TEPCO Downplays Huge Risks Involved in Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods

  November 24, 2013

TEPCO Downplays Huge Risks Involved in Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods

Arnie Gundersen: Agencies overseeing cleanup like the IAEA are biased towards defending and promoting nuclear power
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Arnie Gundersen has over 40-years of nuclear power engineering experience. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where he earned his Bachelor Degree cum laude while also becoming the recipient of a prestigious Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship for his Master Degree in nuclear engineering. Arnie holds a nuclear safety patent, was a licensed reactor operator, and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. During his nuclear power industry career, Arnie also managed and coordinated projects at 70-nuclear power plants in the US.


TEPCO Downplays Huge Risks Involved in Removing Fukushima Fuel RodsJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Monday, November 18, Tokyo Electric began the long-delayed process of removing spent fuel rods from the damaged Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, this process beginning what is said to be a possible decades-long procedure.

With us to discuss the high-stakes operation going on there is Arnie Gundersen. He has over 40 years of experience working in nuclear power engineering, and he was a licensed reactor operator and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president.

Thanks for joining us, Arnie.


DESVARIEUX: So, Arnie, you recently released a video explaining how an animated video from Tokyo Electric Power Company misrepresented the highly dangerous and difficult cleanup task ahead of them. At the end of last week, Tokyo Electric reported that they successfully removed nuclear fuel rods from reactor 4. Is this a good sign? Or do you feel like they are overplaying this a bit?

GUNDERSEN: I think they've overplayed the video, certainly. You know, it seemed like one of these product promotions from the 1950s where we have to trust Tokyo Electric. These are the same people that let rats eat the wires on their cooling pumps and are releasing huge amounts of radiation into the Pacific. And now we're supposed to trust them on something that's more complex and potentially more dangerous. So it's--I think, had--the work needs to be done. There's no doubt that the fuel has to come out of there. But I just have no faith that Tokyo Electric has the competence and the capacity to do it right.

DESVARIEUX: And how is this more complex and more dangerous?

GUNDERSEN: Well, this thing had a huge earthquake. The fuel in the fuel pool was knocked side to side in the earthquake. The waves in the fuel pool were three feet high during the earthquake. So think of your backyard swimming pool suddenly having a three-foot wave and realize how violently the ground was moving.

So, first off, the racks rattled side to side. There was another reactor in Japan at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa on the other coast that experienced an earthquake a couple of years ago, and the racks became distorted. It's like a pack of cigarettes. And if it's a fresh pack, you can pull the cigarettes and it out. But if it's a crushed pack, the cigarettes get stuck. So the first problem is that these things have been beat up by the earthquake, and at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa they jammed some of the fuel.

But then on top of that, here at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4, the roof collapsed on top and damaged the racks with the girders falling on it. I built these racks when I was a senior vice president in the industry, and the tolerances are very, very high tolerance. So they have to pull these things out now. And with the roof rubble in it, the friction to try to pull these out is going to be hard. And I'm afraid they might snap one.

DESVARIEUX: And now there's actually a team of 19 expert representatives from the IAEA that will be arriving in Japan to monitor the cleanup. They're arriving on Tuesday, November 26. Does this mean we will get a clearer picture of what is actually going on there?

GUNDERSEN: Well, the International Atomic Energy Agency is chartered by the United Nations to promote nuclear power. Yeah, you can go up online and look up--it's Article II of the IAEA's charter, and it's crystal clear that their job is to promote. You know, so what we think of as the guard dog is going to show up and make sure the Japanese do it right, in fact it's the lapdog is going to show up. And they have never, you know, for the 40 years Tokyo Electric was mismanaging this project, they never slapped Tokyo Electric on the wrist and told them they were doing it wrong.

DESVARIEUX: And, Arnie, I want to get your comments on this comment that was made by the chairman of the Fukushima monitoring committee, Dale Klein. He's the former chief nuclear watchdog. He recently told Australian television that Fukushima's radioactive water will be dumped into the Pacific Ocean. Haven't they already been dumping treated radioactive water? And is this something that we should really be concerned about?

GUNDERSEN: Well, you know, Dale Klein has a long history of being a nuclear promoter. Your readers might want to go up and look for a story online called "Will Shill for Nukes" that talks about Dale Klein's involvement in being a nuclear promoter.

But, you know, the radiation that's getting out of those tanks now is leaking because the tanks are so poorly constructed. You know, what Dale Klein is now suggesting is that we're just going to take it and pump it into the Pacific. And I don't think that's a very good idea. It's cheap and it's fast, it's the expedient way of doing it, but really there's something called the London dumping convention. And back in 1972, Greenpeace was very active in preventing radiation from being dumped into the ocean and to my way of thinking, this would violate the London Dumping Convention if they did it.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Arnie Gundersen, thank you so much for joining us.

GUNDERSEN: Thanks for having me, and have a happy Thanksgiving from the people at Fairewinds.

DESVARIEUX: And same to you. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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