Atomic Show #168 – Tom Popik, Foundation for Resilient Societies

I received an email from Tom Popik, the founder of the Foundation for Resilient Societies a few days ago. The email was addressed to a selection of people who blog favorably about nuclear energy. For some odd reason, Tom thought that we might be interested in supporting the petition for rulemaking that his organization has filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

That proposed rulemaking would add backup power and cooling water source requirements for used fuel pools to enable them to operate unattended for at least two years following a loss of all offsite power. One of the proposed technologies advocated for this capability is a large array of solar panels with battery back up.

As you might imagine, I find the whole notion ridiculous and I told Tom that when I responded to his email. Used fuel pools are adequately supplied with cooling systems, there is no reason to think that any system should be able to operate without human intervention for 2 years, solar power systems have designed failures every 12 hours or so, and even if used fuel pools did lose their water, there would not be a risk to the public. Based on the results of the theory to practice event in the spent fuel pool of Fukushima unit 4, loss of water causes locally high radiation levels due to the loss of shielding, but that is about the extent of the real effects.

The fuel in that pool did not suffer any damage, despite all word to the contrary from the breathless, but technically ignorant, sources of initial information. Though the Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that the pools were dry and at risk of catching fire, his statements were issued when there was still some conflicting data being released.

After several exchanges, I decided that it would be a good idea to invite Tom onto The Atomic Show to allow him to share his worries and to give me a chance to challenge his assumptions in a public forum. Unlike many critics of nuclear energy, Tom took me up on the challenge. I hope you enjoy the show. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on whether you thought it was a valuable exercise.

Should I try to invite more nuclear doubters or outright opponents onto the show? During a discussion on Margaret Harding’s 4 Factor Consulting Blog, someone suggested a debate between me and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Consulting. What do you think?


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8 Responses to “Atomic Show #168 – Tom Popik, Foundation for Resilient Societies”

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  1. Reese says:


    My short answer to your first question, you give this guy more credibility than he deserves just by talking to him.

    I’m torn though. Should I give him the benefit of the doubt, I would ask him to apply his skills as an analyst and speaker to a broader range of energy production/use and put reward/risk into prospective. You gently made that point at minute 58 or so.

    He tipped his hand early. I don’t know, it was two or three minutes in. He made a comment that transformers were susceptible to the solar storms at a particular nuclear plant. Are transformers at nuclear plants special? Are the physics and engineering he is quite an authority about special at nuclear power plants?

    Does water soak into his grits faster than in the rest of the entire grit-eating world?

    Longer answer to your question. Yes, and it is your prerogitive. It is your show, free and worth every penny and then some (thanks expressed in the best way I know how). Pick and choose. I bet your Mommycast episode was the best bang for your buck. Maybe that MTV guy is a close second.

    Seek those types out, not this guy who was making the point, something like, “nuclear is so dangerous that no matter how safe it has been made, we must make it safer, no matter how much that costs, until nuclear power is hobbled!”

  2. Thomas Popik says:

    In regard to Rod’s question during the show about why transformers are protected against lightning but not Geomagnetically Induced Current (GIC) from solar storms, lightning arrestors are designed for high voltage, short rise time surges, but not long-duration quasi-DC currents. GIC can be up to 100 amps and last for hours or even days, unlike lightning. The voltage from GIC is much lower than from GIC. For more information, see these links:

  3. Artemi says:


    Thank you for the show. I enjoyed it very much.

    You should try to invite more outright opponent. I believe the fact it is your show will make a huge difference. Not only in a way you are free to pick a choose as Reese suggests, but also because you would not be limited by broadcasting or publishing constrains such as length of time you are allowed to speak or number of worlds etc. We, your listeners, would have an opportunity to see your opponents points to be challenged in the proper engineering way.

    Just one very minor point. Sometimes there is quite a lot of background nose from your microphone. I appreciate you are not in a proper studio, but for example going on mute when you don’t speak may help.

  4. R Margolis says:

    With respect to the issue of reactors operating without a grid connection, many operating reactors have reactor pwoer cutback systems that allow for losing the turbine without a reactor trip (Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon are examples). More advanced versions (e.g., Shin Kori in Korea) allows the plant to drop to house loads on loss of offsite power.

  5. Robert Richter says:

    I was invited to a small seminar on Nuclear Preparedness where the speaker overblew this Fukushima and among other things said “The only thing possible with Fukushima is to blow it up with an atomic bomb when the winds are not blowing toward Tokyo and get it over with. Otherwise, Tokyo will have to relocate.”

    I haven’t yet listened to this episode in my daily commute, but will shortly. I just want to say that Rod & company’s podcasts are a breath of fresh air compared to what I hear among some of my nuttier acquaintenances. Thanks for your show. At one time, I was a fence sitter, but Rod and Kirk & Charle’s blogs helped convince me nuclearwas the right way to go, and Fukushima hasn’t changed my views.

  6. Septeus7 says:

    I would love to hear a debate between you and Arnie because the anti-nukes cite him more than anyone else and now that his claims about the spent fuel pools have been debunked it’s time for him to answer for his FUD.

  7. Nicole says:

    Yes, the transformers at nuclear plants are special. They are usually single phase instead of 3-phase, which means they saturate at levels of GIC several times lower. They may also be more likely to be located in positions of unfavorable geometry, such as at the end of longer E-W conduits, and near large bodies of water.

  8. Julius says:

    With respect to the issue of reactors operating without a grid connection, many operating reactors have reactor pwoer cutback systems that allow for losing the turbine without a reactor trip (Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon are examples). More advanced versions (e.g., Shin Kori in Korea) allows the plant to drop to house loads on loss of offsite power. Oh well…

    Best regards,


    Diablo 3 barbarian skills