Fukushima FOIA Docs Part 7: We made the Onion!

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This post is part of an on-going series originally posted at DailyKos and republished by Enformable with permission of the author.  Through the series the author highlights and comments on FOIA documents released by the NRC in response to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster.

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In this, the 7th installment in my series examining documents released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Lucas W. Hixson in response to his FOIA request, the timeline remains late March to the first days of April. I will be focusing on documents detailing issues having to do with public information and information control during this important period of time in the course of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi.

In previous installments it was established that officials were prepared for plume landfall on the west coast of the U.S. mainland on March 16th, after measuring worrisome levels of iodine-131 at Midway and the Aleutians of Alaska. The EPA’s RadNet monitors were linked for public access on a real-time constant read basis, and a great many people all over the country were paying close attention. UC Berkeley was measuring radiation in California, as were Diablo Canyon and San Onofre NPPs.

To set the scenario on this aspect of the overall disaster, we’ll pick up on March 23, exactly one week after the plumes of contamination from Fukushima began dumping fallout on the United States, and after EPA began taking individual monitors here and there across the country off-line when they measured way more radiation than EPA (and everyone else involved) wanted the public to know about. EPA decided in April to take all their monitors off-line and go back to their usual quarterly (once every three months) reads, in conjunction with the FDA’s determination to cut back their monitoring of food, milk and water. They all claimed that this was done because radiation levels were too low to matter, despite the pegging of monitors and increasing levels being reported by nuclear licensees across the country.

First and foremost, it needs to be understood that the EPA – Environmental Protection Agency – maintains much, much lower limits for radioactivity in air, food and water than does the FDA – Food and Drug Administration. This is because the two agencies are concerned with different duties. The EPA’s limit of 3 picocuries of iodine-131 per liter in water/milk presumes long-term exposure over years – leading to a high lifetime internal dose, while the FDA’s much higher limit for iodine-131 of 4700 picocuries per liter is simply a threshold for agency intervention based onacute (short term) dosage. Thus EPA would intervene to stop a leak that resulted in 3 pci/l in a water source, but the FDA would completely ignore 4699 pci/l in water or milk as not an issue of concern requiring intervention. From this it is not difficult to see that protecting the health of the public – including unborn and newborn babies – from dangerous levels of the most limiting isotope produced by nuclear fission reactions is not really something the Food and Drug Administration takes very seriously.

IOW, you’d have to live right next door to a melting reactor that they’ll admit is melting and spewing vast amounts of i-131 before FDA would advise you to drink bottled water and avoid the milk. No possible levels of the isotope falling out of the contamination plumes from Fukushima on U.S. soil would ever cause FDA to tell you anything about avoiding the exposure. Even worse, the FDA ‘allows’ up to 33,000 pci/l of cesium-137 in milk and water, or more than 1220 disintegrations per second (becquerels). If it’ll take more than a week to cause symptoms of acute radiation poisoning, FDA couldn’t care less about how much radiation your family is consuming. Something we should all definitely bear in mind when the serious health effects of radiation exposure from Fukushima start showing up and the feds are still claiming it couldn’t possibly be from Fukushima.

To help flesh this ridiculous situation out, here are a couple of good articles that were published by Forbes in April about the details…

Why Does FDA Tolerate More Radiation Than EPA?

Radiation Detected in Drinking Water in 13 More US Cities, Cesium-137 in Vermont Milk

Per what the NRC was doing about the situation at the time EPA was shutting off its pegged RadNet monitors and FDA wasn’t bothering about any of it, an exchange finalizing a press release meant to reassure the public that somebody was keeping track circulated through the offices…


March 23: EPA took RadNet down because they were getting data from ‘other’ sources – Here the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission details a request to the nuclear industry lobbygroup NEI [Nuclear Energy Institute] to get nuclear power plants involved in monitoring fallout from the Fukushima plumes. Which, if the industry and NEI wanted to, they’d forward to the NRC and the NRC would let the EPA know about it.

Now, you might wonder why the federal regulators and licensers of all nuclear facilities in this country couldn’t (or wouldn’t) simply order the plants to report their environmental monitoring results directly. I’d wonder the same thing, except that the truth is that the NRC doesn’t really have any power over the nuclear industry anymore. NEI lobbies congress to get them to back off this or that regulation or rule, and the industry always gets its way. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to know this and keep it in mind from here on out either, because once we understand that nobody’s actually minding the store we’re going to have to shut this industry down. Sooner, not later. These documents make that situation abundantly clear as we see NRC honchos begging a lobbying group to intervene on their behalf to reactor operators to help ’em get a feel for how bad things really are. Talk about toothless!

The purpose of this email is to ensure your awareness of an agreement between the Nuclear Energy Institute  [NEI] and the NRC staff.In summary, NEI has agreed to facilitate the collection of environmental data from operating reactor sites that is reasonably attributable to events in Japan subsequent to March 11, 2011.

Once this information has been collected and organized NEI will forward this information to the NRC staff.

NRC staff will ensure that this information is forwarded to the lead governmental agency, Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], for monitoring this type of information.

In the past the EPA has stated that, “environmental radiation data supplied by NRC licensees were instrumental in understanding particular aspects of the US radiological situation and in answering concerns of US citizens relative to gaseous radioiodine in the air.”

Youch. It’s a little hard to fathom how a quadruple level of information ‘filtering’ was ever conceived to be adequate for EPA’s purposes of monitoring the environment – which is, after all, their mandate and reason for existing. Especially since EPA had their own radiation monitors stationed all across the country for this very purpose. But those were accessible in real-time by the public, thus obviously had to be shut down. Couldn’t have people knowing things that might “stress” them right into thyroid cancer. [/snark]


Two days later Iodine-131 was detected by site personnel at Three Mile Island, Nine Mile Point, Ginna, Diablo Canyon and Limerick nuclear power plants.

The NRC email exchange linked contains only the actual levels reported from Nine Mile Point in upstate New York –

March 21 Nine Mile Point Unit 1 outfall 19.1 pCi/I
March 21 Nine Mile Point Unit 2 outfall 8.6 pCi/I
March 21 Oswego Co. Airport !10 pCi/I (offsite sample)Confirmatory samples
March 22 Nine Mile Point Unit 1 outfall 18 pCi/I
March 22 Nine Mile Point Unit 2 outfall 10.3 pCi/I
March 22 Oswego Co. Airport 9.7 pCi/I (offsite sample)
March 22 Ginna Orchard area rainwater 26.8 pCi/I (owner control area)

Notice that none of these readings are anywhere close to the 4700 pci the FDA considers fine for your family to consume daily, but very much above the 3 pci the EPA considers actionable.


On the same day, March 24 @ 2:23 PM David Kern followed up on the TMI findings for Pamela Henderson by noting that ALL Exelon sites were enhancing their offsite monitoring of rainwater for gamma radiation. The TMI March 23 rainwater sample came in at 95 pci/l iodine-131. Similar samples taken 6 miles from Limerick were ~90-100 pci/l iodine. TMI also promised to “begin” checking the gamma in their biweekly milk sampling. In other words, TMI promised to check their milk samples for iodine-131, which they had not been doing previously. Instead, they had been monitoring milk for strontium-90. A reasonable question might be how come they weren’t checking regularly for iodine, when iodine would be the most likely isotope to show up in milk. Of course, if they checked for gamma, they’d find iodine – and cesium in this fallout. My guess is they didn’t ‘normally’ monitor for gamma-emitters because they didn’t want to know or have such data on file so long as the NRC didn’t require it by regulation, and the NRC requires little to nothing from nuclear licensees by regulation. Instead, they politely request the nuclear industry lobby to sweet-talk the licensees for them in hopes a few will go ahead and provide some data.


By March 31st reports that radioactivity was being measured in milk led to an OPA communique directing staffers to refer all questions from press and public to the EPA. Which had issued a joint statement with FDA about said radiation in milk on March 30th. EPA, remember, has a limit of just 3 picocuries per liter, while the FDA ‘allows’ 4700 picocuries per liter. With such glaring discrepancies between ‘allowable’ levels of radiation in water/milk, the issuance of a joint press release trying to reassure the public that they’re not in any danger is rather dishonest. All radiation you’re likely to get in your food and water supply is always going to be less than FDA considers a problem. For them, obviously, not for you or your children. EPA is simply going to shrug about levels so much higher than their guidelines of course, since fallout from bombs and melting reactors is considered “natural background” by definition by the time it gets to you. EPA can’t do anything about “natural background,” and wouldn’t have to do anything about it even if they could.


To underscore the growing public awareness of just how untrustworthy the nuclear industry and its supposed regulators are, Holly Janbergs of OPA circulated a link to the Public Affairs staff on March 31st about The Onion’s take on the ridiculous ‘assurances’ being forwarded to the public…

Nuclear Energy Advocates Insist U.S. Reactors Completely Safe Unless Something Bad Happens is indeed humorous, in a dark sort of way that the Onion has mastered. A fictional quote by NRC Chairman Jaczko pretty much says it all…

“When you consider all of our backup cooling processes, containment vessels, and contingency plans, you realize that, barring the fact that all of those safety measures could be wiped away in an instant by a natural disaster or electrical error, our reactors are indestructible.” Jaczko added that U.S. nuclear power plants were also completely guarded against any and all terrorist attacks, except those no one could have predicted.

Well, at least OPA appreciates a good bit of sarcastic irony when they see it, and I’m sure they laughed heartily.


Meanwhile, back on the fallout front, on April 1st the Office of the Executive Director of Operations [EDO] was getting a little antsy about insistent requests for real data from the Washington State congressional delegation about the dangers of Fukushima fallout to the public. This exchange informs that EDO has been given a “green ticket” to coordinate with NRC’s division of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to draft responses that would sufficiently downplay said dangers to the public…

Green ticket assigned to EDO for NRR to provide input if required on Level of Risk from accident at Japan’s Daiichi Nuclear Posts on Washington State.

To which Robert Nelson responded – to the chief of staff for EDO…

Why isn’t OEDO handling this along with all other Congressionals???????????

Lots of question marks in original, obviously Nelson thought this was a total cop-out. He is quickly informed it’s just an FYI to NRR, in case EDO asks them for back-up to whatever pablum they decide to hand the delegation.


Also on April 1st an exchange about the torus vent system made the rounds, wondering why GE was contradicting TEPCO officials on the matter of venting hydrogen gas – and resulting explosions…

The GE website doesn’t discuss this important fact (GEReports.com).Or better yet, given that GEH has been part of the NRC RST information exchange, and they were in consultation with NRC during our effort to compile the RST data on the status of the Fukushima units, why was this information withheld from NRC regarding the status on hardened vents?

Oops. Seems GE – the designer of the reactors at Daiichi – was “keeping secrets” from the NRC about their systems. Of which the U.S. STILL has 31 identical units in operation across the country. Hmmm…

Something seems amiss here.

Y’think? Apparently the exchange alarmed John Thorp, Chief of the Operating Experience Branch of NRR [Nuclear Reactor Regulation] for the NRC, so he forwarded to all involved a nice little caution about their ‘language’ in describing GE’s communications shortcomings…

I caution everyone to consider the potential for mis-interpretation of any comments you make in e-mail that are not based in fact, and, with respect to any e-mail you write, including e-mail regarding this significant event, I urge you to keep the language professional and objective, and avoid the use of extreme opinion, speculation or careless hyperbole. Some informal words and phrases such as “mis-information” and “half-truths” in reference to other organizations, licensees, etc., may be seen later by various audiences as inflammatory and may lead to lots of mis-understanding and unnecessary staff effort to respond to concerns that arise from such words.

Well, excuse the hell out of the “passion and desire for action” NRC’s “nuclear professionals” have on topics and issues related to “significant events” unfolding in Japan. And if you’ve got a problem with this, come to my office and I’ll lay it all out for you in person, thank you very much for policing your language so the public will never know how clueless the industry we regulate keeps us. Importance: HIGH. Because god knows somebody just like Lucas Hixson is gonna want these emails pretty soon, and we’d better make sure they’re harmless no matter what the actual situation may be. Meh.


Finally, due to the odd discrepancies between federal agencies’ determinations of how much radioactive contamination would or would not pose to the average citizen from regularly operating reactors or from melted ones spewing entire cores’ worth of crap into the air and water to fall out all over the place, the California Department of Public Health came up with a fancy, full color booklet in the month of April to help officials learn how to communicate just how “harmless” radiation actually is to the concerned public…

Entitled Risk versus Concern: Public Health Messaging of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Incident, public health officials are reminded that Messaging is Everything, and even in “the worse case scenario” there will always be No Danger To The General Public. Best to get everybody concerned on board with that standard line from the nuclear industry and its toothless watchdogs, because people really were learning that they can’t trust the government (or anybody else) to actually do the jobs people were forever reassured those departments and agencies existed to do.

It would almost be comical if it weren’t so disgustingly, tragically inept, start to finish. Bear in mind that these regulatory sub-geniuses are all set to allow Dominion to re-start the North Anna reactors within the week, after suffering a twice design basis earthquake in late August.

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Fukushima Docs 2: I Feel Like Crying (enformable.com)>
Fukushima Docs 3: Heavily Redacted (enformable.com)
Fukushima Docs 4 – A Marathon Not A Sprint (enformable.com)
Fukushima FOIA Docs 5 – Did We Know This?? (enformable.com)
Fukushima FOIA Docs 6 – Your Career Likely Over (enformable.com)

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