As this reduction has occurred in isolation with the independent variable increasing over time, we can attribute reduction in ‘c’ in good measure to the impact relief wells. However, the overall amount of water being pumped out of the stricken buildings has remained high and it has done so because the aquifer has become more susceptible to the impact of recent rainfall. This suggests that the aquifer adjacent the site has become more porous and not less porous over the last few years. Had the ice-wall had a positive effect, a decline in the independent variable ‘m’ over time should be observed.

I would conjecture that if such is the case what could have caused this effect. It is possible that the installation of the coolant pipe-work has caused significant sub-soil disturbance, coupled with the degradation of the substrate rock texture by ground heave. The above should effectively have been self repaired when the ice-barrier froze. However, in this circumstance, owing to the size of the ice-wall and it lack of capacity to freeze the entire depth of the aquifer, it is likely that the aquifer disruption at its margins has resulted in increased porosity in the aquifer directly beneath the wall. Furthermore, given that the wall is incomplete and operating at the extent of its capacity, and that the site is subject to seasonal warming, and has had operational outages it is highly likely that the freeze thaw cycling peripheral to the ice-wall has cause deterioration to the aquifers subsoil texture and cohesion, thereby giving rise to localised increase porosity of the aquifer. As such I am not of the opinion that the installation of the ice-wall has had a ‘limited impact’. I believe it has had a ‘significant and negative impact’ on the porosity of the aquifer local to the site of contamination, and I believe it has added circa 20% to the volume of contaminated water generated since its installation.

But there again, that’s just one persons musings and opinion, and I dare say other will disagree and think I’m writing bollocks. Either way, I would be fascinated to see what “certain results” the TEPCO engineers saw. And if what they saw was good, I’d like a double of whatever they’d been drinking…

[1] 11 July 2016, ‘Fukushima’s Ice-Wall a Fridge Too Far’ Peter J. Hurley,

[2] December 27, 2016 Kohei T., The Asahi Shimbun ‘NRA: Ice wall effects ‘limited’ at Fukushima nuclear plant’:


Nuclear Reactor Design Chosen – Not Because It Was Safe – But Because It Worked On Navy Submarines

From June 20, 2011

Virtually all of the nuclear reactors in the U.S. are of the same archaic design as those at Fukushima (Indeed, MSNBC notes that there are 23 U.S. reactors which are more or less identical to those at Fukushima.)

Called “light-water reactors”, this design was not chosen for safety reasons. Rather, it was chosen because it worked in Navy submarines.

Specifically, as the Atlantic reported in March:

In the early years of atomic power, as recounted by Alvin Weinberg, head of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in his book The First Nuclear Era, there was intense competition to come up with the cheapest, safest, best nuclear reactor design.

Every variable in building an immensely complex industrial plant was up for grabs: the nature of the radioactive fuel and other substances that form the reactor’s core, the safety systems, the containment buildings, the construction substances, and everything else that might go into building an immensely complex industrial plant. The light water reactor became the technological victor, but no one is quite sure whether that was a good idea.

Few of these alternatives were seriously investigated after light water reactors were selected for Navy submarines by Admiral Hyman Rickover. Once light water reactors gained government backing and the many advantages that conferred, other designs could not break into the market, even though commercial nuclear power wouldn’t explode for years after Rickover’s decision. “There were lots and lots of ideas floating around, and they essentially lost when light water came to dominate,” University of Strasbourg professor Robin Cowan told the Boston Globe in an excellent article on “technological lock-in” in the nuclear industry.

As it turned out, there were real political and corporate imperatives to commercialize nuclear power with whatever designs were already to hand. It was geopolitically useful for the United States to show they could offer civilian nuclear facilities to its allies and the companies who built the plants (mainly GE and Westinghouse) did not want to lose the competitive advantage they’d gained as the contractors on the Manhattan Project. Those companies stood to make much more money on nuclear plants than traditional fossil fuel-based plants, and they had less competitors. The invention and use of the atomic bomb weighed heavily on the minds of nuclear scientists. Widespread nuclear power was about the only thing that could redeem their role in the creation of the first weapon with which it was possible to destroy life on earth. In other words, the most powerful interest groups surrounding the nuclear question all wanted to settle on a power plant design and start building.


President Lyndon Johnson and his administration sent the message that we were going to use nuclear power, and it would be largely through the reactor designs that already existed, regardless of whether they had the best safety characteristics that could be imagined. [Nixon also fired the main government scientist developing safer types of reactors, because he was focused on safety instead of sticking with Nixon’s favored reactors.] We learned in later years that boiling water reactors like Fukushima are subject to certain types of failure under very unusual circumstances, but we probably would have discovered such problems if we’d explored the technical designs for longer before trying to start building large numbers of nuclear plants.

The Atomic Energy Commission’s first general manager – MIT professor Carroll Wilson – confirmed in 1979:

The pressurized water reactor was peculiarly suitable and necessary for a submarine power plant where limitations of space and wieght were extreme. So as interest in the civilian use of nuclear power began to grow, it was natural to consider a system that had already proven reliable in submarines. This was further encouraged by the fact that the Atomic Energy Commission provided funds to build the first civilian nuclear power plant … using essentially the same system as the submarine power plant. Thus it was that a pressurized light water system became the standard model for the world. Although other kinds of reactors were under development in different countries, there was a rapid scale-up of of the pressurized water reactor and a variant called the boiling water reactor developed by General Electric. These became the standard types for civilian power plants. in the United States and were licensed to be built in France, Germany, Japan and elsewhere.

If one had started to design a civilian electric power plant without the constraints of weight and space as required by the submarine, quite different criteria would apply.

(Wilson also notes that the engineers who built the original reactors didn’t really think about the waste or other basic parts of the plants’ life cycle.)

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that there was another reason why all safer alternative designs – including thorium reactors – were abandoned:

The plans were shelved because thorium does not produce plutonium for bombs.

As Boing Boing notes:

Reactors like this [are] flawed in some ways that would be almost comical, were it not for the risk those flaws impart. Maybe you’ve wondered over the past couple of weeks why anyone would design a nuclear reactor that relied on external generators to power the pumps for it’s emergency cooling system. In a real emergency, isn’t there a decent chance that the backup generators would be compromised, as well?

It’s a good question. In fact, modern reactor designs have solved that very problem, by feeding water through the emergency cooling system using gravity, rather than powered pumps. Newer designs are much safer, and more reliable. But we haven’t built any of them in the United States …

Not the Navy’s Fault

This is in no way a criticism of the U.S. Navy or its submarine reactors. As a reader comments:

There are some things to know about Navy reactors:

  1. They don’t store thirty years worth of used, spent fuel rods next to the reactor.

  2. They don’t continue to operate a reactor that had a design life of 25 years for 60 years.

  3. The spent fuel pool is back on land on a base somewhere.

(In addition, the reactors on subs are much smaller than commercial reactors, and so have almost no consequences for the civilian population if they meltdown. And if an accident were to happen on a nuclear sub, the sub would likely sink or at least flood, presumably keeping the reactor from melting down in the first place.)

There Are No Independent Regulators and No Real Safety Standards

But at least the government compensates for the inherently unsafe design of these reactors by requiring high safety and maintenance standards.

Unfortunately, no …

As AP notes today:

Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards or simply failing to enforce them.


Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised so plants could meet standards.


Records show a recurring pattern: reactor parts or systems fall out of compliance with the rules; studies are conducted by the industry and government; and all agree that existing standards are “unnecessarily conservative.’’

Regulations are loosened, and the reactors are back in compliance.

Of course, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – like all nuclear “agencies” worldwide – is 100% captured and not an independent agency, and the NRC has never denied a request for relicensing old, unsafe nuclear plants.

Indeed, Senator Sanders says that the NRC pressured the Department of Justice to sue the state of Vermont after the state and its people rejected relicensing of the Vermont Yankee plant, siding with the nuclear operator instead. The Nation notes:

Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action Kyoto, met Fukushima plant and government officials in August 2010. “At the plant they seemed to dismiss our concerns about spent fuel pools,” said Mioko Smith. “At the prefecture, they were very worried but had no plan for how to deal with it.”

Remarkably, that is the norm—both in Japan and in the United States. Spent fuel pools at Fukushima are not equipped with backup water-circulation systems or backup generators for the water-circulation system they do have.

The exact same design flaw is in place at Vermont Yankee, a nuclear plant of the same GE design as the Fukushima reactors. At Fukushima each reactor has between 60 and 83 tons of spent fuel rods stored next to them. Vermont Yankee has a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods on site.

Nuclear safety activists in the United States have long known of these problems and have sought repeatedly to have them addressed. At least get backup generators for the pools, they implored. But at every turn the industry has pushed back, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has consistently ruled in favor of plant owners over local communities.

After 9/11 the issue of spent fuel rods again had momentary traction. Numerous citizen groups petitioned and pressured the NRC for enhanced protections of the pools. But the NRC deemed “the possibility of a terrorist attack…speculative and simply too far removed from the natural or expected consequences of agency action.” So nothing was done—not even the provision of backup water-circulation systems or emergency power-generation systems.

As an example of how dangerous American nuclear reactors are, AP noted in a report Friday that 75 percent of all U.S. nuclear sites have leaked radioactive tritium.

Indeed, because of poor design, horrible safety practices, and no real regulation, a U.S. nuclear accident could be a lot worse than Fukushima.


Robots expected to play key role in Fukushima decommissioning, but challenges remain

09 04 2017.jpg

As decommissioning work at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant continues, remote control robots are expected to play an important role in the decommissioning process. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the development of these robots faces huge challenges, such as high levels of radiation within the nuclear reactors, as well as a lack of information.

Among the robots that have been designed to carry out decommissioning work is the “muscle robot.” Developed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, Ltd., the body and limbs of the muscle robot can be controlled with a device that one might typically find attached to a video game console. Another type of robot acts like a crab with claws that can be used to grasp metallic pipes and snap them using a blade positioned on one of its claws. These robots are also able to smash concrete, using a special drill that can be placed at the end of the arm — like something out of a Hollywood movie.

Looking ahead, the government and TEPCO are aiming to start removing the melted nuclear fuel inside the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2021, after announcing exactly how they plan to do so over the summer. Although knowledge regarding the matter is limited, it seems that the melted nuclear fuel in the reactors has cooled and solidified, and the prototypes of the robots have been produced based on the assumption that the devices need to break down and remove such hardened fuel.

The robots’ parts are connected together with springs, and are driven using hydraulic power. One of the main advantages of this system is that they are hardly affected by radiation. There are six types of robot in total, such as the “spider-style” robot which has six arms and legs (length 2.8 meters, width 2 meters, weight 50 kilograms), as well as a “tank-style” robot (length 4.35 meters, width 63 centimeters, weight 700 kilograms), which runs on a conveyor belt. The tank-style robot is capable of lifting objects weighing up to 50 kilograms. A representative from Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy states determinedly, “I want the muscle robots to remove the melted nuclear fuel.”

However, the process will not be plain sailing. While the bodies of these robots are resistant to radiation, their cameras are somewhat vulnerable. It has been found that the electronic hardware in the cameras breaks easily after being exposed to radiation. For example, when a “cleaning robot” was sent into the No. 2 reactor on Feb. 9, 2017, the camera broke after about two hours after being exposed up to an estimated 650 sieverts per hour of radiation. The camera part of the robot is essential because without it, images cannot be transmitted back to the control room.

To solve this problem, ideas such as placing a metallic plate near the camera that would block out radiation have been discussed, but it is feared that this would make the robot heavier and interfere with its operations. As a Hitachi representative states, “If one were to use an analogy to describe the current development stage in human terms, then we have entered elementary school. We’d like to continue our work, believing we can develop usable robots.” It is clear that a trial-and-error process is very much underway, as the robot developers try their best to achieve perfection.

It will not be an easy road though. Hajime Asama, professor at the University of Tokyo and a member of the Technology Advisory Committee of the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), states, “Robots are usually developed based on confirmation of what exactly lies in the reactors. However, in the case of the No. 1 power plant, no matter how hard you try to predict what is in there, there are often unexpected elements waiting.”

In the No. 2 reactor, a “scorpion-style robot” was sent in on Feb. 16, as a follow-up to the cleaning robot but it got trapped by deposits on the conveyor belt, and came to a halt. The presence of these kinds of deposits was unexpected at the stage when the robot was being designed. Too much is still unknown about the situation inside the reactors, making robot design difficult. Later this month, a “wakasagi ice fishing-type robot” is expected to be placed inside the No. 1 reactor, but it is feared that the same problems that were experienced in the No. 2 reactor will emerge once again.

In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence has been expected to play a key role but a number of unexpected problems have made progress in this area difficult. What is needed is technology that can be controlled remotely by people with flexible judgment. However, professor Asama believes that, “The reactors inside the No. 1 plant are full of unknown challenges. We have no choice but to use our available knowledge to create robots that can deal with these problems.”

Russia’s Rosatom Discusses Projects on Fukushima Disaster Cleanup With Japan


During the visit to Japan, Russia’s Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation’s delegation discussed with Japanese partners possible projects on elimination of consequences of Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster, Rosatom said Saturday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Rosatom’s delegation headed by CEO Alexey Likhachev visited Japan on April 4-7 to discuss the Japanese-Russian memorandum on cooperation in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy, which was signed in December 2016.

“Special attention was paid to the cooperation in overcoming the consequences of the Fukushima accident with the use of Russian technologies in terms of handling nuclear waste and pulling nuclear facilities out of operation…. In particular, opportunities for implementation of projects concerning the problem of melted fuel extraction and rehabilitation of polluted territories were discussed with Japanese partners,” the statement on Rosatom’s website read.

According to the statement, the delegation also visited Fukushima NPP to get acquainted with the current situation and the work on recovery from the accident.

In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Fukushima NPP, leading to the leakage of radioactive materials and the shutdown of the plant. The accident is considered to be the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl accident that took place in the Soviet Ukraine in 1986.

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Japan’s research institution Mitsubishi chose two Rosatom subsidiaries, RosRAO and Techsnabexport to take part in the efforts to eliminate the consequences of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

The fallout of a damaged reactor versus the fallout of an atomic bomb



Translation from french by Hervé Courtois

By AIPRI, the International Association for the Protection against Ionizing Rays.

The purpose of the AIPRI is to provide scientific disclosure in the field of nuclear physics and the radiological hazards of internal contamination.

While it is undeniable that the fallout to the ground during the few hours following the explosion of an atomic bomb is conducive to cause acute irradiations for a few days, more than the fallout of a damaged reactor, it is equally undeniable that the fallout from a damaged reactor causes a considerably higher number of deferred victims for the simple reason that it releases a much larger and more toxic mass of “lasting” fission products than does a single atomic bomb and also more heavily contaminates a much larger territory.

Clearly, Chernobyl scattered at least 24.6 kilograms of cesium 137, while a plutonium device of 22 kt disseminates 47.6 grams. Chernobyl dispersed more than 16 kilograms of plutonium 239 into fine particles, while a device with a 10% fission yield dropped 11 kg in the environment (The bombs only work in excess of their fission output and spoil a lot of the goods, which is why they disseminated 50 tons of “unconsumed” plutonium nanoparticles during the nuclear weapon tests).

To count only the few hundred early victims of the acute irradiations of each one is to demonstrate a satanic malfeasance and an infatuation unparalleled for falsification and death for it is tantamount to spitting out an abject gall on the countless liquidators who prematurely disappeared to whom we owe our lives and to eradicate the millions and millions of anonymous, proven, programmed and calculated victims of this endless nuclear tragedy.

Yet this is known. An atomic reactor is continuously fissioning and accumulates more lasting” fission products every day. A reactor saves and in fact continuously grows its secular toxic capital. On the other hand, a bomb fission instantaneously but without ever accumulating anything.

This is the reason why the fallout from both of them if they are for the whole made of the same radioelements are not however at all in the same proportions and therefore do not have the same lasting radiotoxicity which is of course the most dangerous because it acts over centuries and centuries.

Comparing one to the other is thus already in itself a somewhat hazardous exercise, moreover, to take into account only the victims of the acute irradiations of both to confront the dangerousness is a criminal scam whose ultimate goal is the concealment of the millions of deferred victims of this modern civil and military nuclear tragedy.

Post scriptu:

Cs137 by kt for a load of Pu239
1.444E + 23 at./kt * 6.58% Rdf = 9.50E21 Cs137 * 7.312E-10 λ = 6.947E12 Bq / kt either 6.95 TBq or 187.82 Ci / kt for 2.16 g / Kt