Nuclear Whistleblower: “Spent Fuel Pools In US Are A Potential Timebomb, Situation Can Get Worse Than Chernobyl”

Tyler Durden's picture

Nuclear Whistleblower: “Spent Fuel Pools in US are a potential timebomb, situation can get worse than Chernobyl”

Interview by Tuur Demeester

George Galatis became world famous in 1996, when Time Magazine
featured him in its cover article “Nuclear Warriors”. Today, he warns
that that the situation in the USA may soon become much graver than that
in Japan.

Working as a Senior Engineer at Northeast Utilities company (NU) in
Connecticut, Galatis noticed that across the country, high-level
radioactive waste was being stored in overfull spent-fuel pools,
creating the kinds of risk that could lead to a nuclear disaster with
radiological consequences greater than those in Japan today, graver than
even the Chernobyl disaster. Indeed, along with a host of other safety
related issues, his 1992 memo specifically mentioned that some of the
pool’s cooling pipes weren’t designed to withstand an earthquake as they
were required to.

After a lengthy legal battle, and dealing
with an uncooperative Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Northeast
Utilities Company was eventually convicted of 25 federal felonies, was
forced to sell all of its nuclear plants, and lost over $3 billion in
what company CEO Bruce Kenyon called “the largest management turnaround
in the history of the nuclear industry”. Eventually, NU grudgingly made
the fuel pool cooling system changes that Galatis had suggested. Though
treated as a hero by the public, collegues continued intimidation and
threats, according to Galatis, which eventually killed his career in the
nuclear industry.

In light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, where spent fuel rods are
in effect melting down in the aftermath of an earth quake and
subsequent tsunami, these sentences of the 1996 Time article have a
prophetic ring to them:

“Because the Federal Government has never created a storage site for high-level radioactive waste, fuel pools in nuclear plants across the country have become de facto nuclear dumps—with
many filled nearly to capacity. The pools weren’t designed for this
purpose, and risk is involved: the rods must be submerged at all times. A
cooling system must dissipate the intense heat they give off. If the
system failed, the pool could boil, turning the plant into a lethal
sauna with clouds of reactive steam. And
if earthquake, human error or mechanical failure drained the pool, the
result could be catastrophic: a meltdown of multiple cores taking place
outside of the reactor containment, releasing massive amounts of
radiation and rendering hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
” (Emphasis added.)

So what does whistleblower George Galatis make of the global nuclear
crisis that developed since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11?

George Galatis: “Since
the start of the Japanese nuclear crisis, I have been very concerned
about its consequences to the Japanese people, to the general public,
about the lack of attention to what I perceive as being the real issue.”

Tuur Demeester: What is the real issue at stake, in your opinion?

GG: “The real issue is that
of nuclear safety. Right now the true risk to public health and safety
associated with the generation of nuclear power is intentionally kept
from the public. Because of misplaced trust, these enormous risks are in
effect being enforced on the public without their knowledge or consent.
People need to know about and agree to accept the real risks involved
so that when a scenario like Fukushima—or worse—arises here, there is
already a degree of acceptance. Without this formal public acceptance,
nuclear power will never be cost effective nor will it survive.”

“And despite many years of hard work of
the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and others such as Robert
Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies, the risks associated with
nuclear power and in particular, the storage of spent fuel in the spent
fuel pools, have not been properly addressed by the nuclear industry and
its Federal regulator. Without appropriate action, the nuclear tragedy
in Japan may very well be reproduced on American soil at some point in
the near future.”

TD: Why were these risks kept hidden from the public?

GG: “The reason for
this, in my opinion, is that the radiation dose limits of a spent fuel
pool accident would now exceed the limits set by Congress and originally
agreed to by the public when the license to operate or build a nuclear
plant was approved. Had the radiological consequences or risks
associated with a spent fuel pool accident been communicated to the
public prior to the NRC and the nuclear industry opting to
perform full core off loads and store vast amounts of spent fuel in the
pool, the public would not have accepted them. So, the NRC opted instead
to ignore this change “from original operation” and its radiological
impact by offering this as their official position: “the agency [NRC]
analyzes dose rates at the time a plant opens—when its pool is empty.
The law does not contain a provision for rereview.” Unfortunately, the
industry also went along with this line of reasoning, even though it
blatently contradicts reality.”

TD: Could you name some specific risks the public is facing today?

GG: “For example, one of
the big surprises the public has become aware of is that the spent fuel
pools in the Japanese nuclear power plants do not have a containment
structure over them to prevent the escape of radioactive contaminants.
People today can not believe how the design of a plant could so grossly
compromise the health and safety of the general public. Yet this is one
of the key safety issues we have right here in the USA as well: 23
American reactors are based on the same ‘Mark I’ blueprint as the
Fukushima plant, and all 33 US Boiling Water Reactors share the same
spent fuel pool design.”

TD: What are the safety issues with the spent fuel pools?

GG: “These pools
were originally designed to hold less than half of a reactor’s core of
fuel as a normal mode of operation, and that on a temporary basis. They
were never intended to serve as a long-term nuclear fuel storage
facility. However, today most nuclear plants in the USA contain more
than five cores, which is at least ten times their original design for
normal operation, and at least 2-3 times more than the amount held at
the Fukushima unit 4 spent fuel pool.
This means the US power
plants, especially those with elevated spent fuel pools, are potential
ticking timebombs, waiting for earth quakes, human error, acts of
malice, or terrorism to cause a radiological crisis.”

TD: Your success as a nuclear whistleblower did not turn the tide?

GG: “Only
temporarily, but I knew that beforehand. Many warnings to the industry,
the nuclear industry regulators, and Congress, have not been heeded at
all. For example, after the 9/11 attacks here in the USA, a
Congressional Commission was formed and one of the issues was how
vulnerable the nuclear plants were to terrorist attacks, especially
airplane attacks. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a
public proclamation that the plants are safe because of the concrete
dome protecting the ‘reactor’. Their initial answer was entirely beside
the question, and the issue of the spent-fuel pools remained unanswered,
in my opinion intentionally.”

TD: Worldwide, there are sixty
reactors under construction in 15 countries, with most in Asia, the USA,
and eastern Europe. According to the Council of Foreign Relations,
the USA currently has 25 reactors in the planning stages, with $8.33
billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two nuclear reactors
in Georgia. What are your thoughts about this expansion of nuclear power

“In the USA, I would not consider any future expansion until the
current nuclear safety, national security, and long-term storage issues
have been addressed, approved by all stakeholders (public, industry,
regulators, legislators), implemented fully, and are fully functional. 
It would be premature and unwise to start building new plants when the
issues of the present plants haven’t been addressed yet, especially the
spent fuel and national security issues.  In addition, much can be
learned from from the current Japanese crisis which may need to be
incorporated into the new designs once that evaluation and analysis is
completed. “

TD: Do you have any final words of advice to share?

GG: “In my
experience, official sources of information are often confusing and of
little transparency. Given the enormous risks involved, it is vitally
important for everyone to do their own research and become more
informed. Fortunately today, thanks to the Internet, there are
sufficient resources available. As I mentioned before, I think the Union
of Concerned Scientists is doing an excellent job in addressing the
pressing issues at hand and educating the public. Hopefully, the
industry, the NRC, and Congress will heed their advice and remember
whose interests it is they are supposed to serve: those of the general

Recommended background articles:

Time Magazine 03/04/1996: “Nuclear Warriors

Time Magazine 03/17/1997: “Nuclear Safety Fallout

New York Times: “Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor

The Boston Channel tv: Plants stockpiling nuclear waste?

All Things Nuclear: Internal NRC Document Reveals Doubts about Safety Measures

Union of Concerned Scientists: Nuclear Power Safety

Union of Concerned Scientists: Sabotage and Attacks on Reactors

CNN: “Nuclear Whistleblower Explains Design Flaws of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan

Wikipedia: List of Boiling Water Reactors

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Encroaching Darkness's picture

Thank you for that information! I'm not all that close to nuclear, but had passing interest in it a while back.

Maxter's picture

I will talk out of my ass here, but I'm pretty sure they all have more than one.  For economic reasons.

Chernobyl had 4.  3 of wich continued to work until the year 2000 or so.

IdioTsincracY's picture

I think they're saving all those rods for the American taxpayer. As we bend over for another round of "trickle down" wealth, we'll find pleasure as they shove those rods up our arses.
I think that just about does for 'screwing up' the American people.

QaplaSilver's picture

Does anyone else get the nagging feeling that the people in charge of the government and the mega-corps seem to almost want to create mass suffering? Or are they just so stupid, deranged and arrogant that even Caligula would be embarrassed?

trav7777's picture

they're really just stupid but they have been told how great they are their entire lives.

Read about Antoinette's reaction to being taken to her own execution in a horse cart; she was incredulous that she was not given a carriage.  Our "elites" are really that out of touch.

Bastiat's picture

Caligula would blush.  Good one.

IdioTsincracY's picture

We are the stupid ones. It sort of feels like those tens of thousands of Jews who could not muster up the strength to revolt against their guards in their camps. [Not intended to offend anybody] As we see these few people ruin our life, we do absolutely nothing as we keep going about our 'pursuit of happiness' (or lack thereof).
Millions of us against few thousands of them ... but the sheeple can only fight each other....
What a shame!!

trav7777's picture

hell they couldn't muster the strength to not board trains to concentration camps

djsmps's picture

I'm not Jewish and certainly wasn't there during the holocaust. But, I don't buy your analogy. First of all, they didn't know , except maybe the last transports from Poland, that they were going to their deaths. I think if they know and understood that they were facing the unimaginable, it would have been different. But who, even during those times, could even imagine the Nazi's would do what they did. And there certainly were uprisings in some camps by survivors, particulary Treblinka.

We have much more knowledge now, except most people just believe what they are told. This was quoted a few days ago in this forum, and it bothers to think this may be the way most people in this country react:

 “In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. They simply swallowed everything. . .”  George Orwell. "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

Psquared's picture

There were plenty of revolts ... nothing widespread or organized because it couldn't be. But where there were revolts the Jews were gunned down unmercifully.

Gee, I wonder why all those prisoners in Guantanamo Bay don't rebel against their captors and bust right outta those cells.

moneymutt's picture

same thing for slavery in southern US, revolts happened but they never could succeed but they couldn't overthrow like Haitians did due to things being spread out, difficulty of organizing...its like saying north koreans are passive but those south koreans, they knew how to fight for democracy.

max2205's picture

Crap, now if it happens here we won't be surprised.

paperhead's picture

What to do with spent fuel rods:

1) keep them in the swiming pool--danger Will Robinson!

2) ship to Yucca or someplace else- Right past your house.

3) Bury them on-site in a 30000 foot deep well drilled with modern oil well type rig.  Way below the water table.  Use directional drilling to create dozens of 1000 meter long holes from the same surface hole.  Put the rods down there in small bunches. Concrete them in place in well spaced out bunches.  This should keep them out of our hair for 100million+ years. Problem solved, cheap, safe.  Why aren't we doing this now?


Encroaching Darkness's picture

Someone above brought up earthquakes, in relation to Yucca Mountain; although I believe (could be wrong) that there was some consideration given in the design of the facility to earthquakes; also, I'm aware that Fukushima was NOT designed with an 8.0 earthquake in mind (although, it withstood that, it was the tsunami that caused the failures).

Still, to address your suggestion (actually, not too shabby) we would have to address the seismic stability of each site; if you drill down and encase in concrete next door to a large fault, it might not be a hundred million years before problems "resurfaced", or found other routes to recontact. I would like to reclaim the usable uranium, since we aren't finding a whole lot of it lately, and the Russians are about to quit selling us old warheads to recycle; if the grounds are seismically suitable, something like what you suggest might be practical.

To address your "shipping" point - surely all these fuel rods were shipped IN? Why should it be any more bothersome to ship spent rods OUT? (properly radiation shielded, of course).

avonaltendorf's picture

Whoa. There are no 30,000-ft wells and no one is going to do any ultradeep horizontal drilling. 15,000 ft onshore with four 1000 meter laterals = $10 million. No known technique for shoving "bunches" of fuel rods downhole, but assume it exists. Who are you going to hire to do the drilling? Convict labor? Jeez. Abandoned hard rock mines, bub.

Urban Redneck's picture

Even those costs are too low, a well shaft is not large enough in diameter to transport the dry casks down, much less the machinery for horizontal drilling.   

$12 BILLION is what the government paid for doing basically the same thing close to the surface (Yucca).  Yucca achieves economies of scale in regards to implementation cost and storage capacity.  However, it also introduces the risk of transportation (the current alternative being the brilliant spent fuel pool model).  Assuming that each US reactor has a suitable geological profile, you would still have to spend billions of dollars at each reactor site...  

Psquared's picture

Okay, somebody tell me exactly WHY we cannot put spent fuel rods on rockets and fire them into the sun?

TomJoad's picture

"Ours always blow up."


Actually though; current tech has high earth orbit payload costs around $10k per pound, so about $40,000,000,000 for just what was in the pools at Fukushima. Seems cheap now.

Madhouse's picture

This is one sure fact about nukes: the owners never live closer than 100 miles to any one of them - and never upwind. That business has to go the way of tobacco.

Scum pieces of shit.

MSimon's picture

Tobacco is the drug of choice for schizophrenics.

Schizophrenia and Tobacco

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I am really tired of this chink.

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avonaltendorf's picture

Tyler please yank this asshole's account. Thx.

Cameli's picture

Just drop 'em in the Marianas trench. How much damage can they do down there?

nah's picture

its like the terrorists lets do it


declare war against nuclear power ! spends some trill and kick som ass

nah's picture

United we stand

topcallingtroll's picture

So the government has been assuring us that a plane couldnt crash thru a hardened containment building and put one reactor core at risk, when there are five cores in an open pool 50 yards away. I think if i were a terrorist i would aim for the open cooling pools and release five cores with my cessna packed with explosives.

ivars's picture

Short summary with data and table why Fukushima moved into 7 and how 10% of Chernobyl has been calculated. Actually, Cs-137 with 30 years half life is has been already leaked at amounts =20% of Chernobyl total. And its reactor 2 which has been and still is responsible.

mess nonster's picture

Nuclear power is as safe as playing Russian roulette. So, when NP boosters claim it is safe, it is the difference between playing Russian roulette once a month (less safe) versus playing Russian roulette once a year (more safe). That about sums it up.