Matthew Stein: How Prepared Are You?

I'm from the "left coast", I work at a nuke plant, and I am not pro-nuke, though for totally different reasons than others.
Dogs is correct, read his posts.  He obviously came from the nuke Navy, commercial, or both.

You are correct, they are not completely safe.  But nothing is.  It is risk vs. reward, and as a society we balance the risks of nuclear energy with the reward of power availability.  If you want to change the system, you must first have the people embrace a lifestyle that is not relient on exponentialy increasing power demands.  Once the demand is gone, the plants will not be needed.  I don't see that happening any time soon, we can't even get people to stop wasting water.

Comparing spent fuel pools to Chernobyl is either ignorant or deceptive, depending on your knowledge level.  Chernobyl was the result of numerous causitive factors, not the least of which was a design that is not in use in the U.S.  So no, Chernobyl CAN'T happen here because we do not use horizontal control rods, nor sheet metal containment structures.  There are numerous other design differences that I won't go into here.

Dry spent fuel pools cannot reach criticality, period.  There must be a moderator (like water) to slow the neutrons down , and air is a very poor moderator.

I do believe your concerns over EMP-like events have some validity, though I do not believe they would cause the level of devastation you envision.  Even without pumps, reactors are built to passively cool themselves, via a variety of different design features, so no, an EMP would not result in "immediate Fukushima-like melt-downs".

I know they won't normally go critical, and never said they would! As I recall, both in my personal conversations with Gundersen and in a video interview with Gundersen from a major news broadcast (MSNBC perhaps?) Gundersen had said that there was radiological evidence around Fukushima of a small critical explosion, and only surmised at how it might have happened.

[quote=Mat Stein]I know they won't normally go critical, and never said they would! As I recall, both in my personal conversations with Gundersen and in a video interview with Gundersen from a major news broadcast (MSNBC perhaps?) Gundersen had said that there was radiological evidence around Fukushima of a small critical explosion, and only surmised at how it might have happened.
That's the problem with citing Gunderson.  His radiological "evidence" was the detection of Cs-137 and I-131.  Normally, since these isotopes are byproducts of fission, detecting them in the environment would be of significant concern.  But we already knew that the Japanese emergency crews were venting all three cores to release hydrogen.  Remember the hydrogen explosions?  Venting the cores would release Cs-137 and I-131 directly into the environment.  That is the most likely source of the isotopes detected.  Since we know that damage to the fuel matrix occurred and there was some degree of fuel melting, it is probable that there were pockets of spontaneous criticality as unused fuel pellets came in close enough proximity to each other to trigger neutron absorption and further fission events, but these were at best small scale and quickly self terminated and more importantly contained within the physical boundary and structure of the core pressure vessel.  Some amount of Cs-137 and I-131 would result from these fission events but would pale in comparison to the amount generated from normal fission and released during emergency venting.
But once again, in signature Arnie Gunderson fashion, he "surmises" that the worst case scenario has occurred - breached cores with molten fuel slag tunnelling through the earth or somehow spent fuel cells melting and attaining exacting critical geometries in the absence of a neutron moderator.
The isotopes came from venting.

I suggest you read the report from the Institute for Policy Studies, Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage, by Robert Alvarez. In addition, having graduated #1 in his class in Nuclear Engineering from RPI, and having been the Senior Technical VP for Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury CT, where he designed spent fuel rod storage racks and related items, I think that Arnie Gundersen has a pretty good handle on the dangers of improperly stored spent fuel rods, their thermal heat transfer characteristics, and the potential for self sustaining zirconium fires in the event of loss of cooling water.
Did you take the "visual tour of Fukushima's spent fuel ponds" as shown on the link to Washington's blog? Very sobering, and very frightening!!!
I have to get back to my paid work for engineering clients, so I am done for now.

Factors discussed include not just population, but rainfall, climate, earthquake zones, and…
The best comment IMHO by Jager 06:

Judging by the situations that developed in New Orleans during Katrina, I would avoid any place with a large population of social dependancy. People who are chronically on some sort of aid, be it welfare, food stamps or other, tend to be unable to do for themselves as a result of having their needs met without obligation. I would gauge that population breakdown in terms of pre recession/ depression populations.
[/quote] No offense intended, but the real lessons of Katrina are don't live in a poor section of town, in a city below sea level, with inadequate dikes on a seacoast subject to hurricanes.  That is a set-up for chaos no matter how "dependent" or not the citizens are.

Wow.  Those pictures did more to shift my impression of what is going on at Fukushima than anything I have seen or read.  Thanks for pointing this out.

I read this with hope that it was accurate, well written and technically sound. Pretty disappointing when you get no further than pages 5 and 6 and Figures 2, 3 and 4 are incorrectly labelled as being Spent Fuel Pools.  They are pictures of buildings which were built up and around the secondary containment boundaries of the units.  The spent fuel pools are housed within the buildings.  Figure 2 is labelled as "Reactor #3 Spent Fuel Pool Area" - it is a picture of what's left of the building.  Figure 3 is labelled "Hydrogen Explosion at Reactor Fuel Pool #4" - it is a picture of the building.  Figure 4 is labelled "Destruction at Reactor #4 Pool" - it is a close-up of building #4 and we now know that the spent fuel pool in Unit #4 was and remains intact.  Accidentally mislabelled or deliberately misleading?  You be the judge.
The rest of the report is a compilation of previously released material that sums up estimated curie content in spent fuel cells stored in various plants around the US and a discussion of the dire consequences if all of the material to be released with no discussion or credible postulation of just how all of this material would be released.  Except some hand wringing about "IF" spent fuel pools boiled dry "it would be bad".  Where is the discussion about the decay heat generation rates for the plants inventoried?  You are aware of the fact that the decay heat rates for spent fuel stored for about three years are so low that the cells can be stored in air?  They are only stored in water to provide gamma and beta shielding from the long lived fission product poisons and activated materials within the zirc matrix and structure of the fuel cell.
Not sure exactly what Mr. Alvarez advised Sec Energy on as a "Senior Policy Advisor" but this report is not impressive.

You put too much faith in someone who deliberately and fraudulently represented his experience.  Gunderson was in the Licensing Group at Northeast Utilities in Danbury and not in any type of design engineering.  I suggest you run down some of these links when you are finished with your paying clients…
Much of what follows was taken from the above posts I made on Peak Prosperity a while back.
Gundersen has ZERO credibility with me - and many others. He inflated his resume, he overstated his experience. For one, the only reactor he was ever "licensed" to operate was a reactor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1971 to 1972. This reactor was a 100 Watt reactor that operated at room temperature, at atmospheric pressure in an open tank of water. For the record, 100 watts is about the heat output of a freakin' lightbulb. One version of his resume read as follows:
“Critical Facility Reactor Operator, Instructor. Licensed AEC reactor operator instructing students and utility reactor operators in start-up through full power operation of a reactor.”
I'm taking some license, but in short, he instructed students how to turn on…a light bulb.
His "4 decades of experience in the nuclear industry" is a bit of a stretch. According to his resume, following his graduation in 1972, he worked at Northeast Utilities from 1972-1976. Digging around on the internet shows that he was assigned to the licensing group at NU and that he had no real design engineering responsibilities as he has recently frequently claimed.
There are many inconsistencies with other things Gundersen has said - here's a glaring one taken from a 2008 application to serve on the Diablo Canyon Safety Committee:
" Since 1970 Arnold Gundersen has been an expert witness in nuclear litigations at the Federal and State hearings such as Three Mile Island, US NRC ASLB, Vermont State Public Service Board, Western Atlas Nuclear Litigation, U.S. Senate Nuclear Safety Hearings, Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant Litigation"
Gundersen graduated from RPI in 1971. Do the math.
More discussion about his inflated resume and exaggerated experience claims here:
More info about his fear mongering here:
(Note: this article was written a year ago and there is a statement in it that claims that the radiation released from Fukushima hasn't made anyone sick and that it was a non-fatal accident. While that may have been correct at the time, it is highly likely that there have been cases of radiation sickness since June 2011)
Here are some pretty good links to articles discussing what really happened at Fukushima - that contradicts claims that Gundersen made frequently, loudly, and incorrectly.
A breakdown of what really happened at Unit 4 with respect to the spent fuel pool:
Full disclosure - these articles and debunks were written by current nuclear industry insiders. I know Rod Adams, we went through the training pipeline together and the US Navy's submarine community is pretty small. I trust Rod Adams. I DO NOT trust Arnie Gundersen. Some will argue that anything written by the nuclear industry is to be dismissed because they are biased and solely profit motivated. I am in no way saying that to some degree this does not exist in the industry, but to outright dismiss these articles is a poison pill argument.
Fukushima wasn't and isn't as rosy a situation as some would have you believe - it is bad, but as I have stated numeroues times, it is bad…locally. It is not the "Mass Extinction Event" some articles have labelled it. Nor is it the "biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind" as Arnie Gundersen is claiming. The Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal still tops my list and is still causing problems in the area almost 30 years later.
To wrap up, Gundersen has repeatedly exaggerated his very limited experience in the nuclear industry - some would say he outright lied. To say he lied is a pretty strong statement, and I won't go there. But there is no doubt in my mind that he has greatly exaggerated things. He has preyed on the fears of an uninformed audience by waving around a resume that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Chris hitched his cart to the wrong horse by bringing Gundersen to the site - he flat out blew it on the discussion of the spent fuel pool in Unit #4. I think now would be a good time to get Rod Adams as a guest speaker on the current state of the accident response at Fukushima Daiichi, but as of yet that suggestion has fallen on deaf ears

Yes…I took the visual tour.  Nothing new.  Did you notice that the article is almost 5 months old?  Did you notice that there was water in the (undated) pictures of the "tangled wreckage"?  That means the pools' structural integrity is intact.  But we know that to be the case from, umm, more recent reports.  We also have the obligatory and totally baseless observations from Gunderson that the "nuclear rods were sticking out in the air" when in fact it was the fuel cell "RACKS" that were exposed.  You know, those things that are used to guide the cells down into the pool into their storage position.  The racks that are well above the top of the closest fuel cell.  The fuel cells that remained covered with water?
Mat, please don't take this personally, but the links you have provided are out of date, inaccurate, alarmist and as such next to worthless.

I enjoyed listening and plan to read Mat's books.  I have already started to prepare, but am far from ready.
One comment jumped out, because I've heard it before.  It went something like this.  "Buying a hybrid car is not enough."

The reason the comment stuck out is that I've run across it at least three times in similar situations, either in a book or presentation.

My issue is that virtially everyone who is in touch with what's going on, already knows that buying a hybrid car is not enough.  The point I would like to make is that, if you are going to buy a car, buying a hybrid may very well be the best the most conservation oriented decision you can make.  

I wonder how many people, when car shopping, decide to buy a 15 mpg car becuase their individual sacrifice won't solve the global problem, so why make the sacrifice when others are still acting like gas is unlimited.

I would probably be more helpful over all for people with national exposure to support hybrids as a rational car choice, but caution that far greater sacrifices are likely to be necessary.


Who cares what others do?  Take care of yourself.  We got a Leaf (not a hybrid) because it was easy to cost justify, added to our resilience (we have a large solar installation), and made sense for us.  There is too much worry about what other people are doing when I think Chris' message is doing what's right for you is quite easily the right thing we all could be doing.

Those who fail to understand what is going on despite lots of signs are in for a lot of pain.  If they don't want to wake up, you probably can't help them.  I have friends and family who have listened to the message, looked at the signs and taken action, others think I'm just a nut case.  Perhaps they will come around in time to save some of their wealth, maybe not, but you can only be responsible for yourself.

As far as a hybrid.  I think it's a bad choice. You are basically trading 2x the complexity for a tiny bit better fuel efficiency.  The better choice would be to loose all the ridiculous safety standards and reduce the weight of vehicles or go pure electric where practical (short commutes) as it is a more resilience solution than hybrids.  I can generate my own power, very tough to create my own gasoline.


rhare -My wife's business is leasing her a Chevy Volt. Say what you will about the high cost of construction of the car (some say $49,000 above the retail price tag), we love driving on electricity.
The Volt gets 40 miles on a charged battery. Most days, that's plenty for us. It's a total thrill to arrive home realizing I haven't burned a drop of gas. It's a liberating feeling.
"Filling up" the battery happens overnight, when electrical rates are low. It costs between $1-$2.
(If we need to fill up faster, we simply go next door to our daughter's school. There's a 240-volt charging station there, and as far as we know, we have the only plug-in car in the area, so it's always available)
A surprise to me is the warm feeling I get by "driving American". It's been decades since I've owned an American designed and built car, and while US auto manufactures have a huge pit to dig themselves out of, I feel a certain pride at helping support their efforts to do so. I'm enouraged to hear that the Volt's sales are picking up. I'm really hoping the market signals more strongly that it prefers electric to ICE engines.
I'm looking forward eagerly to the day when a car like this gets 100+ miles before the gas engine (which acts as a generator to recharge the battery vs powering the drive train) kicks in. Man, having that range + eventually being able to generate enough electricity with home power (solar panels, etc) to recharge the car will be truly liberating. My guess is we'd use <5 gallons of gas per month - even factoring in the occasional long trip. Goodbye carbon footprint!
(I realize the Leaf has a 100-mi range. I'm still a fan of having the gas engine in reserve to extend the range, when necessary)
Main point: driving a well-made electic car today feels like you're driving in the future. For real fun, go visit a Tesla dealership and fantasize…

I admit upfront that I haven't read the entire thread here, just the last bits extolling the virtues of an electic car (vs hybrid - not rooting for hybrids here, just an observation) so maybe I missed some important points.  I have been under the impression that electricity is not a source of power but must be generated by other sources and so any plug-in is, to put it bluntly, a scam as far as "alternatives" are concerned. Am I misguided? Would a Volt (for example) be a better choice than a high efficiency gas-powered vehicle?
(edited to correct a minor spelling error-yes, I am one of those. Wondering why this site doesn't have a built-in spell check though - you know, the one with the red underlines when you get the spelling wrong.)

As has been said before, technology is not going to save the earth or our current E/E/E system.  Though I'd love to have an all-electric vehicle- I helped build an electric motorcycle in my High school science class back in 1970- I'd never pay for a new one. The solution is not going to be found in a vehicle.  One car/one driver will have to end.  Remember those 7 billion other folk on the planet?  They probably will want a Volt too.  Where are all the $$ going to come from to supply the resources to build the cars- let alone the replacement parts, tires, and let's not forget the asphalt.  I've been a gearhead and mechanic my whole life, but, the more I come to terms with our likely future, the more my head shakes when I even think of automobiles.  Just don't ask me to give up my Triumph Bonneville though…Aloha, Steve.

I drive a Hybrid and it's enough for me. 
The idea of having a electric car is very appealing - especially if you're running a renewable energy setup on your home and don't drive often, and/or have a very short range requirement. I generally have ~50Mi/day that I have to travel, so witha  hybrid, this is ~1 gallon, which costs ~$4.10.
This all works out to being about $100/Month (which is important to me, because I love the environment, but most of the ways I can do anything about its destruction require me to have money) and I burn through about 25 Gallons/week. 

The long term plan is to get my hands on a Diesel HiLux (be sure to watch part II and III), because they're bombproof, and thus restricted by the EPA and not for sale in the U.S. Wouldn't do to have a vehicle that lasts for generations in a society that encourages waste.
Anyhow, back to the story - a HiLux and BioDiesel Processor are my bid for travel in a society of less. The Hybrid bridges the gap for now, and cuts cost over my old truck (which was getting ~18MpG, which works out to be about 67 Gallons/week and costs about $280. My car payment with insurance is less than that). The hybrid runs well, is affordable and does reduce both my carbon footprint and my fuel consumption. I realize that I'm still using waaaaay more than my share of Gasoline (~1300 gallons per year) but it's better than the previous ~3500 gallons per year.

So, a hybrid is not "the solution".
…But it'll have to do until a solution gets here. 



[quote=Adam]A surprise to me is the warm feeling I get by "driving American". It's been decades since I've owned an American designed and built car, and while US auto manufactures have a huge pit to dig themselves out of, I feel a certain pride at helping support their efforts to do so. 
We also love the Leaf, it's a great electric car and much simpler than a hybrid, that was my point.  If you are a multi-car family, I think it's probably a much better choice to have an electric car for your short/routine in-town activities and a low weight high MPG ICE car for longer trips. Both will be more efficient and less complex.
Also, I don't think it's American at all to buy a car from a manufacturer who can't compete and requires billions of taxpayer dollars to survive.  American would be buying from someone who didn't require being bailed out by taxpayers  I refuse to ever buy another GM car (yes I have owned several) when they are essentially stealing from me and breaking the rule of law (bondholders).
GM should have gone bankrupt, reorganized, gotten out from under their unsustainable union contracts and they would be in a much better place now.  It's exactly the same extended and pretend as is occurring with the banks.   I assume you must also support all the banks that got TARP and use them because it's the American thing to do?

I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a scam, but it's not necessarily greener depending on the source for the power.  What it does allow is for alternatives to liquid fuels to be used, so you can use solar, wind, coal, nuclear, … for transportation.  I think current EVs that use batteries are a bridge until fuel cell EVs become available which offer 10x energy storage densities for the same weight as batteries.
I'm not a greeny, we have solar power but I realize it is a completely unsustainable "unfair" welfare for the wealthy the way it is currently done.  It's just like the tax break on electric vehicles - it's government interfering with the markets to attempt to force social change via the threat of violence.  Until we get government out of the markets (oil, solar, banking, car manufacturing) we won't know what is truly needed, desired or sustainable - it's all a giant distortion.  We have electric vehicles and a large solar plant, but I wanted them for resiliency and not for being "green".  FYI - thanks for helping fund them with your tax dollars.
I do agree with Adam, an electric vehicle is a blast to drive.  It's very different when you have instant torque available. 

Love the videos… and yes you do have to watch all 3.