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E-mails bares US nuke regulatory body's chaos on Fukushima crisis

Washington , Thu, 09 Feb 2012 ANI

Washington, Feb.9 (ANI): Several e-mails posted on the web site of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission show an agency struggling to figure out how to respond and deal with the American public while cutting through what one official called "the fog of information" coming out of Japan with regard to the Fukushima nuke plant radiation leak crisis.


Now, as the first anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe approaches, the initial response by regulators still holds lessons for the nuclear industry and policymakers.


According to the Washington Post, the NRC emails reveal disagreement about how to advise the Japanese.


The NRC staff chafed at some unorthodox advice coming from an ad hoc group of scientists assembled by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.


Famed physicist Richard Garwin, one of Chu's group, proposed setting off a controlled "shaped" explosion to break through the concrete shield around the primary steel containment structure to allow cooling water to be applied from the outside.


One NRC scientist called the idea "madness."


Another idea from the Chu group was to attempt a "junk shot" - a variation on what some engineers proposed to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - to plug leaks of radioactive water from Fukushima's nuclear reactors into the Pacific.


When using a mixture of sawdust, newspapers and other junk failed, Tepco ultimately used a compound known as liquid glass.


"The emails provide a candid picture of the level of uncertainty and confusion within the U.S. government and indicates that even U.S. experts had major divisions about what was going on and how to best mitigate the crisis," said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.


The NRC also found itself in a sensitive spot on the state of the spent fuel pools.


The pools are located either above or next to the Fukushima reactors.


NRC officials were concerned during the first week about making sure those pools did not leak or dry up, which would lead to more radiation releases.


Yet the NRC did not want to share all of its background - much of it classified - on this subject.


Lyman said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers, the agency was worried about potential attacks on reactors.


The emails say that experts from France, Germany and Japan - all worried about their own reactors - sought access to the information on March 17, six days after the Fukushima quake.


But the NRC was reluctant to share studies even when asked by a science adviser to the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and an adviser to the French government's institute for radiation protection and nuclear safety.


he emails have been publicly available for weeks on the NRC website, but the voluminous files have attracted little attention. (ANI)


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