"Fog of War" begins to part almost a year after the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe began

As first reported by Steve Mufson of the Washington Post on Feb. 7th, transcripts and audio recordings of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission responses to the unfolding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe in the first hours, days, and weeks after March 11, 2011-- recently released in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by journalists and environmentalists -- reveal a state of confused chaos and groping frustration. Clearly, NRC's March 13, 2011 media release, claiming that no harmful levels of Fukushima radioactive fallout would reach U.S. territory, were -- as Beyond Nuclear warned in media interviews at the time -- at best premature (as a number of large-scale explosions were yet to happen, and meltdowns were still very much underway). However, the recently released documentation reveals that a strong element of deception was also at work, as NRC was aware that Alaska could experience plumes of radioactive Iodine-131, hazardous to human thyroid glands. An NRC official referred to the proposal -- from a U.S. Department of Energy ad hoc emergency response think tank -- to use a shaped charge to blow a hole through a radiological containment structure, in order to create a pathway for cooling water flow to a melting down reactor core, as "madness."

As revealed by a Feb. 22nd New York Times article by Matt Wald, as well as a transcript uncovered by Scott Portzline of Three Mile Island Alert, NRC was very much in spin mode, worried about the political ramifications and public perceptions in response to the unfolding radioactive calamity. The latter transcript could be entitled "How many NRC staff does it take to make a hole?" Several NRC staff spend pages of transcript just over a week into the nuclear catatrophe discussing how to enlarge a hole in the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor building's roof, in order to "vent" explosive hydrogen gas, partly to avoid the "political" fallout of yet another large-scale explosion broadcast worldwide on live t.v. Frighteningly, deputy administrator Chuck Casto of NRC's Western U.S. regional office suggests using a helicopter to drop or slam a heavy weight, such as a colorfully named "Bambi bucket" (a large water filled container used for fighting forest fires), above or beside the irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool. Apparently, Casto was unfamiliar with 2001 and 1997 NRC reports, as cited in the 2003 Alvarez et al. study about pool fire risks, warning that a "heavy load drop" that drains a storage pool's cooling water could cause a radioactive waste inferno releasing up to 100% of the irradiated nuclear fuel's volatile Cesium-137, resulting in 25,000 to 143,000 latent cancer deaths downwind, up to 2,700 square miles of agricultural land condemned, and economic costs due to evacuation into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In addition, National Public Radio's "Marketplace" has just posted audio recordings of NRC discussions.

When it comes to NRC FOIA responses, "patience is a virtue." NRC's FOIA office has told Beyond Nuclear that its requests for documentation on the Davis-Besse atomic reactor's cracked containment will take four months to provide. Even worse, NRC's FOIA office has told Beyond Nuclear that there is no date certain for responding to a request for documentation on allegations that NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV regularly meets with nuclear industry representatives "off campus," in violation of norms -- and perhaps even laws and regulations -- pertaining to open, transparent, and accountable government, principles promised by President Barack Obama within hours of taking office in January 2009.


Arnie Gundersen at the Japan National Press Club

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen (pictured at left) of Fairewinds Associates in Vermont, who has become regarded as a regular, trusted expert on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catrastrophe and other nuclear power matters by such national media outlets as CNN, just presented at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. Over 80 journalists were present. Arnie presented on various aspects of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, including the ongoing risks associated with GE Mark I BWR atomic reactors. A video recording of Arnie's presentation and the question and answer session is viewable online at Fairewinds' website.


Congressman Kucinich outs the truth at Davis-Besse

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH, pictured at left) has watchdogged the dangerous Davis-Besse atomic reactor not for years, but for decades. Most recently, he has played the essential role of pressuring both FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) and even the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to admit the truth about what is going on with Davis-Besse's cracked containment. With the backing of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, Rep. Kucinich succeeded in winning a public meeting near Davis-Besse on Jan. 5th, where FENOC was forced to admit the cracking was not just in "decorative" elements of the concrete shield building, as it had deceptively held to for months, but rather was structural in nature.

On Feb. 8th, Rep. Kucinich revealed the full significance of cracking in the "outer rebar mat": NRC had concluded by Jan. 5th, if not weeks earlier, that the outer layer of steel reinforcement in Davis-Besse's concrete shield building has lost its functional effectiveness. Outrageously, at least up until Dec. 29, 2011, NRC continued to parrot FENOC's claims that the cracking impacted only "decorative" elements. And at the Jan. 5th "standing room only" public meeting attended by 300 people, including dozens of reporters, NRC failed to communicate to the public the full significance of cracking in the outer rebar mat. In fact, NRC still has not done so.

On Feb. 21st, Rep. Kucinich asked "The question for residents of Ohio is given FirstEnergy’s historical lack of credibility on issues at Davis-Besse, will anyone believe them?" He was referring to a "root cause analysis" by FENOC due by Feb. 28th about the cracking. Read more.


Beyond Nuclear quoted on Palisades' radioactive risks

Anti-nuke watchdogs have long called for Palisades' shut down. Here Don't Waste Michigan board members Michael Keegan, Alice Hirt, and Kevin Kamps speak out at the 2000 Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp, with the reactor's steam and Lake Michigan in the background.In the past five days, Rosemary Parker at the Kalamazoo Gazette has quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps in two articles focused on the radioactive risks of the Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline. On. Feb. 19th, in an article entitled "Is Southwest Michigan ready for nuclear emergency?", she reported:

'...But nuclear watchdog groups point to the hundreds of hours of additional oversight required by the NRC, the plant's aging equipment, the many glitches at the plant in recent months. The group Beyond Nuclear immediately responded to the change of Palisade's regulatory status with calls to "close it down before it melts down."

...Kevin Kamps, whose title is "radioactive waste watchdog" for the antinuclear group Beyond Nuclear, envisions a more unnerving worst-case scenario, akin to the disastrous 1986 explosion at  Chernobyl in Ukraine, where radioactive contamination was released into the atmosphere and traveled for miles.

In his view, disaster at Palisades could put the city of Chicago's drinking water supply at risk, wipe out Southwest Michigan's fruit belt orchards, destroy the area's tourism industry for years and make ghost towns out of thriving lakeshore communities.'

Parker also quoted Kevin's response to recent high-risk accidents at Palisades in a Feb. 16th article.

Kevin was born and raised in Kalamazoo. His anti-nuclear power activism began at Palisades in 1992.


Nuclear fuel at 11 Westinghouse PWRs at risk of dangerously overheating

As reported by Reuters, the NRC has issued a media release admitting that 11 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) using Westinghouse nuclear fuel are at risk of "thermal conductivity degradation" -- that is, they could dangerously overheat during an accident. The 11 PWRs are located at the following nuclear power plants: FirstEnergy's Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania, Exelon's Byron in Illinois, Duke Energy's Catawba in South Carolina and McGuire in North Carolina, American Electric Power's Cook in Michigan, and Dominion's Kewaunee in Wisconsin.

The NRC release stated:  "The NRC alerted the industry to this problem in 2009, and Westinghouse needs to do more to account for thermal conductivity degradation in its fuel performance codes," said Eric Leeds, director of the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. "We need assurances from a few nuclear power plants licensees to maintain assurance that they can continue to operate safely with sufficient margin." Despite already having given industry three years to respond, NRC is still giving them another month to do so now.

However, NRC's current limit of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit for nuclear fuel cladding has been challenged by 10CFR2.206 emergency enforcement petitions filed by concerned citizens. They pointed to data from Germany that showed that ziroconium in fuel rod cladding is dangerously unstable at a significantly lower temperature

Along these lines, the NRC mentioned cryptically at the end of its release: "An additional 23 plants that use Westinghouse performance models also received information copies of the RFI [Request for Proposal], to ensure that they are aware of their obligations to address this error."

In early 2006, Toshiba of Japan acquired Westinghouse. In the early to mid-1970s, Toshiba was the reactor supplier and architect for Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3, the atomic reactor that suffered the worst explosion during the catastrophe; its reactor building now resembles a pile of twisted ruins.