Irish people should ignore Arnie Gundersen because he’s wrong
A friend who often gets involved in discussions about nuclear energy stories with frightened people in his social media network contacted me to find out what I thought of an article titled Nuclear plant could be a ‘Chernobyl on steroids,’ says expert. Then the same story showed up on one of my daily news feeds.
As part of my service to the public, I read the story. My first impression was that the publication hosting the story was a marginal one — I could tell by the large banner “belly fat” ad that greeted me and by the dozens of margin ads on both side of the ugly page. My second impression was to realize that once again, Arnie Gundersen has decided to sell his fear mongering to an international audience that might not know much about him.
Like Professor Harry Hill in The Music Man Gundersen often arrives in a new venue actively promoting his self-assigned title of “nuclear expert” and proceeds to do what he can to win the confidence of the inhabitants of that new area. He may sound credible and he speaks well after many years of practice as a private school math teacher, but he stopped working in the nuclear energy industry more than 25 years ago. His departure was not voluntary.
Since his 1990 forced departure from the industry, with its accompanying 75% pay cut, he has been a professional opponent to nuclear energy, an “expert witness” for hire to any government body or antinuclear group with the means to pay his fees.
His latest whopper is to attempt to portray the Westinghouse AP1000, a nuclear reactor design that has passed through the stringent licensing review process of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as being vulnerable to an accident that would be worse than the 1986 accident that occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power station Unit #4.
A nuclear expert has warned that the design of proposed new nuclear reactors in Cumbria could turn the region into “Chernobyl on steroids” in the event of an accident.
Expert Arnie Gundersen said a leak from one of the proposed reactors would be devastating.
The American nuclear expert, who was CNN’s resident expert during the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, said the proposed AP1000 reactors were susceptible to leaks.
There are four AP1000 reactors under construction in the U. S., two in Georgia and two in South Carolina. Mr. Gundersen’s statements are technically unsupportable for a number of reasons. He is actively questioning the integrity and technical competence of hundreds of real experts and responsible safety regulators. If he was actually a professional engineer, he would be violating several sections of the ethical code of his profession by spreading inaccurate information, not serving the public interest, and by making public comments about engineering topics in areas well outside his expertise.
It may not be apparent to people outside the profession, but a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering does not indicate expertise in all areas of nuclear power plant design. A certification to operate a 100 watt research reactor on a college campus is not the same as a reactor operator license for a commercial nuclear power plant.
The AP1000 reactor design is safe. It is not subject to dangerous leaks. Unlike the Chernobyl reactor, it does not have a positive void coefficient and does not have a graphite moderator that has the potential to smolder for days. It has a full containment and can keep itself cool for several days even without any source of electricity or off site source of cooling water. There is no need for anyone in Ireland to worry about the safety aspects of building and operating three AP1000 units in Cumbria.
Additional Reading About Gundersen
February 11, 2010 – Is Arnie Gundersen Devious or Dumb? (Or is He Simply a Professional Fear-Monger?)
February 26, 2011 – Arnie Gundersen has inflated his resume, yet frequently claims that Entergy cannot be trusted
June 18, 2011 – Arnie Gundersen going international
December 13, 2011 – Crowd sourced debunking of Gundersen lies about AP1000 & Fukushima
April 6, 2013 – Was Arnie Gundersen a Licensed Reactor Operator and Senior VP Nuclear Licensee?
In a situation where a flimflam man misrepresents his credentials and expertise for both monetary compensation and for nefarious purposes — like getting personal revenge on an industry that stopped employing him 25 years ago — a detailed expose of his statements and real credentials is not a logical fallacy. It is the right action to take to correct the public record and enable knowledge-based decision making.
Gunderson in 1999, arguing against the construction of the Temelin reactors in the Czech Republic –
‘”If they bring the new plan online, they will end up laying off 100,000 coal miners,” Mr. Gundersen said, “and will have to deal with massive unemployment.”
So the ‘Clean Energy Brigades’ demonstrating against the reactors, and their imported ‘experts’ like Gunderson, weren’t too worried about where the by-products from that many miners would go. ( Incidentally, unemployment in the Czech Republic trended down fairly sharply from when the reactors were commissioned till the 2008 financial crisis. CO2 emissions have also decreased much more than in most of the newer EU countries. )
Well, I am Irish and I ignore Arnie and many parts of the country with large Irish populations like Pittsburgh, Philly, Boston and NYC have reactors near them and supplying them. But there are no reactors in Ireland? Are people against them, or do they get all their electricity from UK and France?
Arnie is trying to work up Irish opposition to reactors that would be located in Cumbria, UK on the other side of the Irish Sea from Ireland.
The reason Ireland has no nukes (and by Ireland I mean the 32 county Irish *nation*!) is that peak load is about 5,000MWs and baseload is about 3300MWs. Most reactors are in the 1,000 MW+ range so it would of been hard to integrate a large reactor into the grid. It would also make it harder to find replacement power during fueling every year and a half for a month or two.
The idea *now*, however, is that smaller, modular reactors in the 300MW size could be far more easily deployed. Financing that includes the valuable service of load following could allow that 3300MWs to 5000MWs swing to be easily accommodated.
Green Éire should go with Green Nuclear!
Some of the newer smaller reactors may only need refueling every 10 years or so. Outages would ,however, still be needed for maintenance. These newer reactors may make electrical generation even more out of sight and out of mind than it is today. No smokestack, unsightly coal piles and no long trains to wait for. It would be what solar energy wants to be without the land impact and 24 hour operation. I’ve never been to the Emerald Isle, but I’d think nukes would be better than peat burning.
Westinghouse Advances SMR Design Certificate with US NRC Approval for Safety Testing Program
Gunderson seems to really like that phrase “Chernobyl on Steroids” – isn’t that how he described Fukushima, an ‘accident’ that the UNSCEAR and WHO think will cause no additional deaths due to radiation?
I guess the truth doesn’t matter. All he has to do is say those three magic words, and the money starts flowing, the speaking engagements and interviewers start lining up.
People who make money from inducing fear in others are pretty despicable, IMO. And I’m not talking about harmless fake fear like in horror movies and thrill rides, but real life fear that disturbs the peace and well-being of others. Its an emotional assault no less harmful than a physical assault, and those who do it should be scorned and shunned.
“People who make money from inducing fear in others are pretty despicable, IMO”
Agreed. Limbaugh, Maddow, Coulter, Mathews, Hannity…..the list goes on and on.
“I guess the truth doesn’t matter. All he has to do is say those three magic words, and the money starts flowing, the speaking engagements and interviewers start lining up.”
But then who is there to rebut him at every turn? Arnie/Helen/etc get royally away with spewing FUD and earning public recognition and credibly by default of there being zero public/media challengers toe-to-toe debunking them! I’m WAY more pissed at there being no media/PR champions from the nuclear community or nuclear professional organizations stepping up to the media plate to face them down than angry at Arnie or Helen or their ilk themselves. If a guy’s spraying graffiti on your house do you get mad at the defacer or at yourself just sitting on your rocker watching him?
Why would your “champion” have to come from the nuclear community? Isn’t it the responsibility of responsible journalists to dig out the truth? I mean, in this case it is not buried very deeply. It seems pretty basic to check out whether a guy giving a speech is lying or not. How hard is it today to do an internet search for fact checking?
A nuclear-fair journalist is common as hen’s teeth. Ask the poor VY folks. 95% of people aren’t info miners. Facts have to be shoved their faces on a silver platter. That’s how Greenpeace works. That’s how British Petro bailed themselves out of the Gulf spill mess via hot ads. They push info to the public, not require the public to treasure hunt it themselves. You make the public have to work for facts and your side loses the public image battle. Madison Avenue lives on that.
Journalism is a business. The customers are the advertisers; the product sold to the customers is the audience.
One reason to advertise is to reach the audience; another is to develop a relationship with the publishers so they treat you fairly.
(That’s a thumbs up emoticon, for any who haven’t seen it before).
“Journalism is a business. The customers are the advertisers; the product sold to the customers is the audience”
This understates the insidious nature of misinformation. Motives for misinfo and media alliances are often driven by political agendas. You can sell propaganda in unison with product.
There are lessons to be learned from the BP/Gulf oil spill. They had an army of paid PR types to carry the ball. They got out in front of the story and turned it to their advantage. They sold the public on the idea that they were DOING SOMETHING. They also not-so-subtly reminded people of the value of their product at a personal level. The petroleum industry is vast and well-heeled and can do that.
But there is no “nuclear industry” There are owners of individual plants whose focus these days is the struggle to be competitive with natural gas generation and fend off the local politicians and activists whose reason for existence is to run them out of town (e.g., VY). There are a few vendors who sell a reactor now and then but are also in a lot of other businesses, so they aren’t terribly inclined to plow PR dollars into a part of their business that isn’t really generating a huge revenue stream for them. So who does that leave for “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”? Well, you’re looking at them, here, and on a few other blogs, lone wolves crying in the wilderness. Unless groups like ANS and NEI and whoever else is out there who can hear and heed the call step up to the plate.
It is not a question of ability because you are right, it isn’t that hard to check him out. Its a question of motivation and will. The groupthink and desire to “fit in” to the officially sanctioned storyline is strong among media types. You rarely hear a balanced presentation in popular media. Their motivation is to sell product and that usually means feeding people the pap that will sell stories.
I agree there should be a more organized effort on the part of pro-nuclear organizations to put the truth out and rebut the lies. The question always comes down to, who will do it and who pays them? The anti-nuclear forces are well-funded and staffed by people who have nothing else to do other than campaign against nuclear. Most pro-nuclear people have real jobs. So perhaps groups like NEI and ANS should consider some expenditure of funds to put boots on the ground in some of these venues. It should be people who are comfortable in that role and can present our side in a polished and professional manner. My impression is that a good percentage, perhaps the majority, of technically oriented people are not comfortable doing that. When under pressure we tend to fall back on arcane explanations and jargon. That doesn’t sell in a PR environment as much as a well-organized and easily absorbed presentation that is palatable for a layman. We have to remember that fear is the primary weapon of the other side. Think about how we counter irrational fear, perhaps like that of a child afraid of the dark or something they don’t instinctively understand.
Another problem is that in the media the anti forces control the narrative. One way I have tried to counter that is when journalism students contact me for information about nuclear topics, I try to plant this seed: if you want to go against the grain and break out of the groupthink mode, maybe tell both sides of the story for a change. Its worked a couple of times. Maybe if these students get jobs in the media they’ll carry that seed of skepticism with them and not parrot the officially sanctioned anti-nuclear meme.
“That doesn’t sell in a PR environment as much as a well-organized and easily absorbed presentation that is palatable for a layman.”
I totally agree with your assessment. But in my mind I really don’t split hairs between “promotion” and PR. I also agree “someone” should be doing it, but I’d anticipate the same problems would exist if it were NEI or ANS doing the promotion/PR. They would be attacked as simply as “mouthpieces” for the Industry who have a financial stake. And that is a pretty simple argument to buy, as they do have a financial stake indirectly.
IMO it falls directly on DOE, and by intent. The AEC was split into NRC and an org that ended up as DOE. For exactly the reason to separate promotion and regulation because of conflict of interest issues (real or imagined). AEC was before my time following stuff, so I really don’t know how much, if any, promotion/PR they did. But if it was actually being done by AEC, then the ball got dropped at DOE when the functions got split. Maybe some influence needs to address the issue with DOE, to get them to step up to the plate. They are in fact the national ENERGY branch of government. If DOE sees an effort to actually sabotage an energy option that DOE sees as viable it is their duty to debunk the saboteurs, loudly, clearly, frequently. NEI or ANS might be the correct avenue to reach DOE, but I think the promotion/PR currently lies squarely on DOE’s plate. And they are not doing it.
“They would be attacked as simply as “mouthpieces” for the Industry who have a financial stake. And that is a pretty simple argument to buy, as they do have a financial stake indirectly. …”
Mike, I agree that this argument would inevitably used against whomever tried to represent the pro-nuclear side (and it is used, against anyone, if they work in the business or not), Yet those who use the argument seem to exempt themselves from the same standard. Last I checked, Caldicott doesn’t practice much medicine anymore, nor does Gundersen do much in the way of real-world engineering. The one guy who used to haunt this blog a lot, Dr. Dr. John Something-or-Other, Ph.D., who called himself a “nuclear reporter” but had no credentials in the nuclear field. All of them make their lavish salaries doing nothing other than bashing nuclear, yet no one outside of a few here brings up their obvious conflict of interest. Gundersen especially carries it to an extreme, claiming to be a be a former SRO. Well, unlike yourself, he was an SRO of a zero-power research reactor, no where in the league of a 900 MWe PWR SRO. People who claim expertise beyond what they have are generally viewed quite dimly by those who actually have it.
Yes we agree about the problem. I’m just brain storming about where the strongest voice for rebuttal of crackpots and also the promotion should come from. I’m influenced by my belief, possibly wrong, that the intent when AEC was split, was for it to go to what is now DOE. In theory they should not have financial skin in the game, however they constantly change leadership due to Executive changes. And without a consistent sound ENERGY policy at the Executive level, it about seems hopeless at times. But I do believe it falls on DOE to do the promotion.
My impression is that when the AEC was running things the appointees to head it were more technically sound and grounded in science and/or technology application. Since then the DOE has been headed mainly by political hacks, while the NRC has been dominated by lawyers or, lately, anti-nuclear ex-physicists or geologists. I can’t recall anyone in the same league as AEC chairpersons like Glenn Seaborg or Dixy Lee Ray (although David Lilienthal was no prize). The pendulum has swung too far on the “impartiality” scale, IMO, to the point of where advocacy of any kind, by NRC or DOE, is disavowed. I can see the regulators wanting to go overboard in embellishing the appearance of impartiality, but it should no be so for those entrusted with the maintenance and advancement of the field.
I think my favorite Gundersen “theory” was the Fukushima pool 3 nuclear detonation scenario. He proposed that the hydrogen deflagration above the pool somehow distorted the fuel racks sitting on the bottom of the pool and collapsed the fuel into a prompt critical configuration thereby triggering a supersonic nuclear detonation, and this all must have transpired in milliseconds given the continuous appearance of the blast in video. And he not only clung to this theory when overhead shots shortly after showed pool 3 was intact and still full of water, but even years after underwater cameras showed the pool 3 racks were intact, square, undistorted, and not even dislodged. That he could concoct such a scenario in the first place not only displays his profound ignorance of nuclear theory, and even basic high-school physics, but also of the structural properties of fuel racks–the one area of engineering where he supposedly had some direct involvement. That he could have maintained it even after it was absolutely contradicted by direct evidence requires something on the order of magical thinking. Makes me wonder what sort of nonsense he imparted to his unfortunate students back when he was a “teacher”.
AFAIK none of the scare mongers, Gundersen, Jaczko, or any of the others, have retracted or apologized for their egregious errors and fear mongering. Remember it was Jaczko who used the FUD-inspiring “raging inferno” to describe the condition of SFP4. That they will not even now at this late date and after having been proved wrong admit their error is not so much “magical thinking” as it is a delusional, pathological, and warped view of reality.
>> That they will not even now at this late date and after having been proved wrong admit their error is not so much “magical thinking” as it is a delusional, pathological, and warped view of reality. <<
You know that. Most here know that. Most nuclear blogs know that. But does the greater public know that? So why should Gundersen and Jaczko and others want to take anything back? That's the sad crux of nuclear's public perception!
I am an honorable person, as most here are, and as such if I make an error in a professional venue I will want to correct the record and acknowledge the error. But that assumes two things that obviously are not in play for the examples given. First, that it is an honest mistake. Second, that we are dealing with people who have a sense of professional honor. So, in keeping with the above, I will acknowledge my erroneous assumptions. Just as we cannot expect those without a sense of shame to feel any measure of shame when they behave in a shameful manner, so should we not expect those who have no sense of professional honor and ethics exhibit any behavior characteristic of those traits.
It is very sad that we (those who know technically and emotionally that only nuclear power from fission can address the world’s energy needs looking out over the next 50+ years, climate change or not) are so wrapped around the axle to respond to the FUD that holds the country back from a major campaign to expand commercial nuclear power.
Just thinking: Since the ’70s (i.e., Vietnam), the “Reagan Revolution,” winning the cold war, and the multiple military campaigns in Iraq and Afganistan, have fostered a huge transformation in the respect and admiration for the military services by the public and media at large. The Navy uses dozens of (small) nuclear power plants in their submarines and aircraft carriers that freely roam through and around some of our finest coastal cities, with virtually no complaints or FUD. There are thousands and thousands of ex-sailors and officers who had operated those plants. Amongst them are, I believe, three retired Admirals who headed the Navy Nuclear program who are in a position to very clearly articulate the safety of those reactors and the translation of that technology and personnel to the commercial sector over the decades. I know one of them, Admiral Bowman, had very clearly spoke on the need for commercial nuclear power before he retired and became the NEI president.
I know Rod is one such ex-Navy Nuc Officer (as am I). Could this group (particularly the three retired Navy Nuc Admirals) be tapped to assist to provide a coordinated counter campaign to the FUD as well as participate in other related efforts (e.g., Senator Alexander’s planned hearings on nuclear power coming up later this year).
Again just thinking.
I’m not sure about a “coordinated counter campaign”, but I continue to encourage all of my former colleagues, especially my former classmates and shipmates, to do whatever they can to counter the false FUD that has resulted in taking one of our strongest tools almost off the table.
It is a tool that provides economic strength, motives for intense study, environmental advantages, and energy optionality.
Some of my acquaintances, by the way, occupy positions that give them a bully pulpit and loud megaphones. One of the good things about being a 55 year old Naval Academy grad is that many members of my peer group are also 45 to 65 year old Academy grads. That’s a pretty powerful group of people.
A few are starting to realize the importance of the effort and are contacting me about ways to make a positive contribution.
I have no doubts about your abilities to help steer them in the right directions, Rod.
Thanks Rod. I truly hope that those classmates/shipmates/acquaintances with the bully pulpit and loud megaphones who realize the importance of this effort do step up to contribute. I do believe the three ex-NR Admirals are in the best position to be recognized by the media and Congress.
A post on Senator Alexander’s upcoming hearings and the potential for ex-Navy Nuclear folks to participate/testify would be of great interest (I have written to the Senator suggesting such participation, but have gotten no reply).
Again thanks for all you do. I do try and spread the word about this website and your efforts.
Can’t post to original article (because comments are closed). But you might want to consider updating your article titled: “Radiation probes indicate NO melt through at Fukushima Unit 1.”
First report from muon scans for Unit 1 indicate no fuel in reactor pressure vessel (here). Tepco report in Japanese here. Les Corrice, who you credit for your article, has not posted an update on muon tomography results yet (presumably it will be forthcoming).
Les and I have been communicating about Tepco’s released information. We do not agree with the Japan Times interpretation of what Tepco found and reported so far.
From the English language version of the link that you provided from Tepco (sorry, I don’t read Japanese) the scans are currently showing “the measurement data do not show the existence of high-density substances (fuels) in the original position of the reactor core.”
Neither Les nor I have asserted that the core is in its original, unmelted position in the reactor pressure vessel. We believe that it melted and slumped down to the bottom of the pressure vessel in a way similar to, but more extensive than the melting at TMI.
So far, the images do not have sufficient resolution to determine if the high density core materials are at the bottom of the pressure vessel or not. That is already an expected area of thick, high density material and seems to be showing up in the muon scan.
Rod — It is clear that EL is employed by the anti-nuclear industry and is not honest enough to admit it. He never provides any personal information or experience or explains why he became so rabidly anti-NE. He completely ignores the big issues such as the fact that NE is a thousand times cleaner and safer than all the alternatives. Instead, he aims to focus on some minor, unimportant, irrelevant detail which appears to contradict one of the thousands of details and facts that appear in your blog. His goal is to spread FUD and suck out some of your blood like a true parasite.
According to TEPCO, the muon scans do not show this. They show high attenuation materials (identifying walls of PCV but not the bottom), and no high density substances (fuels) larger than 1m in the scan. Most of the data is focused on reactor core location, and is “consistent with TEPCO’s previously accounted estimation of the reactor and the containment vessel conditions.”
Contrary to results provided by TEPCO (and statements they have made), where are you or Les (in your discussions) finding clearly indicated high density materials “showing up in the muon scan.”
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