Tuesday, April 03, 2012

NEI to Arnie Gundersen: Share Your Test Results With Us

It's been about 24 hours since we sent our last note to the Associated Press concerning claims that Arnie Gundersen has made about some soil samples he took in Japan recently -- soil samples that he says would have been classified as radioactive waste here in the U.S.

While we've yet to get a response from the AP, we're going to open an additional avenue in our inquiry to get to the bottom of this story. Here's a note I sent to Arnie Gundersen at Fairewinds Associates a few minutes ago.

Dear Mr. Gundersen,

For the past week or so, many of us here at NEI have had serious questions concerning claims you made to the Associated Press about the soil samples you took in Tokyo. In order for us to resolve these questions, we'd like to ask you to provide us with a complete copy of the results of the test results you've been referencing. We'd also like to obtain contact information for the laboratory that you used, in order that we may be able to ask some follow up questions about the results and the exact methodology used to derive them.

We look forward to hearing back from you.


Eric McErlain
Senior Manager, Web Communications
Nuclear Energy Institute
I'll let you know if and when we hear back from him.


Anonymous said...

The industry routinely withholds a wide range of test results on a great many nuclear power matters from public release as proprietary information. Is that a double standard, given the insistence that Mr. Gundersen release his test results and let you contact the lab to discuss them?

A simple question: What US nuclear power plant allows public access to all its test results, withholding none of them as proprietary? Any?

Good for the goose but not the nuclear gander, I guess.

Eric McErlain said...

If Mr. Gundersen shared his test results with with the Associated Press, then why won't he share those results with us? If he's going to make a public claim and the AP is going to trumpet the findings they should be open to full public scrutiny.

From where we sit, we have serious questions about these claims and whether or not the AP vetted them properly. And now, for some reason, nobody wants to answer our questions. If these parties won't show their work, then why should we believe their claims?

Joffan said...

A false comparison, Anonymous@11:25. It's not like the request was for Gundersen's latest medical blood tests or some other private information. This is about public remarks he made that were given surface credibility by claiming that they were based on specific tests.

So let's see the tests, assess that credibility, or discard his remarks.

Anonymous said...

Trying again, as my question wasn't answered:

Why shouldn't the same standard be applied to industry test results at US nuclear power plants which are withheld as proprietary?

jimwg said...

Go get'em, NEI!!!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Joffan said...

Anonymous@12:05 - For test results that form the basis of a public statement, I agree that they should be available, with a few obvious exceptions.

Your turn.
1. What examples do you have of test results that were unreasonably withheld?
2. What argument does Gundersen have for keeping his results secret?

jimwg said...

Mr. Anonymous;

Believe it or not, this goes outside the nuclear industry. Arnie has asserted a specific public hazard exists and is at the least honor-bound to cough up the evidence for inspection. It's almost tantamount to shouting fire in a theater or reporting a strange bag at an airport, what the fear and terror his assertions and actions reek on the nuclear unwashed public. This has nothing to do with any standards except moral; It has to do with His responsibility to society and fessing up to mortal claims.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Brian Mays said...

"Why shouldn't the same standard be applied to industry test results at US nuclear power plants which are withheld as proprietary?"

Industry tests are performed to demonstrate to the regulator (i.e., the NRC) that the plants are meeting the conditions of their license to operate. While some of the data in the results might be proprietary -- to protect property rights -- they are not withheld from the regulator.

Gunderson, on the other hand, is (loudly) making claims to the public, and if he wants anyone to believe these claims, he should cough up the information that he has to support them.

As Joffan wrote, what reasons could Gunderson possibly have for keeping any of this information secret? Doing so only undermines his credibility.

Bob Applebaum said...

Isn't it pointless since any radioactivity would render the contaminated material radioactive waste according to NRC regulations. Gundersen is just playing on the public's lack of awareness of this. There is no Below Regulatory Concern level.

Atomikrabbit said...

“The industry routinely withholds a wide range of test results on a great many nuclear power matters from public release as proprietary information”

I’m not sure which information Mr. Anonymous is looking for, but plant effluent reports are available on a quarterly basis for each and every nuclear power plant on the NRC website. Here is an example for Beaver Valley Unit 1: http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1112/ML111250514.pdf
Vast amounts of other information on each plant are available on the NRC.gov website and their searchable ADAMS public database.

As stated elsewhere, the results of every test are available in real-time to the onsite inspectors (they can look over the operator’s shoulder if they want to). They have unrestricted access to archives, records, logs, interviews, and anything else they wish to examine, any time, any day.

JD said...


That's why the NEI asked AP and then Gundersen for the actual results. Arnie's statement isn't meaningful on its own. What would be meaningful would be the actual test results [actually, the estimated health consequences based on soil contamination levels would be the ultimate goal here], which were not included in the AP's article.

To anonymous: Have you searched NRC's website or filed a FOIA request for whatever tests you're looking for? I did a quick search and found one example here: list number ML061220336. (I'm new to the search feature on NRC's website so this is just one random example.)

Rod Adams said...


You are not being truthful because there is very definitely a level of radioactivity that is Below Regulatory Concern - or at least judged to be outside of the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In fact, there are certain items that can be dangerously radioactive - even my my own relatively relaxed personal standards - that the NRC claims it has no authority to regulate. They even have a benign name for the material - NORM. (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material)

The dangerously hot stuff is often left overs from drilling deep into uranium and radium containing rocks in search of something really valuable - like natural gas or oil.

Bob Applebaum said...

@ Adams

I am being truthful and you are ignorant of how radioactive waste is regulated. If the radioactivity originates from a power plant licensed by the NRC (not NORM) and contaminates something that is a waste, then one has radioactive waste.

Since Gundersen's samples were contaminated with power plant radioactivity, if what is contaminated is a waste, then it is radioactive (not nuclear) waste.

The contamination levels are irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Adams might want to update his copy of 10 CFR. NRC repealed its "below regulatory concern" policy in 1993, after Congress legislated against it.

"Both Congress and the public received the
NRC’ s proposed BRC policy unfavorably. See
Walker (2000, p. 120) and National Research
Council (2002, pp. 52–53). Later, Congress
enacted the Energy Policy Act of 1992
(H.R. 776) to revoke the Commission’ s earlier
policy statements. As a result, the Commission
officially withdrew the policy in June 1993
(NRC, 1993b)."


Anonymous said...

I thank you Anonymous for updating us on what happens when all of those experienced engineers and scientists in Congress engage in deep thought and decide to legislate against the law that they had passed earlier.

Anonymous said...

"I am being truthful and you are ignorant of how radioactive waste is regulated. If the radioactivity originates from a power plant licensed by the NRC (not NORM) and contaminates something that is a waste, then one has radioactive waste.

Since Gundersen's samples were contaminated with power plant radioactivity, if what is contaminated is a waste, then it is radioactive (not nuclear) waste.

The contamination levels are irrelevant."

If Gunderson collected his samples in Tokyo and asserts that any contamination is from Fukushima, that plant is not licensed by NRC. Therefore your definition of radioactive waste would not apply.

If you want to overlook that technicality and substitute the Japanese version of NRC, then an interesting question arises. You probably are contaminated with fallout from Fukishima (we all are). Some of that may find it's way into bodily excretions. Does that mean that you are dumping radioactive waste when you go to the john? Most people would classify bodily excretions as "waste", and if it has even one single atom of radioactive material from Fukushima, it would seem to fit your definition of radioactive waste. If so, does that mean that your bodily waste must now be regulated? Is it? Should your bodily wastes now be packaged, surveyed, and sent to a licensed landfill? By your definition above, "contamination levels are irrelevant", so it would seem so, following "the letter of the law". Or, is there in reality some de facto BRC level?

Bob Applebaum said...

@ Anon

You are missing the context used by Gundersen. "How would you like it if you went to pick your flowers and were kneeling in radioactive waste?" See video;


Gundersen is saying that if a nuclear power plant accident like Fukushima occurred in the U.S., Americans might find themselves within radioactive waste.

The fact that the actual samples came from Fukushima which is not NRC licensed is irrelevant to his point. Also irrelevant is that all commercial byproduct material in the U.S. is regulated by the NRC, even that imported from other countries, including these samples. This is why these samples had to be disposed of in the U.S. as radioactive waste, even though they originated in Japan.

So Gundersen's point is pretty much technically correct, but our waste regulations are not written with a Fukushima style accident in mind. Which is why they don't address your questions on bodily wastes from fallout.

However, bodily wastes are regulated when a medical licensee administers radionuclides to a patient.

Anonymous said...

Well, it still sounds like FUD, using FUD-inducing words like "picking your flowers while kneeling in radioactive waste". Bah! By that definition, everything is then classified as "radioactive waste", the soil you walk on, the buildings you live and work in, your own body, all have traces of "contamination". You are swimming in it if you take a bath or swim in a pool. If there is no such thing as BRC, one would think that, technically, all those things should be classified as "radioactive waste" and therfore fall under regulation. The fact that they are not indicates that there is a de facto BRC, even if we must not call it that. But classifying a de facto operational policy as that-which-must-not-be-named does not make it any less of a reality.

I had a heart scan a few years ago that used millicurie-range 99mTc and I was released from the facility the same day. I am sure with a 6 hr. half-life some of that got into my excretions, but those were not regulated. Nobody made me collect and store my urine or feces. I didn't need to perform rad surveys or measure volumes. I just flushed it. Totally unregulated waste dumps. Was that against regulations? Am I going to jail? Were the doctors negligent? Uh, oh, I smell a lawsuit. Better retain Fairwinds as consultants, my radwastes are poisoning the world. Can I bamboozle the state of Vermont into shaking down Entergy to pay the bill? Horse puckey.

Bob Applebaum said...

@ Anon

Your Tc-99m waste was regulated under 10CFR20.2003. Those regulations allow for disposal of your wastes into the sewer.

There is no de facto BRC limit for wastes (other than detectability). There are certain processes which have more rigorous regulatory controls than others. In your medical case, there were no imposed regulatory controls, yet the waste was still regulated and specifically exempted from more onerous controls.

Anonymous said...

So that 99mTc "radwaste" was a lot higher in activity than the soil contamination, and was exempted from "other controls". Should then the Tokyo soil, probably much lower in specific activity, be similarly considered, at least from an activity viewpoint? If we're letting millicurie-range activity out into the environment in relatively concentrated form in the medical waste case, why are we getting all FUD-dy over incredibly dilute amounts of activity in soils? If we're "exempting" those radwastes from any kind of controls, from an operational viewpoint, is that essentially the same thing as saying, well, we won't bother with them, they our outside (below?) regulatory concern? I mean, if there were a concern, would they then not be regulated, at least in terms of control (when there is no control)? Is non-control really control? Huh, well, I see, sort of, maybe, kinda. Where's George Orwell when you need him?

Jani-Petri Martikainen said...

The video where he makes this claim (http://www.fairewinds.com/) seems to show briefly some lab results. The activities are highest in the samples from Shibuya district with 167 pCi/g for Cs and40 pCi/g from Co. If I am not mistaken these figures are roughly 10000 times lower than the NRC limits for low level class A waste. (For Cs137 1 Cu/m^3 and for Co60 700Ci/m^3)
see for yourself here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part061/part061-0055.html

Anonymous said...

So, Jani-Petri, you see what has happened here. Gunderson has exploited a quirk in the regulations and used that as a hammer to beat up the nuclear industry and spread more FUD. As the discussion above between Bob Applebaum and others indicates, there seems to be no such thing as "BRC". So if you find a miniscule amount of radioactive material in something that isn't NORM, even if it is just a single atom, then since there is no BRC threshold, that can be classified as "radioactive waste". But that same "definition" means everything, water, soil, your body, the entire planet (if you make that your control volume) is "radioactive waste". So Gunderson gets some samples and detects negligible amounts of radionuclides, but because he can detect them and they aren't NORM and there is no BRC, he claims that people are plantng their flowers while kneeling in "radioactive waste". He takes a harmless thing and turns it into a fearful boogeyman. Its a tried-and-true technique of FUD: take an exeeedingly small amount of something (atoms), but because radiation measurements are so sensitive you can detect them, and because of a loophole in the definitions, exploit that to spread FUD. It is utterly dishonest and despicable, but nobody, especially the media, will call him on it, except in places like this, and what NEI puts out, but those are voices in the wilderness.

The ironic thing is, as noted in the discussion above, someone can have a medical procedure and a few days later poop out material that is billions of times more concentrated (hey, two can play that game) than anything Gunderson has found, but the regulations say, in effect, no big deal, go ahead and poop it out, we won't count it (i.e., it's BRC, only, ssshhhh, don't say that, we don't want to hear it).