Nuclear Talk With Ken Bergeron

Thanks to the resourcefulness of my readers, I received the personal phone number of Ken Bergeron within moments of requesting it. Ken is is a physicist and former Sandia scientist who worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation, and the author of Tritium on Ice: The Dangerous New Alliance of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power, published in October 2004 by the MIT Press. I reached Ken at 11 a.m. Japan time, Tuesday, March 15 and spoke to him for about 20 minutes. The following is my summary of what he told me.

The use of seawater to cool the reactors is unconventional, a last-ditch effort that will be seen in the coming days as either heroic or wrongheaded. We can’t know now, but it won’t be long before we do know.

He characterized the situation as being “extremely dangerous” but didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm people who cannot or will not leave the area. I pressed him nonetheless on the primary risks and what the worst-case scenario would entail.

The biggest risk is that the containment vessel is destroyed or compromised, releasing a radioactive cloud that makes its way high into the atmosphere. Eastbound prevailing winds should carry most of the cloud to sea, but the worry is that the wind will shift south and move the oval-shaped plume into Metropolitan Tokyo. Then, if it began to rain, the worst-case would have developed because radioactivity would rain down upon millions of people. Unfortunately, it’s overcast now and threatening rain around Tokyo.

In the case of radioactive rain, the concern is not the radiation itself, which would be weak, but rather the radioactive chemicals making their way inside people’s bodies and then being assimilated into bones and tissue. It’s very hard to get rid of them. Assimilation is how small quantities of radioactive material can cause a long-term probability of cancer. People would not be getting radiation sickness and falling down in streets and stairwells. The damage would be of a slower-moving variety, but one that could prove to be as devastating over time as the more dramatic death toll we’ve already witnessed from the earthquake and tsunami.

If the containment vessel is breached, the knowledge will be public immediately and citizens will be provided with information on how to protect themselves from radioactive chemicals. The basic procedure is to remain indoors with as tight a seal as possible over vents and other entrances, and keep the home free of dust and other particulates. Now is a good time to stock up on water and other survival goods to facilitate staying indoors for an extended period of time. Nobody knows how extended. I suggest filling a bathtub and other containers with clean water immediately.

Ken wanted to make clear that the likelihood of the worst-case developing is low. The most likely outcome is that the containment vessel remains intact and life continues normally with no long-term consequences. Within a few days, we’ll know and will probably be looking back on these times with great relief. Regarding the container, we’re facing a binary outcome, go or no-go. Either it remains intact and the radioactivity is contained, or it doesn’t and the radioactivity is released.

Ken suggested that we count ourselves lucky that this is not happening in Moscow or another place less capable of handling the crisis, or somewhere with a population less civil than Japan’s.

Thank you to Dutch for sending me Ken’s contact info in the blink of an eye, and to Ken for taking time to offer this insight and allowing me to share it publicly. If any other authorities on the subject have something to add, please use the comment section below to do so and be sure to include your qualifications so we know why we should trust your information. That’s very important to those of us here now. No hyperbole, please.

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24 Comments

  1. Dennis LeGear
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Get this to Ken Bergeron

    We delivered to FDNY three Liquid trans pumps which are floating hydraulic pumps. Along with these pumps is 12 miles of 6” x 100’ rubber covered hose. Each pump is capable of 3000 GPM for a total on 9000 gallons. I don’t know if anyone has asked FDNY but the pumps are small enough for transport by air the total weight is under 4000 pounds each. We have at Key 60,000’+ of 6”x 660’ hose we can provide uncoupled or coupled to support the pumps operation. We also can deliver within a week 4000 pieces of 5” coupled Storz 100’ long.

    I also believe in China there is 30,000’ of 12” used for the support of the Olympics. How it is coupled or if it is still there I don’t know.

    President Key Fire

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From:
    Date: Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 4:35 AM
    Subject: Fwd: Solution Read Please Re: Nuclear meltdown
    To:

    ——– Original Message ——–

    Subject:

    Solution Read Please Re: Nuclear meltdown

    Date:

    Thu, 17 Mar 2011 01:33:39 -0700

    From:

    To:

    tfdinfo2@tfd.metro.tokyo.jp

    Red line is only 1500 feet…..I think this is very possible using your fire-boats and the proper hose and some helicopters

    On 3/17/2011 12:30 AM, Dennis wrote:

    Subject: Japanese Nuclear Meltdown Solution regarding water supply issue.

    http://www.kidde-fire.com/utcfs/ws-465/Assets/BigFlow_Domestic.pdf

    I am not sure who to contact, but I thought this would be the quickest way. I am a sort of water supply geek (google me) and have written on the subject matter, especially regarding the emergency need to move large amounts of water quickly by pumps. The above web-site shows the system that I think would work best for the nuclear incident in Japan. I believe the department of homeland security funded two systems to protect New Jersey’s refinery infrastructure after 9/11/01. I have some very specific ideas on how it could be deployed in a hot zone…with out going in details I believe it could be done. Williams fire control would be the best company to contact (In case of emergency call 409-727-2347 or 281-999-0276) for logistics and rapid response and set-up along with Kidde and possibly myself.

    I picture the below set up on a barge in front of the reactors, the hose on reels with attached nozzles lifted to the proper place by helicopter. Then start the pumps to flood the effected area.

  2. Vicki Kilborn
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Would it be possible to quickly come up with a very long bucket or attach a wide hose to the existing bucket that the Japanese are using to deliver water to the Fukushimo Nuclear Reactor?

  3. Posted March 16, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  4. Posted March 16, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    do your research better! this guy is full of shit! a “no nuke” liberal!
    lets power the country only on sunny and windy days,makes alot of sense!?!

  5. Clemens
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    A (more or less) objective explanation of the events in Fukushima can be found here:

    http://mitnse.com/

    The site is maintained by the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT and should have at least the scientific facts right. Lots of media reports have many errors in that department or even spread hysteria.

  6. michael nettrour
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fukushima-core&page=2

    Poster number 8 at the above link has a pretty good handle on the problem. Waiting for a friend, a former Oak Ridge Labs, nuclear phyiscist’s to see what he thinks. If I had young children or a pregeant wife in that area, I would get them out.

    http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/iodine-000308.htm
    This link with the references to the experts shows how iodine can be use to combat accumulation of low doses of radiation.

  7. Judith Ryno
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    I understand the unlikelihood of this total destruction. However, just so we can prepare and rest assured, what happens to us on the West Coast of the U.S.? I live in Olympia WA.
    Will the wind carry any radiation or radioactive material that will endanger us?

    (Just a nurse, )
    Judith

  8. Sarav Sam
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Jason – Thanks for your first-hand insights and we all pray for you and all the people safety in Japan. Can you please tell us in what ways we can help such as providing donation to reliable organization where the benefits will reach the affected people faster? Do you have any idea about Japanese Red Cross (OR) Can you please recommend any organization from there where we can donate from USA/Other Countries?

  9. Zack
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Jason, go somewhere safe for a little while PLEASE. I know you want to stay to show courage and because you have been there for so long you have an emotional attachment to the place the the people there. But if this were an investment I think you would sell it. I know that most likely everything will be fine, but the risks are too great. Get out.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Am considering it, Zack, and thank you for the concern. Radiation levels are dropping, but we’re still too far from the all-clear to relax. Nonetheless, it doesn’t look irresponsible to shelter here. To stay or go is a difficult decision, not least because so many people care and want to know that I’m safe.

  10. Frank Pinkston
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I am no expert but if the US Navy is moving ships further away that are already miles off the coast, I would be following their actions and moving further away. The only pattern has been to expand the range of danger and evacuation.

    Good luck and God be with you.

    Frank

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      That was ominous, but they’re already back. Let’s hope the tide turns and momentum builds on the side of recovery.

  11. Chris
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    From Colorado:

    Jason,

    hope recovery is near and further disaster far from events yet to unfold.
    my heart goes out to all Of Japan…!

  12. Bob
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Jason for sending out the informative coverage on the situation in Japan! I am curious on what you are hearing from your neighbors about what is going on. I have contacts with people in Sendi and Fukushima. They seem much more concerned about basic services, primarily water, than the radiation issue. This radiation issue seems to be sensationalized for media effect. As Ken stated in your recent note, the far more likely outcome will be that the containment will hold and life will go on as usual. If water and sewage services are not restored to the citizens there will be worse immediate consequences, yet there is little mentioned about that. Poop and water just are not news worthy I guess. If one wants to speculate on worst case scenarios I would think another major quake / tsunami would be more likely and devastating. Until then though it might be a good idea to focus on what can be done to help the survivors by getting them what they need. I know this is easier said than done, but all this talk about radiation being the big issue just takes away from the real concerns of those in immediate need. I’m absolutely confident that those brave soles working at the power plants are doing everything humanly possible to bring the situation under control as quickly as possible. If Homer Simpson were working there I might be worried, but he is not Japanese.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      I hope you’re right about the sensationalization of nuclear incident. Meantime, you’re right to notice that a secondary humanitarian disaster is building on the periphery of the main damage zone, as supplies run out and transportation options dwindle.

  13. Posted March 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone heard that Miso taken as soup I would imagine, is good for cleaning radioactivity out of the system?

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      I had not heard that, but had heard that seaweed contains trace iodine that helps.

  14. James Klauzner
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Jason thank you very much for your continuing efforts to bring some clarity and factual info to this mess, keep up the great work.

  15. Posted March 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, everybody. I’m glad the info is helpful. May need to evacuate the area soon before returning after the risk of radioactive rain subsides. Even if I relocate to a safer distance, I’ll do my best to stay connected and keep the updates coming.

  16. Mike B
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    My wife regularly travels to Japan from our Hawaii home and is heart-sick for her dear friends whose lives are now in turmoil. Thank you for your always straight forward manner of bringing us news and advice. My eleven year old daughter, Mariko, is collecting socks from Costco and wherever else she can and is thrilled she can help in this small way.

    Be careful and Aloha to you and peace and comfort to all in Japan.

  17. hiro
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much.All my family and friend lives in Tokyo, and they don’t know what to do….

    now I can help them with your info.

    Thanks again.

  18. laurel
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank Goodness!

    Stay safe,,,,,and may be time for a long vacation?

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