Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Strontium Fish and Lochbaum and Markey

In a recent post, The Strontium Fish and the Associated Press, I described how AP wrote stories about Vermont Yankee releasing strontium 90 without mentioning the quantities of these releases. As I pointed out in the post, the releases were on the order of 10 to the minus 7 or minus 8 curies a year. The AP described releases, but did not describe the quantity of strontium released. The amounts were in the ten-billionths of a curie range.

Markey and Lochbaum

Representative Markey of Massachusetts, a long-time nuclear foe, saw this plant-released strontium-90 theme and decided to run with it. (Maybe Markey saw it in the AP articles.) Markey wrote a letter to the NRC, accusing the NRC of letting Vermont Yankee get away with lying to the press. Here's a link to Chairman's Jaczko's answer to that accusation. Jaczko said: The quoted licensee statements in your question are not without foundation based on the above information. (Vermont Yankee is the licensee).

Aside: For more information on Markey, Vermont Yankee, and the NRC, I recommend Victoria Barq's posts at NEI Nuclear Notes.

Markey's letter to Jaczko includes a copy of a letter from David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, written to the Entergy spokesman Larry Smith. (You can read the entire Lochbaum letter in the link.)

In his letter, Lochbaum says:

I was forwarded a copy of the statement you (Larry Smith) released on August 2, 2011, which contained the following statement. "There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Vermont Yankee is the source for the strontium-90...."

'Absolutely no evidence'?

Really? Come on.

How about the report that Entergy submitted to the NRC on May 11, 2011...(that) stated that 3.17 E-08 curies were released in gaseous form...during the 1st quarter of 2010...Past reports (show other releases)....

So what you said in the statement about not detecting strontium-90 in the monitoring wells may be true, but it is not the whole truth is it Mr. Smith? In fact, it is so short of the whole truth as to be very misleading bordering on deceitful.

Mr. Lochbaum includes the numbers 31 billionths of a curie, but he uses a shorthand that not everyone will follow. Then Lochbaum calls Larry Smith's statement "misleading bordering on deceitful" for claiming Vermont Yankee releases do not affect the amount of strontium in the local fish. In my opinion, Lochbaum is assuming that nobody reading his letter will have any idea of what 3.17E-08 means. It means 31 billionths of a curie.

However, in the next paragraph of his letter, Lochbaum has to backtrack. After all, he is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lochbaum just called Smith's statement "misleading," but if he ends there, Lochbaum is in trouble. If he ends there, somebody is going to notice that Lochbaum is saying that a plant release of a few billionths of a curie ...ended up in this fish. Not a scientific conclusion! So Lochbaum continues, trying to get on firmer ground:

The whole truth is that Vermont Yankee routinely releases strontium-90 to the environment. This fact does not mean that Vermont Yankee is the primary or sole source of the strontium found in the fish. But this fact also means that Vermont Yankee cannot be excluded as a potential source, as your very misleading statement sought to establish.

Whew. With a statement that is more propaganda than science "Vermont Yankee cannot be excluded as a potential source," Lochbaum attempts to step back into scientific credibility.

Science and Propaganda

Really, Mr. Lochbaum? We cannot exclude the potential of a meteor hitting Radio City Music Hall tomorrow. In the exact same sense, we cannot exclude the potential that some of that billionth part of a curie of Sr 90 wandered nine miles up the river and got into that fish.

We also must include the fact that Lochbaum chooses to use the least-accessible method of expressing scientific notation. Then he doesn't explain the notation. Lochbaum uses tortured sentence construction, such as "cannot exclude."

In my view, everything in this letter is constructed as propaganda, not science. Lochbaum lards his letter with "oh shucks" verbiage and then accuses Entergy of lying. He makes no attempt to explain anything, or put anything in context. He seems to be just hoping that nobody notices the weakness of his statements.

Really, Mr. Lochbaum? Come ON! For Pete's sake, man! Write science, not propaganda!

My conclusion: Entergy told the truth. I leave it to my readers to judge Mr. Lochbaum's words. Perhaps he has expressed himself in a way that is so short of the whole truth as to be very misleading bordering on deceitful.
Update: Victoria Barq at NEI Nuclear Notes has an excellent post published yesterday: NRC’s Jaczko Responds to Rep. Markey on the Sr-90 Issue at Vermont Yankee

Geeky addendum

To see the effluent reports for Vermont Yankee for yourself, you can see radioactive effluent reports from 2005 to 2010 at this page on the NRC website. For earlier years, you have to go to this NRC page and do a search by clicking on Begin Web-based ADAMS search.

Some example results:

Strontium 89 and strontium 90 releases, by quarter.

All as particulate, all from the stack, 2002, all in curies:
  • First quarter. Sr 89 --5.5 times 10 exp -5
  • Second quarter. Sr 89-- 1.3 times 10 exp -4
  • Third quarter:Sr 89--3.5 times 10 exp -5
  • Fourth quarter: Sr 89--5.78 times 10 exp -5
  • In the second quarter, there was also a release of Sr 90-- 1.75 times 10 exp -7 curies.
Total release of Sr 90 for the year 2002 was 1.75 times 10 exp -7 curies, or approximately 2 millionths of a curie. Total release of all types of radioactive Sr for the year was 2 ten-thousandths of a curie.


The equivalent release numbers for 2005 were: no strontium 90 detected, but Sr 89 release of 6.3 times 10 exp -6 one quarter, and 6.5 time 10 exp -6 another quarter. These were all high-level releases (from the stack) as in 2002. However, in 2005, there were also ground-level releases of Sr 89 and Sr 90 in the first half of the year, at the level of 1 times ten -8 curies. Total releases here are in the neighborhood of 1 ten-thousandth of a curie, mostly Sr 89, not Sr 90. Sr 90 was at 10 exp -8 curie level.


As Lochbaum said, 31 billionths of a curie of Sr 90. But he made it sound pretty scary. Entergy tries to mislead! Deceitful! Sr 90 released! Etc etc etc.


Anonymous said...

I have a couple of questions to establish context.

Does the Sr90 get released to the air or to water?

These amounts seem to be very small. How and where is the release measured?

How many curries were in the fish?

Meredith Angwin said...

Martin. Excellent questions!

Let's start with the fish. One place to start is my August post
However, the information on the Vermont Department of Health website is no longer "Today's information" as it was in August. You have to go to the DOH archives, and look at the August 2 posting. Archive link below.


There's a really good table there, showing that this fish had less than 255 pCi /kg in the inedible portions, and less than 58 pCi/kg in the edible portions. For comparison, fish from the Hudson 2007 were 260 pCi/kg inedible, and 8 PCi/kg edible. In 1971 in New York, not long after the end of atomic testing, equivalent numbers were 88 to 2516 pCi/kg inedible, and 62 pCi/kg edible.

Onwards to the part of your question about releases. All releases were to air but some were particulate and some were gaseous. Please follow this link for numbers from 2005 to 2010


Here's 2005


Please go to page 10 to 15 of the report (more or less). You see that it says hard-to-understand things like: gaseous effluent, particulate releases. Maybe a small particle in the gas stream?

I have no idea how these numbers were measured. I am sorry. Perhaps someone more knowledgable about measurement techniques will chime in.

Simha said...

I didn't see any mention of the Strontium 90 that was found in soil samples in may of 2010 http://www.vermontbiz.com/node/15748/

from VT Health 2010 archive: Strontium-90, cesium-137, zinc-65, manganese-54 and cobalt-60 have all been detected in soil...

On June 1 (2010), following the leak that was identified during reactor start-up on May 28...

a total of about 244 cubic feet of contaminated soil has been removed...

Soil testing done by Vermont Yankee immediately after another leak was discovered on May 28 at the AOG drain line also detected these same radioisotopes...

Also from the 2010 May archive "The Sr-90 measured in the upstream fish is assumed to be a result of fallout from nuclear weapons testing and Chernobyl"

link - http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/rad/yankee/tritium_archive_2010.aspx#may

Meredith Angwin said...

Um..Yes Simha. That contaminated soil was removed, as you say. Meaning...it was taken off-site and no Sr was ever detected in groundwater near it. So there was no path from it to the river, as the DOH stated at the time.

I mentioned this in my previous post. My previous post was about what AP wrote. This post is about what Lochbaum wrote.

Anonymous said...

Another way to think about this...if we assume the mass of the fish in question was 2 kg, 1 kg each of edible and inedible material, then about 1% of the 2010 total VY release of 31,700 pCi of Sr-90 ended up in this one fish, nine miles upstream. Seems improbable to me!


Mike Mulligan said...

So the mythical discussion might go with David Gram, mike do you mind if I run that by Arnie Gundersen. I wanted to say go ahead, you don't know shit anyways. Then a, "did plant employees help you out with any issues". I said it sure looks like it. Then, "you got any names or VY whistleblowers who work's at the plant that you could give me". I kinda laughed.

The deal is with plant employees, general the media misuses them. You tell them your story, then they want you to steal plant documents, the newsies want triplicate proof before they can print anything. They will ask you, "can I run it past Gunderson or Lauhbaum"...the newies have absolutely no experience to make a independent judgment with what a VY employee tells them. Most times they thumb their noses at the nuclear plant employees. That is the facts, it is almost impossible to get the media to print any inside stories about VY. They want a level of evidence that is impossible to achieve, the newspapers reporters interpret the employee's story through their own nuclear industry ignorance..this turns into I am uncertain with the credibility of this guy. There is something wrong when everyone is not credible.

I had a telephone meeting with Lauhbaum's predecessor back in 1991. I was a license operator at VY and a employee. I told him we had fuel pellets rattling around in the VY coolant system. The cladding had burst somewhere and the ceramic pellets had escaped into the coolant. The UCS engineer thought it was impossible, it never happened in the USA... he told the NECNP I was a nut case and unstable. Course two months later when they popped off the head and did fuel rod inspection ...they found a 12 inch slit in a fuel rod and all the uranium pellets where missing. A lot of this crap was going on in the industry and the UCS just wasn't aware of it.

I just have issues with the reporters experience being so shallow about nuclear power...where they are dependant on the god's Gunderson and Lauhbaum to give them the green or red light on a story. Some poor son of a bitch employee who sees something brand new in the industry and the system is making believing they don't see it...they just don't stand a chance with this outside gods.

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for the note. You and I are coming from opposite directions on VY. But I totally agree with you that there is too much belief that if Gundersen or Lochbaum said it...it must be true. People don't apply any cross-checks or judgment. Oh...Lochbaum said it! Oh, Gundersen said it! Etc.

Um...recently, someone wrote a comment with profanity in it, and I did not print the comment. Even though that comment was very pro-Vermont Yankee, I didn't print it. I'm just saying that I wish you had written "Some poor slob of an employee" instead of what you wrote.

Howard Shaffer said...

Massachusetts is blessed with Mr. Markey, not New York.

Great post. Good comments.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thanks Howard! I now have Markey's home state correct. Not sure how that happened...I know he comes from Massachusetts, but in my mind, I was thinking about Indian Point somehow. Anyway, it's fixed now!

Meredith Angwin said...

I hate to have to correct myself, but it is better than letting a mistake stand. In my comment to Simha, I said that the DOH had said there was no pathway for Sr to the river "at the time" which implied they said this when the soil was being removed in 2010. DOH said this when the fish was caught in August 2011, as reported in my August blog post. There would have been no need to comment on pathways in 2010 while supervising the excavation.

simha said...

Why did it take VY take 5 Days to report the strontium 90 found in the soils in 2010, that I mentioned earlier? and why in 2010 was strontium 90 only found in the inedible part of the fish and a year later it shows up in the flesh? Could exposure from nuclear weapons testing and Chernobyl still be accumulating in fish to make this difference in one year?

Meredith Angwin said...

Simha. You claim that VY waited five days to report the Sr in the soils. I don't know that they took five days, but this is not the sort of thing that interests me. I quit working for a Big Company in the late 80s and became a freelancer, partially because everything at the Big Company had to be looked at for days or weeks before any action was taken. I felt I was working in a bath of molasses. What appears to you to be conspiracy appears to me to be typical of companies of a certain size.

You suggest that the 32 billionths of a curie of Sr90 that VY released in 2010 is the cause of the Sr in the fish. As you can see by comments above (?1% of the entire release got into that one fish??) this is not credible at all.

Mike Mulligan said...

Hmm, I think it is more important for Entergy to absolutely protect the radiological envelope around their plant...the containment barrier. To know and understand every discharge path of radioactivity. I find it atrocious Entergy or the NRC never justified the lube oil vapor extractor radioactive plume...no plant design documentation what so ever.

As another weak point, incinerating radioactive lube oil on site...the paper trail and controls to prevent wrongful discharges.

And don't forget the cover-up with the NRC saying I had no evidence there was a plume as I showed them a picture of it...as Entergy days prior to filled out a condition report and contracted out to do a investigation on the extractor plume.

simha said...

Meredith, no where did I say the Sr in the fish came from VY documented release of Sr.

Meredith Angwin said...

Simha. Your series of questions about why there was suddenly Sr 90 in the fish (could weapons testing have made this difference) seemed to imply that the Sr in the fish came from VY, and your emphasis on the year implied the same. I have no particular interest in someone writing a bunch of loaded and leading questions, I answer to the best of my ability, and then the person says: "I didn't say THAT, did I? I just asked some questions!"

Try to be straightforward in what you say. I was not trying to misinterpret your questions, though you had some fun misinterpreting my answer.