Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Kevin Kamps - North Anna Nuclear Plant. 24 August '11

Thom Hartmann: Okay we will get back to Eric Holder and the 911 victims in just a minute. But first, Kevin Kamps is with us with He is the radioactive waste watchdog for that organization. Kevin, welcome back to the program.

Kevin Kamps: Hey Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Great to have you with us.

Kevin Kamps: Thank you.

Thom Hartmann: The, we were on the air yesterday when that quake happened, just a little before, was it just a little before 2, it must have been, around 1:40, 1:50 p.m. yesterday afternoon, eastern time. And it was quite shocking but we were not sitting on a nuclear power plant. We were just sitting relatively near one in Washington DC. What’s the situation with the North Anna Nuclear Plant in Virginia?

Kevin Kamps: well the moment I heard that Mineral Virginia was the epicenter, I thought uh oh that’s the hometown of North Anna Nuclear Power Plant. The current situation is that the electrical grid power which had been lost yesterday afternoon has been restored. That happened early in the evening yesterday. So they had to fire up the emergency diesel generators for some hours there. And guess what, one of them failed. They have four on site, two for each reactor. And one of them did not work. And so, there you go again. That’s a, you know, 25% failure rate on emergency diesel generators.

Thom Hartmann: And if a second one had failed for the same reactor we would be looking at what?

Kevin Kamps: They would had to have scrambled quickly, probably to transfer the power from one of the other one son site to the reactor now in the dark. They don’t have a whole lot of time to mess around with a reactor core that goes from 100% power and is scrammed and then you lose all power. They probably do have some battery backups so they may have had some time margin there, but you don’t want to screw around. We saw that at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 especially which melted down within five hours of the earthquake in Japan.

Thom Hartmann: Why can’t a nuclear reactor use the power that it is generating from its own steam turbines to power its own cooling system?

Kevin Kamps: A number in the country do have such systems. Steam operated emergency backup power coming right off the core, so the core zone heat is providing emergency backup to the core itself. But not all of them. In fact the vast majority don’t have that.

Thom Hartmann: They just pull it off the, they pull it off the local electrical grid.

Kevin Kamps: The primary source of electricity for all safety and cooling systems and the pools for high level radioactive waste storage is the electrical grid. So you lose that, like they did at North Anna yesterday. You’re thrown onto the emergency diesel backups, which have a remarkable rate of failure in this country. And if you lose those, all you got left is four to eight hours of battery power. Most plants in this country only have four hours of battery backup. That’s half the time that Fukushima Daiichi had in place.

Thom Hartmann: Wow. And, that really is a wow. And it’s not just an earthquake that could take down the electrical grid. I mean, we’re having, now that the atmosphere has 5% more moisture in it than it did 30 years ago, as a result of global warming, we’re having violent, violent, what used to be little twisters across the midwest are now mild wide tornadoes. They have to be taking out power grids.

Kevin Kamps: Exactly and as we speak Hurricane Irene is heading towards the east coast of the United States. They’re saying anywhere between Florida and New England could be at risk. And if you lose the primary electrical grid due to a hurricane, you’re again in a crisis at a nuclear power plant. And we have dozens of reactors on the east coast of the U.S.

Thom Hartmann: Yikes. Apparently the good news is that there was no major damage done to this nuclear power plant other than that they lost their emergency cooling and had to go to the backups, where they had a 25% failure rate. The bad news is that the earthquake sensors that they had don’t exist. Do I have that right?

Kevin Kamps: Back in the 1990s Virginia Tech seismological system was removed from the North Anna Plant because of budget cuts. So…

Thom Hartmann: Budget cuts to whom?

Kevin Kamps: Probably state of Virginia budget cuts. There is an overlap of regulation between state governments and federal governments on nuclear power plants. And in this case the state of Virginia removed the seismological monitoring system.

Thom Hartmann: Now would that have been of any value to them or was that just one more sample point for if an earthquake happens here’s data for the University of Virginia or the state seismological organization to determine it’s intensity?

Kevin Kamps: Well I think that is an important role for a state government to play. They ended to know instantly how bad the earthquake was in terms of where to look for damage.

Thom Hartmann: Right. Especially at the plant.

Kevin Kamps: Well one aspect of this first reported at the Huffington Post is there’s a dam on Lake Anna, the cooling supply for the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant, that is considered at high risk of failure. This is a d-minus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the dominion nuclear has reported they’ve inspected the dam after the earthquake, they’ve found no damage. We’re still concerned, especially with a hurricane perhaps on its way, that would add stress to the dam.

Thom Hartmann: No. So if that dam goes then the water level, nuclear power plants require massive amounts, I mean gazillions of gallons, of water to cool themselves, which is why they’re always built near water. And if that dam breaks, does that mean that the water level in the lake drops to the point where the nuclear power plant can’t be sucking water out of it, or is it down river from the nuclear plant and we end up with a Nebraska kind of situation where the plant itself is being swamped as in the case of the Missouri River and the, what was the plant there…

Kevin Kamps: Fort Calhoun.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah Fort Calhoun, thank you.

Kevin Kamps: The former, at Lake Anna, the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant, draws its cooling water supply for the secondary circuit out of the lake and so if the dam were to break…

Thom Hartmann: Behind the dam.

Kevin Kamps: …you could lose that water supply and you may keep the water in the primary circuit, but that primary circuit of water needs to off load that heat into the second circuit, which may not exist if you lose that dam. You would have no ultimate heat sink to transfer the heat into and the core would overheat perhaps to dangerous or even catastrophic levels.

Thom Hartmann: How did we ever come up with this stupid idea of building these plants like this?

Kevin Kamps: Oh well it goes back to Enrico Fermi in 1942 splitting atoms to make bombs.

Thom Hartmann: And feeling guilty about it.

Kevin Kamps: Under Eisenhower they decided they needed a smiley face façade on the nuclear arms race and so they came up with atoms for peace, so called.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Amazing. Okay. Kevin Kamps. You can read all about it over at and let us all hope and pray that that dam doesn’t go and that there’s not another earthquake and that they figure out a way to make the emergency back up diesel generators at the North Anna Plan a little more effective. Thank you Kevin.

Kevin Kamps: Thank you Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Good talking with you. We’ll be back.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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