OTR Interviews

Japan Nuclear Crisis from a Three Mile Island Eyewitness' Point of View

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 15, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a Fox News alert. All workers are evacuated from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant following a dangerous rise in radiation levels. You just heard from Japan's chief secretary minutes ago who said, "All the workers have suspended their operations. We have urged them to evacuate, and they have."

So what happens now and what does this mean? Our next guest knows how to deal with a nuclear crisis firsthand. He was involved with our nuclear accident in the United States in 1979. Dick Dubiel is a former supervisor of radiation protection and chemistry at Three Mile Island. He joins us live on the phone.

Dick, what do you make of this news that is breaking now that says that due to a surge in radiation all workers are unable to continue even minimal efforts at a stricken nuclear plant? And we believe it is the plant where 70 percent of the fuel rods at one of the reactors was significantly damaged. What does that mean?

RICHARD DUBIEL, FORMER THREE MILE ISLAND SUPERVISOR (Via Telephone): First of all good evening, Greta. It is kind of hard to tell from the information that I've been able to receive which reactor is the problem. My initial thought would be that reactor number one, where allegedly 70 percent of the fuel is uncovered is probably less of an issue than the unit four if the problem there is exposing the spent fuel on the fuel floor.

The fuel floor is between the fourth and fifth story, and it could be very difficult to get any kind of water pumped that high without having plenty of electrical power, outside power to manage the pump, and also that it appears a portion of that containment around the steel floor has already been breached.

So I really have no good idea as to which reactor is the problem, but in either case, I would expect that the radiation levels would be predominantly from release of inert gases from the fuel.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a difference in damage that either could do? Whether the 70 percent uncovered if it now goes down to zero, versus the fuel rods? In the end, does it make a difference if they are completely exposed in the end?

DUBIEL: The biggest difference is that inside the reactor building units one, two and three, you have a pressure vessel and containment bidding. So the issue is not whether the fuel has been damaged. We know it has been damaged. The question is, can the radioactivity be contained? In the spent fuel pool it appears the containment around the fuel pool has already been breached, so there's a direct path to the environment.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't want to get too deep into the weeds, but I read some place this GE design, and in terms of containment was not as good as for instance we have in many here in the United States. So does that factor into it in terms of whether or not, if it is not the spent fuel rods instead the 70 percent in the first one?

DUBIEL: Honestly, Greta, I don't know enough about that specific plant design. But I do know the process is always to work to maintain containment. And that means protect the fuel if you can. If you can't, protect the vessel. If you can't, protect the building.

And I think they've done a pretty good job of at least protecting the vessel and the building. Spent fuel is not contained once the roof of that building is gone.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, thank you. Let's hope it is not the spent fuel, thank you.

DUBIEL: Thank you.