Fox News Network
SHOW: LIVE EVENT 11:10 AM EST
March 18, 2011 Friday
SECTION: NEWS; International
LENGTH: 722 words
HEADLINE: Interview with Charles Ferguson
BYLINE: Jenna Lee
GUESTS: Charles Ferguson
JENNA LEE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And another FOX News alert for you now. This expression might be a little over used at this point but it still fits what happened in Japan. Desperate times calling for desperate measures there. Workers using vehicles that look like souped-up fire trucks to spray the reactors with water.
Our next guest says that may be the only thing they can do right now. Charles Ferguson is president of the Federation of American Scientists. He's also the author of "Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know."
So, Charles, are those fire trucks, those water sprays, are those effective?
CHARLES FERGUSON, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS PRESIDENT: Well, that's kind of a desperate measure. What they really need to do, they need to have reliable off-site electrical power to that plant. They need to make sure they get the primary coolant systems back in operation in all four of the affected reactors. That's the most effective means to try to get this plant stabilized.
LEE: So the company that owns the plant says by the end of this weekend power to the reactor should, they say, be back and working, but that's eight, nine days into this crisis? Is it too late to make a difference?
FERGUSON: It's not. In fact it seems like a race against time but we actually have physics to help us, and what I mean by that, if we go back a week ago when this event initiated, when the earthquake struck everything worked properly initially. The three operating reactors at that time, reactors one, two and three shut down properly.
It was an hour later when a tsunami came in and knocked out the emergency electrical power. That's when the troubles began. And viewers should know that when the reactors shut down there is still a lot of energy that needs to be taken away, there's a lot of radioactive materials that are still decaying, and that decay will fall off over time.
So all the short-lived radioactive material that will decay over a period of days to a few weeks. So we are still in a critical period. It's probably going to take another couple of weeks or so in order to get that radioactive decay down to the level where pooling can keep taking that heat away and stabilize the plant.
LEE: Charles, I've heard this referenced a few times and I'd like to get your thoughts on it, that -- you mentioned the decay from the fuel, that solidifying in this power plant, just to make it simple.
I've heard that adding water, more water, too much water can actually cause another nuclear reaction? Can you explain that?
FERGUSON: Right. I mean there are two radiation hazards, two main types of hazards we have to be concerned about, or they have to be concerned about, the heroic workers. One is exposed nuclear fuel, either the fuel in the reactor course or those spent fuel pools.
When they become exposed you can start to have blistering and break down of that fuel and even a meltdown of that fuel, so that can release radiation. That's one effect. The second effect you're referring to is that once that material starts to melt down and then it re-solidifies, the fissile material, the uranium and plutonium in that fuel, spent fuel, when it's re- congeals it can get concentrated.
And then when you put water back in the water can in effect reignite the nuclear reaction and cause what's called a criticality accident. And that could lead to a burst of radiation and affect workers and people nearby.
LEE: Wow. It's just so incredibly complicated. We're learning so much over the last week about nuclear energy. Just as an expert what would you say we've learned most so far?
FERGUSON: Well, this is an unprecedented accident. We have four major reactors suffering damage. We've never seen anything like this before. We are in uncharted territory. And now we have to take a fresh look at this older technology.
I think the viewers may be wondering, so is nuclear power unsafe? I wouldn't say so. I think the newer reactors that are coming online, the so-called generation three reactors, have a lot of safety features. I won't say they're inherently safe. They have improved safety features compared to the 40-year-old reactors we see right now in Japan.
LEE: Very interesting. Charles, thank you so much for your expertise today.
Charles Ferguson, we look forward to talking to you again, thank you.
FERGUSON: You're welcome.
LOAD-DATE: March 18, 2011