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In Attack on AP-1000, Anti-Nuke Gundersen Hits a New Low

Late last week, anti-nuclear gadfly Arne Gundersen took to the Web to attack the safety of Westinghouse's AP-1000 nuclear reactor. It's all part of a larger effort by anti-nuclear activists to delay the certification of the reactor design by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NEI's Tom Kauffman shot me a note that has asked me to share with our blog audience:
Arnie Gundersen’s claim there was an inadvertent criticality in the one Fukushima reactor is totally unfounded. A criticality is a sustained chain reaction within the nuclear fuel. There is no evidence a criticality occurred in any of the damaged reactors since the accident. Spontaneous fission of uranium atoms naturally occurs, but conditions to support criticality do not exist. The control rods are in fact in the damaged fuel. And boron, a highly effective fission control element, is mixed in the cooling water in all three reactors and all the used fuel pools thereby virtually eliminating the possibility of criticality. Gundersen knows this and is deliberately misleading people.

Gundersen’s claim that loss of the cooling water at the top of the AP1000 containment structure would be the loss of the plant’s ultimate heat sink also is false. Just like the nuclear plants at Fukushima, the ultimate heat sink of the AP1000 reactor is the cooling water source for the plant. If that is lost, multiple emergency cooling water supplies would be used to cool the reactor. If they too are lost, the water at the top of the containment could provide cooling for three days even in the event of a total loss of all electrical power. He also failed to mention that no U.S. nuclear facility faces the sudden flooding that stopped the ultimate heat sink in Japan.

His claim the fuel pool at the #4 reactor at Fukushima “blew up” is absolutely false and is fear-mongering at its worst. Video of the #4 pool and the used fuel in it along with samples of the water in the pool, are irrefutable proof there was no explosion in the fuel pool and fuel is intact. In fact, there were no explosions in any of the fuel pools. NRC Chairman Jaczko publicly confirmed this weeks ago. Likewise, Gundersen’s recent claim that molten fuel is moving into the ground beneath one plant and causing groundwater to change into steam is totally unsupported and irresponsible.

Mr. Gundersen also failed to mention that the AP1000 reactor, designed to be at least 100 times safer than existing plants due to exceptionally large safety margins, is based on 50 years of operational lessons-learned and more than 20 years of research and development. Probably the most highly engineered and analyzed nuclear plant design in the history of the U.S. (if not the world), the Westinghouse advanced passive reactor design underwent the most thorough pre-construction licensing review ever conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Because of the AP1000 design’s huge safety margins, any changes needed in response to the lessons learned from the accident in Japan are expected to be manageable during plant construction.

Mr. Gundersen does not speak for the people of Georgia or South Carolina, nor their governors or public service commissions who support new nuclear facilities. He should respect their right to decide for themselves how to manage their energy supplies.
This isn't the first time Gundersen and his allies have attacked the AP-1000. Last April, a group of 12 regional anti-nuclear energy organizations called on the NRC to investigate their claims. Click here for NEI's response to that request.

An artist's conception of the AP-1000 reactor, courtesy of Westinghouse.


Meredith Angwin said…
One thing I have noticed about opponents is that they are authorities on everything. For example, when I debated Gundersen earlier this year, he claimed to be an authority on how many shad were in the Connecticut River. Sixteen shad. He said "not sixteen thousand (down from 70 thousand)--sixteen fish." Of course, it is impossible to determine how many shad are in the river. If you caught sixteen fish, you must make the assumption that there are some you didn't catch.

Thank you for this note. Opponents are looking for baby-bear's porridge. Existing nuclear plants are too old, and must be shut down! New nuclear plants designs are untested! Maybe a ten-year-old plant would be just-right? Actually, I don't think so.
Luke said…
Furthermore, Gundersen fails to mention that a used-fuel pool does not, can not and will not "blow up" under any circumstances at all.
Anonymous said…
Not only are they authorites on everything, they are wrong on everything they say. The anti-nuke kooks have been wrong at every turn. They said there was uncontrolled criticality. There wasn't. They said thousands of sqaure miles of Japanese territory would be unhabitable for millions of years. People are moving back into their homes as we speak. They said the spent fuel caught fire. It didn't. They said the spent fuel pool blew up. It's still there, intact. They said the Fukushima event would be "Chernobyl on steroids". What happened to the steroids? They've been wrong on just about everything (as usual). But they won't apologize for being wrong, and the media won't call them on their egregious errors (also SOP).
Okkie said…
If its so safe you go and live in Fukushima. Take your children with you and go eat the local produce.
Fukushima will be contaminated because the reactors are still spewing out radioativity. People have to live in areas that would have been evacuated if they had been in Chernobyl. Nuclear reactors are not comletely safe and there is no solution for the waste. Stop forcing nuclear energy though peoples throats, its stupid. The sun emits enough energy in 10 minutes than all of humanity can consume in a year.
Anonymous said…
Stop using focus group-tested snippets like "forcing through people's throats". That dawg won't hunt here. This is a technical/policy forum, we know our science and we know when you're passing off FUD based on nothing more than ignorance and emotion.

Your comment about the sun "emitting" enough energy to power humanity is utter nonsense. The fact that it produces large amounts of energy doesn't mean it can be captured and utilized in any economically viable manner compared with more economical and reliable sources we already have. For example, what happens when the sun is "emitting" its energy and you are on the other side of the Earth? There is this thing called "night", you know.
Brian Mays said…
"The sun emits enough energy in 10 minutes than all of humanity can consume in a year."

Okkie - If it's so great you go and live on the sun. I would tell you to take your children with you, but you sound like a child yourself.
Rod Adams said…
When it comes to the pronouncements of the disgruntled former nuclear engineer from Vermont, I have to retreat to a lesson I learned during 33 years as a military professional:

"It is better to aim at the archer than to try to shoot down the arrows."

Gundersen has a demonstrated history of inflating his resume.

He has also demonstrated ignorance of the age old adage that it is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

He has a fan club, and he makes a pretty good living as the guy with a respectable NE degree that can be counted on to support any and all antinuclear arguments. He is, however, an archer whose credibility should be actively attacked to keep him on the defensive and to ensure that he can do as little damage as possible.

I realize that most nuclear professionals are polite people who dislike going negative on their opponents, but that restriction does not apply to me. I can be a nasty fighter if challenged; Gundersen continuously implies that some of the best people I know are somehow putting the public at risk by supporting nuclear technology development.
Will Davis said…
If this is the same Gundersen who made a statement about prompt criticality in one of the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi -- and I think it is the same Gundersen, since there's only one -- then his credibility on any subject covered by the umbrella designation "nuclear engineering" is zero.
Anonymous said…
He also is the one who made the infamous "Chernobyl on steroids" comment. If so, those were pretty weak steroids. I'm getting the impression this guy's degree is really FU.D. Anyone notice how he has cultivated the look of a serious, concerned "authority" in all his videos? The scowling countenance, furrowed brow, the low, measured tone of voice, dramatic pauses (probably took lessons from Shatner on that one). Maybe that's just the way he is, but it sure looks contrived.
Brian Mays said…
Yes, the "Chernobyl on steroids" comment was made on the state-sponsored channel Russia Today (which has recently rebranded itself as "RT"). I'm sure the Russian government was pleased with anything that could possibly make Chernobyl seem less bad.

I guess Mr. Gundersen wasn't familiar with Russia Today's reputation as a channel with a "penchant for wild conspiracy theories" and which has a habit of featuring "fringe-dwelling 'experts,' like the Russian historian who predicted the imminent dissolution of the United States."

Or maybe he already knew. It sounds like just the right the place for Mr. Gundersen, the fringe-dwelling "expert" on nuclear power.
Paul Lindsey said…
The other person with the big- respectable-sounding degree-but-zero-expertise-in-the-area was Michio Kaku, Ph.D., professor of theoretical physics at CUNY.

His action plan for Fukushima on Mar 15, 2011, was to be ready to drop sand, boric acid and concrete on reactors 1-3 from shielded helicopters, without explaining how that material would get through the buildings and pressure vessels to the cores.

He also thought that 3 major nuclear catastrophes were imminent a few months ago, between the forest fire outside of Los Alamos and the Upper Midwest flooding:

He seems to have a penchant for sensationalism.
Brian Mays said…
Yes, Kaku is a fine example of how out-of-touch much of academia has become these days. Although, in defense of academics everywhere, I should point out that the eccentric Michio is much more a showman and celebrity than an academic these days. A Richard Feynman he is not. He's not even a Carl Sagan.

Frankly, I've wondered for several years whether he's on drugs.
DW said…
Kaku is a theoretical physicist. Operative word "theoretical". In otherwords, not an engineer.

At the International Thorium Energy Confernce held has Kaku's place of employment, I asked a few of the engineering students and professors about him. Either a 'no comment' or the kids just rolled their eyes.

Anonymous said…
Lack of regulation, because of industry collusion, is the biggest problem with the Nuclear Industry. You can defend your "Technical Science" till your blue in the face, but if the regulators pensions relies on industry profits you will never see honest regulation.
Anonymous said…
If you are whining about the licensees paying for the budget of the NRC, you'll have to take that up with Congress. Don't trash the industry over the fact that Congress made them pay fees to support the budget of the NRC. If it were up to the licensees, they'd probably rather not do that. Supposedly Congress did it to help offset the federal deficit. We see how well that worked out, it's a drop in the ocean. I think they did it to punish the industry. No other industry out there pays for the "privilege" of being regulated by the federal government.

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