Seattleite who helped design stricken nuke plant 'very concerned'

Seattleite who helped design stricken nuke plant 'very concerned' »Play Video
Ron Karzmar shares his concerns about the quake-stricken Japanese nuclear plant that he helped design more than 40 years ago.
SEATTLE - A local man is keeping a closer eye than most on what's happening with Japan's stricken nuclear reactors.

That's because he helped develop one of them.

Ron Karzmar, a physicist and engineer, helped develop and manufacture all of the control panels and nuclear sensors inside the plant 40 years ago.

Now, he watches with the rest of the world as Japanese officials warn there could be a second explosion at the same quake-damaged plant where a nuclear reactor unit blew up on Saturday.

More than 180,000 people are being evacuated from the area around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear complex in northern Japan and thousands are being screened for exposure.

But Karzmar has a more personal perspective than most.

"I'm concerned, I'm very concerned," he says. "I have yet to see anybody from the plant who's an engineer that can actually tell us what's happening - they can't see inside there because it's highly radioactive."

So far, Japanese officials say the explosion caused no damage to the inside of the reactor. But Karzmar wonders how officials know that.

"I'm not sure the politicians are terribly right because they're using some phraseology that isn't quite appropriate," he says.

Friday's devastating megaquake knocked out electricity to Dai-Ichi while the tsunami flooded back-up generators.

Karzmar tells KOMO News that without power, the control panels don't work.

"You need power," he says.

And the plant itself, he says, is nearing the end of its lifespan.

He says these particular plants were started up in the early '70s and were designed to last about 40 years, and many other nuclear power plants like Dai-Ichi have already been shut down in the United States.

But that doesn't mean they're necessarily dangerous, he says - "they're just old."

Meanwhile, Karzmar will be watching closely as the evacuations now stretch 12 miles around the quake-battered plant.

Karzmar explains that as far as he can tell, the explosion affected the outer concrete shell that protects the reactor.

Officials say the reactor itself is intact, and operators are dumping sea water into two reactor units to try and cool them down. Three units in another nuclear plant nearby are also in trouble.