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Institute for Policy Studies
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  • March 20, 2011

    The Reno Gazette-Journal

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    "Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Energy and currently a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., said the public can't assume that regulators take worst-case scenarios into account.

    "'The lesson here is that nature has a way of tragically exceeding the best expectations of science,' he said. 'The way they decide how safe is safe is a matter of probability risk assessment. If no earthquake worse than 7.5 is credible, then they conclude we don't have to worry.' Alvarez said in light of the disaster in Japan, U.S. regulators should not extend the licenses of reactors in earthquake zones based solely on historical data."

  • March 19, 2011

    Reuters features article “Japan's Nuclear Emergency: Media Briefing”

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    "Dangerous radiation has the potential of spewing uncontrollably from open-air pools storing spent nuclear fuel at Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant, according to a U.S. expert.About one-third of U.S. nuclear facilities are designed in the same way, said Robert Alvarez, a senior U.S. Department of Energy official during the Clinton administration. 'If you look at the photos' of the Fukushima Daiichi facility in northeastern Japan, 'you see at least two pools are exposed to the open sky,' Alvarez said."

  • March 19, 2011

    Bloomberg

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    "The crisis in Japan underscores why the U.S. must alter the way it stores spent fuel at its power plants, said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies who has studied the risks of spent-fuel storage. Thirty-five states have facilities storing spent nuclear fuel, including 31 with operating reactors, the NRC said in its 2010-2011 Information Digest. Illinois had the most fuel in storage through 2009, followed by Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New York and North Carolina, according to the NRC’s ranking.

    ‘‘'Unlike the Japanese reactors, in the United States, the spent-fuel pools are currently holding, on the average, four times more than their designs intended,' Alvarez said yesterday at a press conference in Washington. 'They are densely compacted.'"

  • March 19, 2011

    NPR features article “Japan's Nuclear Emergency: Media Briefing”

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    "Since the used fuel remains hot and radioactive for years, it is supposed to be submerged deep in water. For reasons that remain unclear, much of that water — perhaps all of it — has disappeared from these pools. U.S. officials have stated flatly that water is completely gone from at least one of them, at reactor No. 4.

    "If that's the case, it's very good news that nothing more catastrophic has occurred. According to Robert Alvarez, a former official at the Department of Energy who has been warning about the dangers of spent fuel for many years, if this fuel loses all cooling, it will heat up rapidly. Alvarez is currently a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

    "Within a few hours, he says, the fuel is likely to reach a temperature at which the fuel will start to self-destruct. It could melt, or the metal covering of the rods, made of the metal zirconium, could actually start to burn. In either case, radioactive elements trapped inside the fuel could be released and spread more widely. A fire, in particular, would send a host of radioactive particles into the air."

  • March 19, 2011

    Kyodo News Service features article “Japan's Nuclear Emergency: Media Briefing”

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    "The steps being taken by Japan 'are not steps that are anywhere near the top of the options' normally available, said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and an adviser to the U.S. secretary of energy in the 1990s. Beginning Thursday, Japan has used trucks and helicopters to dump water on the damaged reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in an attempt to cool their overheating nuclear materials.

    "The efforts, Alvarez said, were 'improvisations on the playbook' for stopping a nuclear meltdown. Alvarez's claim that there are no good options left for addressing the crisis is evidenced by the risky approach Tokyo has taken to cooling the reactors."

  • March 19, 2011

    Greenwire features article “Japan's Nuclear Emergency: Media Briefing”

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    "Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, said the United States is currently dealing with 'fragmentary' information coming out of Japan, and that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and its onsite crew do not appear to have control of the situation.

    "The measures the Japanese are taking are 'not in the playbook for these types of accidents,' Alvarez said. Using seawater as coolant is risky because the water is corrosive and at high temperatures can corrode pumps and pipes and could impair the containment vessel, he said. The spent fuel pools are also of extreme concern because they are elevated above ground, not under the containment dome like the reactors themselves, and aerial photographs show two pools are 'exposed to open sky.'

    "Jaczko this week expressed concerns that the United States believes water has completely or partially been drained from a spent fuel pool at the reactor and could catch fire, Alvarez said, pointing out that the chairman's comments are 'also vetted by the White House.' Alvarez said the danger surrounding spent fuel pools in Japan has serious implications for the United States because many of the plants here store spent fuel in pools that are at maximum capacity."

  • March 18, 2011

    The New York Times

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    "Some experts have suggested that if the water cooling fails, plant operators could be forced to use sand or concrete to try to contain the radiation, at least temporarily. 'You are looking at the scenario of helicopters dropping large amounts of material to smother the radioactive mess,' said Robert Alvarez, who was an adviser to the secretary of energy during the Clinton administration."

  • March 18, 2011

    The Economist

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    "'The safety board is on a collision course with the DOE,' reckons Robert Alvarez, now at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and formerly a DOE official who monitored Hanford. 'It will raise uncertainty, lead to more delays and drive up the price of the clean-up.' For local residents, this is not by any means bad news. Cost overruns and delays have plagued the clean-up—and the quarter-of-a-million people who live near Hanford are vastly richer because of them."

  • March 18, 2011

    Mother Jones

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    "Nuclear power experts and watchdogs warn that we're entering uncharted territory. 'The situation is worsening,' says Robert Alvarez, a scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former senior policy advisor to the secretary of energy during the Clinton administration. 'It seems to be slipping out of the control of authorities.'

    "Alvarez describes what is currently happening as 'last-ditch efforts.' If plant workers can't keep the water levels up and regain control over the reactors, there could be a full meltdown. That means the overheated nuclear fuel will melt and pour into the bottom of the reactors. The question then becomes whether the reactors' primary containment vessels can hold the melted fuel. Some nuclear watchdog groups have concerns that the Mark 1 model reactor used at Fukushima may be vulnerable to failures. The containment vessels at Units 2 and 3 are thought to be damaged, and the building integrity is compromised at all three units. Additional fires and explosions could further damage the containment system."

  • March 17, 2011

    Associated Press

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    "'You have the potential for significant long-term land area contaminations,' said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy studies in Washington and a former Department of Energy official."

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