Fukushima FOIA – Part I – Who Knew What When

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.

Part I – Who Knew What When 

Originally Published Here


Lucas W. Hixson has been busy this week uploading what he calls a massive “document dump” from the NRC in response to a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request. As the documents are uploaded to Hixson’s Enformable website, analysis is a bit sketchy and in short supply. But what is perfectly clear as I follow through the various documents from March 11 through March 15 – the time period when reactors 1, 2 and 3 were actively melting and exploding and the unit 4 spent fuel pool fires led to a fourth reactor building blow-out – is that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, along with several other departments and agencies of the U.S. government and the UN’s IAEA, were watching the situation very closely.

The NRC, you will see, was doing fairly well at first analyzing early data on actual conditions at the Fukushima plants. At the same time there was a lot of high level pressure to manage PR so the commission would not be the “official” government body to keep the public informed. Best, it was thought, to leave dealing with the radiation emergency originating in Japan to DHS/FEMA, the EPA and DOE [Department of Energy]. NRC could then simply keep an eye on things, offer expert reactor operating and engineering help if Japan needed it, and stick to handling expected media attention to the U.S. industry and our aging nuclear fleet.

But the other agencies were themselves eager to ignore the whole thing and let NRC do the job of telling Americans that the plume known to be heading towards the western U.S. coastwas nothing to be concerned about – the usual “No Danger to the General Public” brush-off. By March 15th the State Department was handling everything (including NRC experts tasked to the disaster). My wild guess on this (though it’s not made explicit in these documents) is that Ms. Clinton’s nose got a bit bent when NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko made his own advisement for Americans within 50 miles of the Daiichi plants to evacuate. That sent everybody’s diplomatic corps into a semi-panic and a mass exodus had begun while the reactor buildings were still blowing up one by one. Of course, she couldn’t have been all that happy with the U.S. Navy responding and then immediately sending the ships all the way around to the other side of Japan, either. An information clampdown had begun in earnest by March 15th and it’s been followed except for a few notable (and directly related) angry public resignations ever since. If the Japanese were going to lie to their own people with the usual excuse of preventing ‘panic’, then everybody else’s governments had to lie to their people too, no matter what they knew about the true situation at Daiichi and true dangers in the path of the plumes in Japan and elsewhere. Including Hawaii, Alaska and the western United States. Add points east and Europe over time too – it’s fallout.

It is important for regular people who also have been watching the worst industrial disaster of all time (not measured in terms of immediate and short-term body counts) to not just have an accurate record of the sequence of events, but also to understand clearly what was known as the events occurred. This is because accurate public information was deliberately withheld (and some grotesque lies told) from the beginning, and not just by TEPCO and the Japanese government. Our government was intimately involved in withholding accurate data from the public as well as minimizing what was being publicly reported. In some of my diaries over the past 6 months related to Fukushima some events that were accurately reported in the press at the time have been strangely denied weeks or months later, as if after the fact denial is somehow able to change the actual history of the disaster.

Toward the goal of archiving a true record of who knew what when, I offer some of the data Hixson received from his FOIA request so it will be recorded and available here at Nuclear Free DKos. Because as Lucas notes there are a great many documents “dumped” his way in response to the request, it may take several separate posts to present pertinent data as he uploads it. This is installment #1, and covers internal NRC documents, emails and teleconference notes for the five-day period of March 11 through March 15.


I have posted here just two scans of the actual documents, but Lucas provides all of them per what he’s uploaded so far at his site. I will provide a link to each in this post and encourage readers to go there for the full run-down.

Document 1:
Friday, March 11, 2011 @ 3:04 PM

This is the “NOT A DRILL” notice pictured above the squiggle. It sets the tone for information control with instructions specific to dealing with the international press. In the first paragraph it identifies where employees may direct the press in order to access the ‘official’ press releases from NRC, and urges any NRC employees who ARE contacted by the media to inform the NRC Office of Public Affairs immediately.

Then employees are handed “two important reminders” that they MUST NOT respond directly to requests for information from anyone outside the United States, but to steer the requesters to the NRC Operations Center [OpCenter], and mentions that all assistance employees may wish to provide to a foreign entity [Japan, obviously] MUST be coordinated through OpCenter and the State Department.

Finally, the OpCenter notice informs employees that if they obtain any information about Fukushima or any other nuclear emergency, they should provide that information to the Operations Officer at OpCenter.

Document 2:
Saturday, March 12, 2011

Internal emails from Mike Franovich about what NRC knew by midnight of the first day about the conditions at Fukushima.

@ 12:05 AM - “…Five reactors are having trouble with core cooling. Rad levels in at one unit at Fukushima Daiichi show rad level 1000 times above background (most likely measured at the vent stack but that is unconfirmed).”

@ 2:51 AM - Report on teleconference between 35 NRC officials. NRC still monitoring, relying on media, TEPCO and NISA press releases, and that information is “spotty.” Estimated 35 foot tsunami taking out the EDGs and fuel tanks.

• NRC contacted both GE and Exelon to request use of the Dresden and Quad Cities simulator to get a timeline on expected events at units 1 and 2 at Daiichi.

• “Containment pressure on Unit 2 may have been as high as 85 psig (almost double of design pressure). Venting to prevent gross failure would be appropriate. I should note that the accuracy of the 85 psig report is suspect.”

• NRC response to Japanese government request for engineering tech assistance was to have a tech fly out in the morning. Note that TEPCO reported they had vented units 1 through 4 to reduce primary containment pressure. [Unit 4 was shut down, would not need to vent the containment].

• Notes 3km evacuation around the Daiini site, 10km evacuation around Daiichi and instructions on how to Google up the tsunami hitting Daiichi.

Documents 3, 4 & 5:
Saturday, March 12, 2011

@12:52 PM - Internal email from David Lew about a noon conference call between the Executive Team, Office Directors and Regional Administrators. This lists the topics covered -

• Limited information from “our Japanese counterparts” [a.k.a. NISA], IAEA “second hand,” industry scuttlebutt and TEPCO public information releases. [Obviously the NRC was about as trustful of TEPCO's honesty as I've been - which is, not very]. Reminder of NRC’s own limitation of information ["external communications"], to be coordinated through NRC headquarters and OpCenter.

• Mention of Chairman’s meeting with Obama the morning of the 12th and sending a 60-70 member team to assess the disaster. Notice that the nuclear industry internationally was already busy mustering support for TEPCO and a confirmation that Exelon was running simulations at Dresden.

• Bad information forwarded that concerns were only applicable to units 1 and 2, as unit 3 was in cold shutdown, which it most certainly was not.

• Oops… unit 1 reactor building exploded, NRC thinks it MIGHT be hydrogen, but cannot confirm. Cesium and iodine detected, indicating core damage likely…

“Reactor water level was below top of active fuel.”

“Rad levels at the site boundary had been at 100 mrem/hr but now has decreased to 7 mrem/hr.”

• Mentions of filling containment [primary] with borated seawater, of worker injuries from the explosion, and that unit 2′s torus was at saturation temperature [providing no cooling].

@ 3:55 PM - Reporting an update from “Borchardt,” limitations on information still frustrating, another meeting at the White House, suggested going through IAEA as the point of contact with Japan.

• Yet another caution to limit information given to the public and a heads-up to “Expect the public/media focus to turn toward domestic in the next day or so.” IOW, by the afternoon of March 12 the NRC was in full ass-covering mode for the U.S. nuclear industry.

“4. Interaction with DHS and federal agencies, including plume plot, possible exposure models, and monitoring of west coast.”

FEMA standing down, don’t expect the plume to hit the west coast that weekend. NRC thinks unit 2 “shut down safely.” [Heh. The direct cite above indicates clearly federal agencies - FEMA, DHS, DOE, EPA - were very much aware that contamination from Fukushima would travel as a plume and that there would be fallout when it reached the U.S. mainland, thus belying the nuclear apologists here at DKos who insisted "radiation doesn't move in plumes" and that the U.S. had nothing to worry about from Fukushima].

Document 6:
Saturday, March 12, 2011

Internal email from William Ostendorff, reporting on a 3:30 PM conference call.

@ 4:38 PM - Still focusing on unit 1, the only one that had so far exploded. Notes borated seawater being pumped into the reactor vessel and the basement of the reactor building in an attempt to cool the torus and drywall. USAID and two NRC experts on their way to Japan.

• NRC posture to hold White House lead for U.S. response, NRC to be support only so as not to focus media attention on NRC -

“• On media front, Eliot said the strategy is to follow the above hierarchy in communications. Regarding NRC, he noted that news cycle is slow (weekend) now but will pickup with respect to wanting more NRC visibility by Monday.”

• Former NRC chairs Diaz and Klein will do the media circuit to forward what NRC wants, but as private citizens so NRC isn’t directly involved. Jaczko briefed the other commissioners on the media strategy “and other matters.” Still trying to coordinate with IAEA for offering direct help to the Japanese.

• Continued development of Q&As for dealing with the press when people start asking about the U.S. industry’s preparedness and/or protection against earthquakes and floods.

“4. Keep interacting with DHS on potential plume plots and modeling capability, etc…”

Document 7:
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear News [Press Release from NRC]


Your basic “No Danger to the General Public” line that the nuclear industry and its promoters/regulators just can’t seem to ever get away from, no matter what happens. Meanwhile, back at NRC headquarters…


Document 8:
Sunday, March 13, 2011

@ 4:03 PM - Internal email from Mike Franovich. Report on 3:30 PM conference call…

“Unit 3 at Daiichi is the unit of concern. Still do not have clear confirmation that borate seawater is making it to the core. Belief that core was at least 50 percent uncovered during the event.”

Yep. Apparently the dismissal of unit 3 on the 11th because it was supposedly in cold shutdown didn’t work out too well.

• Notes that the USS Ronald Reagan was reporting .6 mrem/hr when it pulled up offshore of the plants, which it thought was consistent with the venting, not coming from the explosion of unit 1′s reactor building. A Japanese helicopter then landed, and it was contaminated. Because the NRC had issued a press release [above document], the other agencies decided they’d let NRC take the lead on public information despite all the well-laid plans to avoid it.

“The hearings on the Hill next Wednesday will now be on Japan event. So far we have had low congressional inquiry, Markey’s office called.


Document 9:
Monday, March 14, 2011

@ 9:51 AM - Internal email from Lawrence Doerflein about “the morning meeting,” where “the big picture info” passed around was…

“One caution – none of this is to be released outside the NRC.

Oooohhh! Super security stuff!

“Without cooling, there was some core damage in all three units (U2 if not already damaged, will be)”

• Only a matter of time before unit 2 explodes, as zircaloy reaction was producing hydrogen and sending it to the steam relief valves to the torus. Oh, and by the way, unit 3 exploded too. Already.

“All three units have (or will have) core damage (amount unknown), and efforts are geared towards putting water into the reactor vessels. A temporary pit was dug and filled with seawater and boric acid and pumped to the reactor vessels (at least Units 1&3) using a fire truck.
Unfortunately, that source was also lost. Haven’t heard of backup plan.

• Last time NRC checked, the vessels and primary containments were still intact for reactors 1-3.

Document 10:
Monday, March 14, 2011

@ 3:24 PM - Internal email from Jeffrey Kulp to Stacy Smith, responding to a previous email Smith had forwarded from Mohammed Shuaibi, calling for BWR experts and former operators that NRC could offer to the Japanese for their on-site suicide squad, the 50 Heroes.

Kulp doesn’t sound all that enthused about the idea…

“I’m on the list, but pretty damn close to the bottom of the barrel. How’s things been?”

The call went like this…

“The Agency may be sending additional experts to Japan to assist with the response to the nuclear plant events.

At this morning’s management meeting, Mike requested that we think about (and identify)any BWR experts/Former BWR operators that we could offer to help with the response.

If we decide to send staff, I expect we’ll need to identify them quickly. Please let us know ASAP if you have any former BWR operators, especially those with experience at older BWRs.

Wow. I don’t suppose it would ever occur to these people to ASK before they send somebody into Hell’s Mouth in somebody else’s country. Especially since the responsible reactor owners, managers and operators had all run away and left just 50 ‘disposable’ humans in place to pretend they were doing something.

Document 11:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

@ 12:12 AM - Internal email from Glenn Dentel to update the group on 11:30 PM March 14 technical assessment updates on Fukushima situation.

• Unit 1 said to have stable core cooling and intact containment, no issues with the spent fuel pool.

• Unit 2 hasn’t had core cooling in awhile, pumps apparently “deadheaded.” Primary containment no longer intact, fuel “possibly” outside the vessel.

• Unit 3 seems to have stable cooling and intact containment, but there’s a lot of “debris” in the spent fuel pool from the explosion.

• Unit 4 spent fuel pool dry. Potential zirconium fire hazard.

• 9-member NRC team on its way, along with a DOE team.

Document 12:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Well, the Japanese version of NRC [NISA] got their noses a bit bent by the NRC’s tendency to be more honest – at least amongst themselves – than the Japanese are used to. Because NISA insisted everything was hunky dory, NRC went ahead and backed off recommendations for Americans within 50 miles evacuate.

The Japanese were also able to convince the NRC that unit 2 hadn’t blown up at all, just unit 4. So the containment wasn’t breached at all. Isn’t that nice? Actual pressure data didn’t actually match this claim, but NRC figured it’s all cool anyway because NISA told them that.

NISA was, most amazing of all, able to convince the NRC that the fuel pool zirconium fire at unit 4 wasn’t a fuel pool fire at all, just a little spilled oil that spontaneously combusted.

Everything’s fine, never mind.

Document 13:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

@ 8:51 PM - Internal email report (with graphs) from Mike Franovich on the evening conference call. All members of the NRC team had not arrived in Japan yet. IAEA reported no change in the status of reactors 1, 2 & 3, but their info was older than what NRC had. No immediate plans to coordinate response to Fukushima with the U.S. nuclear industry, at least for a few weeks.

• NRC looking to DOE for aerial sampling data. NRC team in Tokyo will get a similar data stream from aerial monitoring in Japan. Attempting to get the data in “units that we use” [i.e., curies instead of becquerels, rem instead of sieverts].

• Wanted to know what data was used to dismiss the original analysis that the unit 2 containment was breached. Nobody seems to know.

• New fire in the spent fuel pool of #4. No, it wasn’t oily rags, and Jaczko himself came into the meeting wanting status on the new fire. Rad doses in unit 4 area holding steady at 30R/hr.

“* I asked Grobe (yep lots of questions from me tonight), if TEPCO was cycling operators in and out of the site to relieve personnel. No info on that other than TEPCO did evacuate nonessential personnel. Five individuals may have received a lethal dose.

Document 14:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

@ 8:59 PM - Internal email from Donald Jackson, basically his report on the same situation briefing covered in the document above. This one is more detailed, and we find out that the 30R/hr dose in the vicinity of the unit 4 spent fuel pool come from shine, not isotopic contamination.

[Shine is intense gamma radiation emanating in all directions from a source - in this case, the unit 4 spent fuel pool].

Those of course are not all the documents “dumped” on Lucas in response to his FOIA, and he’s not done uploading the bulk of them. From here and in future updates (if there are any) on this material, I’ll be including only those which provide information about the actual state of the reactors, what was known and who knew it when. Remember this is just an NRC document dump. I do not know if Lucas plans to submit FOIAs to agencies identified in these documents as involved. I would, and just might if he doesn’t. Those would be DOE, FEMA, DHS, DOS [State] and, perhaps most especially, EPA – where we might finally learn some real facts about why they stopped air monitoring after the plume – which THESE documents make perfectly clear was KNOWN to be coming – hit.

About author
Joy Thompson is a featured author at Enformable, and has written multiple books on radiation and health with her husband Randall. Joy is a former nuclear health physicist in the nuclear industry. Her husband Randall also served in the U.S. Navy Nuclear Submarine program and went on to work in the nuclear industry, and both Joy and Randall served at Three Mile Island.
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