Power plant inspector tries to cool reactor fears

By: Don Chaddock Telegraph Managing Editor
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The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the resulting nuclear crisis, has one man hitting the airwaves to allay fears. Bill Tobin is the president of the Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills, a fan of live music, organizer of last year’s Blues and Brews Festival in El Dorado Hills and has also worked in the nuclear energy field since 1988. He said fear of nuclear radiation hitting California is what prompted him to try to calm people down, using local radio station KAHI AM 950, based in Auburn. “I would say the biggest misconception is the danger to the West Coast of the U.S.,” Tobin said. “People were under the impression that it’s almost like science fiction to believe that radioactive elements could travel from Japan to the U.S. and land in our laps.” He said the fear is unfounded. “It reminded me of the fears we had during the Cold War,” he said. “Those were real legitimate fears we had of bombs dropping on us but the fears were like that. (It was) like we had a nuclear bomb going to drop on us.” Tobin put his experience on the table to get his message out with the help of friend Bassil Kamas, who hosts a talk show on KAHI every Thursday at 7 p.m. “I was just astounded by the amount of misinformation being put forth by the media,” he said. “Mostly I’ve received feedback from people in the industry who were very supportive and agree the whole thing has been detrimental to the future of existing plants and new plants here.” Tobin has been in dozens of reactor buildings, spending thousands of hours inside radiation suits. “I’ve been evacuated from reactor buildings,” he said. “It’s a very serious situation in Japan. That’s a fact. It’s a fantasy that an invisible cloud of radiation could come here at such a level that we would have to take potassium iodide.” Kamas said Tobin’s experience has proven helpful on the show. “I think we were lucky to have him as someone experienced in the field,” Kamas said. “He’s a fountain of knowledge.” Tobin is quick to point out that he’s no scientist. “There are procedures in place in Japan and the U.S. to handle emergencies in nuclear buildings,” Tobin said. “People didn’t run blindly into this thing. It’s taken time to get things done like get the power on and get the water on. It’s an organized effort that I don’t think it’s portrayed very well in the press.” Tobin is one of many inspectors in the industry. “I inspect the tube integrity of steam generators in nuclear power plants,” he said. “I’ve inspected plants in U.S., Canada and Europe. I’m basically a private contractor. The company I work for provides inspection, analysis, quality assurance and third-party oversight.” He said with the amount of devastation in Japan, he’s amazed the nuclear plants weren’t hit harder. “I’m surprised the earthquake and tsunami this size didn’t do more damage,” Tobin said. “It’s a testament to how well-designed nuclear power plants are.” Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, workers discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan’s crippled nuclear complex on Monday as emergency crews struggled to pump out hundreds of tons of contaminated water and bring the plant back under control. Officials believe the contaminated water has raised radioactivity levels at the coastal complex and caused more radiation to seep into soil and seawater. Crews also found traces of plutonium in the soil outside of the complex on Monday, but officials insisted there was no threat to public health. To learn more, visit The Associated Press contributed to this report.