Fukushima FOIA Docs 6 – Your Career Likely Over

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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.


View of the Fukushima Unit-4 Spent Fuel Pool fire from U.S. Navy helicopter fly-over, March 13, 2011

In Fukushima Docs 6: Did We Know This?? I examined the FOIA documents released to Lucas Hixson from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] pertaining directly to their knowledge of spent fuel pool fires at (at least) two of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors in the first week of the nuclear disaster. My intent with that installment in this series was to establish that yes, the NRC was aware of those extremely dangerous fires, their calculations of what would be released to the atmosphere from them, and the danger those nasty releases would present to the United States mainland and territories – including Hawaii, Alaska and the west coast. This was done for the express purpose of putting to rest the insistence of a few pro-nuclear apologists who haunt my diaries to the subject with ridiculous claims and denials that anything untoward happened at Fukushima.

The photo above graphically demonstrates the awful reality of the fire from Unit-4, which had its entire core stored in its spent fuel pool when the earthquake and tsunami occurred on March 11. Below the Orange Squiggle of Fate is the graphic plot derived from a simulation performed by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant @ 5:00 AM on March 16th of the contamination plume from the fire and its path over the U.S. mainland.



Please refer to the documents included in Docs 6 for specifics on the SFP fires and leaks. On other fronts in NRC’s management of the flow of information per Daiichi’s problems, this diary will examine documents through April 4th.

First up we have an exchange between high level NRC honchos about who should play what roles in responding to Fukushima…

March 14 @ 2:08 PM Brian Sheron responded to a “recommendation for proactive action by NRC” to suggest the nuclear industry itself should be doing more –

It would be nice if the industry was even more proactive, by having NEI send us a letter says something to the effect that in the wake of the Japanese disaster here is a list of all the things the commercial U.S. nuclear licensees are doing…

The original communique expressed reluctance for the NRC to actually produce any new requirements, but merely to “reinforce” existing requirements they never bothered to insist upon before in their regulatory role…

…I recommend that we coordinate this activity with the industry to ensure their full and early cooperation. This would be similar to the level of cooperation we undertook for the security bulletins following 9/11.

…when they left things entirely up to the industry, and not a damned thing about their vulnerability to terrorist attacks was ever actually implemented. Ah, well. Seems that even nukes don’t want to deal realistically with the dangers of the technology itself when it bites them on the ass.

On March 17 @ 9:15 AM a giddily optimistic DOE consultant at Argonne NL emailed to suggest that his calculations indicated that the pumping volume reported should have Unit-1 “subcooled” by that day, with another week for getting units 2 and 3 under control…

Second, I don’t know if the drywell plugs are still in place, but if you flood the drywell to the extent that it fills [flows] out the top, then some of the water spilling onto the deck would make it into the SFP??

Possibly clever, but it was only Unit-3’s drywell head that looked like it might have been blown off, and workers weren’t going to be getting onto the upper level to remove any others. And as the political control freaks began clamping down on who was talking to whom, the flow of information even amongst the top ‘experts’ was being throttled with firm deliberation…

This is my last direct contact, we now have to go through DOE, but I want to get info out as fast as possible so that it can help if viable.

On March 18 @ 10:46 AM Bill Borchardt of the Office of Public Affairs [OPA] fired off a missive to his department heads about his ‘performance’ at that morning’s press briefing…

They took me out the back door to avoid press. Did I say anything we need to correct?


@ 8:45 AM that morning Donald Jackson circulated a synopsis of conditions at Fukushima for that briefing…

Unit 3 – No Significant Change, new photos of Unit 3 from west to east provided to in country team by TEPCO show massive structural and system damage to multiple levels of the reactor building. The photos are being analyzed by the team and General Electric to determine potential for extreme SFP damage, and whether or not the drywell head is intact.

The situation at Unit-3 was the subject of a conference call between Chairman Jaczko, Naval Reactors and INPO, involving data the rest of the NRC management teams were not privy to. Jackson does mention that flyovers tracking the plumes north and northwest of the plant indicated that the 50-mile evacuation call was “good,” and that iodine-131 levels in the Aleutians were still being calculated, even as…

San Onofre and Diablo Canyon may have detected small amounts of I-131 being confirmed. Large press contingent has confirmed plans to be at Monday Commission meeting.

Ah, those pesky journalists. Always wanting to know things they shouldn’t be told.

By end of the following day, March 19 @ 10:25 PM, the in-house briefings were going a bit smoother. Mike Franovich wrote in his update to senior division management that…

Earlier this afternoon, Borchardt met with representatives from the US industry, Naval Reactors, and DOE. The purpose was to discuss having industry mobilize with their Japanese counterparts to take a leadership role in the accident management and follow-up. The NRC does not want to be viewed as managing this accident. Industry reps are engaged with Japanese nuclear industry. GE and Westinghouse worked through the Hitachi and Toshiba companies in Japan as the conduits to Japan nuclear industry.

But alas, the US nuclear industry’s players weren’t exactly being helpful. In fact, contractor Bechtel was busy like the eager beavers they truly are working any angle they could come up with to make a financial killing off the worst nuclear disaster the world had ever seen…

6:00 call with USAID on some complications with the 4 train seawater system to be shipped to Fukushima on a C17 transport from Australia. Original cost of systems would be $750k but then Bechtel said it would be $9.6 million. USAID does not have that money and so the shipment was stopped. During conference call USAID asked if the equipment will still be needed. NRC said now not needed as first line of defense but would be a backup if the current equipment on site failed. Some political implications if we don’t send anything. So USAID worked with DOD (DOD has money) but one train will be shipped for now based on NRC recommendation. Waiting on DOD paycom approval.

Never let it be said that our government doesn’t do all it possibly can do to help our multinational gigacorps make a killing whenever there’s a killing to be made.

Meanwhile, the OPA was busy with its own issues. Amy Bonaccorso filled Leslie Donaldson in onMarch 20 @ 11:30 AM for what was expected to be a busy upcoming week…

…The public inquiry desk is still being hit pretty hard since things aren’t quickly improving overseas, and other agencies are still getting their public inquiry response systems started.

Supposing, I suppose, that the glacial pace of government agencies isn’t a feature of the system instead of a bug. NRC didn’t WANT to be lead in this crisis, but earned it by default just because it actually had a working OPA when Daiichi’s reactors started melting.

Toward that end of getting some things done in the next week that needed doing as far as getting some data out to those NRC officials who might be asked questions about the situation, a compilation of Daiichi overhead photographs March 18th – 23rd was compiled and distributed for “Official Use Only”, given sources.

On March 26 a series of emails concerning some “Decommissioning Type Information” needed for projections on how long it might take for Daiichi to become something other than an immediate threat to health and safety in Japan made the rounds. In the earliest response Larry Camper alludes to “entombment” data in original NRC work following the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, which had never actually been implemented because “entombing” TMI-2 would have too seriously harmed the industry in the US by suggesting to the public that contamination had actually escaped and may have caused harm to the public. Thus the exchanges made reference several times to “The TMI question”…

…The staff did some work on the entombment issue via a couple of SECY’s but the approach died out because it became clear that industry was not going to utilize it in the US

To which was added per the next forward…

As Keith’s note indicates, the TMI question will be answered a bit later.

Or not at all.

On March 27th Michael Scott lobbed a ‘humorous’ response to an email attachment on the Reactor Safety assessment on the consensus status and recommendations per Fukushima Daiichi, telling Robert Taylor…

Your career likely over. He’s probably piling it higher and deeper.

The assessment of course is not included in the FOIA releases, but surely no one here really needs to wonder too hard what, exactly, might get piled “higher and deeper.” That usually comes in under the heading of “shit.” Though it’s somewhat heartening to see that at least some people working for our never-vigilant Nuclear Regulatory Commission at least know shit when they see it. That’s something.

The very next day – at the very critical end-of-March period when things were known to be getting worse instead of better at Daiichi, a communique went out from Michael Weber to OpCenter alerting them to a Homeland Security News Wire alert and article from theGuardian.

March 30 @ 6:56 PM –

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant lost. The radioactive core in the Unit 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and is now resting on a concrete floor; officials are now struggling with two crucial but contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out contaminated water…

…and this added little note…

An AP investigation found that Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials had dismissed scientific evidence and geological history that indicated that a massive earthquake – and subsequent tsunami – was far more likely than they believed.That left the complex with nowhere near enough protection against the March 11 tsunami.

Gee, ya think? Sounds just like VEPCO and their fault-straddling reactors at North Anna near Mineral, Virginia. Which the NRC allowed in the mid-1970s to be wired together with ‘extra’ rebar as if that was going to keep the earth from moving. Which it had done just a hundred years earlier even though NRC ‘risk analysis’ for seismic events claimed at the time couldn’t be expected to happen for at least 2,000 years. It happened again just this past August, btw.

In a “Please Delete After Reading” missive dated April 2nd, Don Marksberry updated status info for the TA analysts which estimated that 10-30% of water pumped into the Daiichi reactor vessels daily was promptly leaking right on out of the vessels and drywells. Marksberry also expressed some well-placed distrust of the TEPCO-reported figures on hydrogen/oxygen concentrations as well, given that the TA analysts were still expressing grave concerns about the possibility of further explosions…

• The Japanese estimates concentrations of 1-3% O2 and 1-12% H2 (no one knows how they came up with this estimate)

…which, needless to say, was entirely useless to everybody trying to get a handle on true conditions.

On April 2 @ 12:28 PM Franovich circulated the update from that morning’s teleconference, with attachments. No reported changes in status in any of the reactors or SFPs, aside from a little note about a sudden containment pressure drop at Unit-1…

– No change in status of Unit 1, 2, or 3 or the SFPs except one item regarding Unit 1 containment pressure drop. The Unit 1 primary containment pressure has decreased from approx. 25 psig to 9 psig. It appears to be an uncontrolled depressurization/leak. Through Q&A, PMT informed the CAs that drywell is leading at 10 to 30 volume percent per day.

Which, needless to say, interrupted the nitrogen insertion operation at Unit-1. Deemed necessary to prevent further explosions when the core hit the not-dry drywell (via radiolysis), but obviously impossible if the containment had already been melted through. Which is what the “uncontrolled depressurization/leak” was all about. The Unit-1 core was already into the lower levels of the plant.

On April 4 @ 8:54 AM Jon Hopkins circulated an official statement about Daiichi from IAEA’s Director General –

“The accident at Fukushima Daiichi is a matter of concern for all IAEA Member States, not just for the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Japan and the IAEA are co-sponsoring a side event on the accident, and the initial response from safety regulators around the world, at 18:30 this evening. This will include presentations by specialists from the Japanese safety agency NISA and the operating company TEPCO, as well as from the United States and Europe. This event will be open to all IAEA Member States.”

How nice. Too bad our NRC – if not any other Member States and parties to the Convention – had already figured out that neither NISA nor TEPCO could be trusted to tell anything close to the truth about conditions at Fukushima Daiichi. Given the IAEA DG’s background, many in the NRC would have been wise not to trust him or his organization either. Once the nukes start keeping nasty secrets from each other as well as the public, things have gone well over the “reasonable” line per all things nuclear.

Unfortunately it is still up to the public – We Who Get Dumped On – to force the issues, because no kind of nuke is ever likely to become honest enough about this ultimately dangerous technology to force any issues on their own. The primary game is and has always been information control – coverup and/or confusing gobbledigook to keep the people as ignorant as possible about the true dangers they face from the deployment of this technology just to boil some water. That’s never going to change.

What the people CAN do is simply put their considerable feet down and insist that this entire terminally foolish “Plutonium Economy” game be ended post haste. Everywhere. And recent indications from other countries who have committed to ending their reliance on nuclear generated electricity is a very hopeful sign in this direction. Nearly 8 months after the start of the Fukushima disaster, however, our Nuclear Regulatory Commission has firmly reverted right back into its industry-coddling and promotion role, as if the retest nuclear disaster our world has ever suffered had never occurred at all. Here is a current link about what’s happening that you may want to read…

Nov. 1, 2011: NRC Approves Former TEPCO-Partnered South Texas ABWR Project

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