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Japan Power

Heroism Is Part of a Nuclear Worker's Job 349

Posted by Soulskill
from the especially-when-they-get-super-powers dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "In 1988, Michael Friedlander was a newly minted shift technical adviser at a nuclear power plant near the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Gilbert, a Category 5 storm, was bearing down on the plant. They received word that all workers should leave except for critical plant personnel, and there was never a question: 'my team and I would stay, regardless of what happened.' 'The situation facing the 50 workers left at Fukushima is a nuclear operator's worst nightmare,' writes Friedlander. 'But the knowledge that a nuclear crisis could occur, and that we might be the only people standing in the way of a meltdown, defines every aspect of an operator's life.' The field attracts a very particular kind of person, says Friedlander, and the typical employee is more like a cross between a jet pilot and a firefighter: highly trained to keep a technically complex system running, but also prepared to be the first and usually only line of defense in an emergency. 'We will likely hear numerous stories of heroism over the next several days, of plant operators struggling to keep water flowing into the reactors, breathing hard against their respirators under the dim rays of a handheld flashlight in the cold, dark recesses of a critically damaged nuclear plant, knowing that at any moment another hydrogen explosion could occur.'" The severity rating of the crisis has now been raised from 4 to 5 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, and Japan's Prime Minister called the situation "very grave."
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Heroism Is Part of a Nuclear Worker's Job

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  • by LordStormes (1749242) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:25AM (#35529428) Homepage Journal
    ... for anybody who would put their lives on the line like this. The Japanese are better at this than anyone else on Earth - honor and duty above all else. I take my hat off to everybody within that radius still fighting to protect their countrymen.
    • by stabiesoft (733417) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:29AM (#35529478) Homepage

      I wish I had mod points. The way they are conducting themselves should make them proud. No looting, people sharing what little they have, really, amazing. And yes, I expect those operators at the plant will likely die before their time due to cancer or even worse. Beyond that is amazing stories of nurses in hospitals & nursing homes and even the stories of everyone pitching in at the shelters.

      • by greg_barton (5551) <greg_barton AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday March 18, 2011 @11:11AM (#35531292) Homepage Journal

        I expect those operators at the plant will likely die before their time due to cancer or even worse

        My grandfather was a nuclear chemist at Oak Ridge National Labratory from 1948 to 1976. During that time he often worked with various highly radioactive materials including uranium and plutonium. He died at the ripe old age of 97 from heart failure.

        Radiation exposure does not necessarily mean slow death. In fact we have no scientific, verifiable knowledge of what low level radiation exposure does to us.

    • Well the TEPCO managers that lied and put all of us in this dangerous position are not there serving on the first line are they? And I doubt they're not japanese... I also have my doubts they're not serving jail sentences or flipping burgers to pay for fines and damages...
    • ... for anybody who would put their lives on the line like this. The Japanese are better at this than anyone else on Earth - honor and duty above all else. I take my hat off to everybody within that radius still fighting to protect their countrymen.

      Agreed. If it were up to me these dudes would never pay for taxes or health-care again.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Friday March 18, 2011 @12:01PM (#35532228)

      There's a nuclear facility on the Savannah River that's slightly larger than Rhode Island. It was quite active during the Cold War. I interviewed for a job there in about 1988, and met a local boy whose Daddy worked at the plant doing hot laundry. He told me "they took real good care of Momma when he passed," at age 44.

      Ionizing radiation is like bullets to a giant - lots and lots and lots of tiny bullets. If you're wearing a dosimeter, you're acknowledging that you're going into the line of fire.

      The Wrath of Kahn may have been a(n extremely) cheesy movie, but Spock captures the spirit of nuke facility workers everywhere - they are just as brave as any Jarhead that risks getting his limbs blown off by an IED, or stupid, hard to tell the difference most of the time, but when it hits the fan it doesn't matter - they all deserve respect for bravery.

    • These guys are NOT firefighters. Fire fighters get in called AFTER shit has happened over which they had no control and take control and safe peoples lives.

      Fire INSPECTORS are supposed to go in BEFORE shit happens and prevent it from ever happening.

      I do not want a heroic nuclear engineer, I want one who is an abject coward and so takes every safety precaution before so that when the first real test of the safety comes along it doesn't fail so compeltly and utterly.

      All the guys at Fukushima FAILED at their j

    • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 18, 2011 @01:25PM (#35533882) Homepage Journal

      While I agree with you that the Fukushima team deserves admiration and praise, I don't think the Japanese are automatically better at honor and duty than everyone else. That notion almost diminishes the Fukushima team's personal bravery by attributing it to something like cultural determinism.

      Consider the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, was caught falsifying nuclear safety tests at Fukushima in 2004. They falsified information again in 2007 after an earthquake at a different plant. Where was management's sense of duty then? It was clearly misplaced, and short-sighted. That history doesn't necessarily have anything to do with this incident; it is quite possible that management has been exemplary since then. If management hasn't been responsible, that wouldn't diminish the heroism of the team on site at Fukushima one bit. It would simply illustrate one of the common features of heroism: a hero often the guy who has to step up when somebody else screws up.

      Holding some people responsible for making a mistake doesn't mean respecting the people who deal with that mistake any less. That's important to remember, because people who screw up like to cover themselves with the glory that rightfully belongs to others. And somebody screwed up here. It may have been an unavoidable mistake (when we designed this 40 years ago we did the best we could but now we could do better). It could been something that somebody chose to ignore because it would be very unwelcome news (we knew we really shouldn't be running these ancient reactor designs in places like this). Or might be an omission due to not having enough review of how things were done (safety drills should have revealed the problem restoring axillary power to the cooling system).

  • I raise my glass to you and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for keeping those reactors safely running in normal times and safely stopped in abnormal situations. You truly are heroes.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:28AM (#35529466) Journal
    They said they are rotating out workers once they reach "maximum lifetime exposure" of 100-250 mili-servients. Most workers are only staying for 24 hours before they are "retired" out and a fresh person brought in to replace them.
    • They said they are rotating out workers once they reach "maximum lifetime exposure" of 100-250 mili-servients. Most workers are only staying for 24 hours before they are "retired" out and a fresh person brought in to replace them.

      That's pretty much SOP in the nuclear industry.

  • bit of a stretch.

    The job must be exceptionally boring, since most of the time nothing happens. In my nearby plant, the nuclear engineers were found sleeping on the job during afternoons, and playing board games when awake.

    • Sounds like my job on a slow day as well. Sure, a server crashing is nowhere near the scale of disaster of a nuclear plant going belly up, but our normally lethargic techs spring into action the second we realize we have a problem.
      • by mikael (484)

        Worked as intern on a IT support help-desk many years ago. During quiet times, we'd do inventory on the RS232 breakout boxes and the LAN adapter cards, until someone called in to ask how to replace the paper on their laser printer. During crisis time, the help-desk operators would get calls from users if we knew the network had gone down, then the world would go crazy.

        Early PC network cards had a habit of frying their MAC address EEPROMS and there weren't any internal firewalls at the time, so one PC could

    • by Rhaban (987410)

      In my nearby plant, the nuclear engineers were found sleeping on the job during afternoons

      Do you happen to live in Springfield?

    • by Jawnn (445279)

      bit of a stretch.

      The job must be exceptionally boring, since most of the time nothing happens. In my nearby plant, the nuclear engineers were found sleeping on the job during afternoons, and playing board games when awake.

      Then they're doing it wrong and management should be taken to task for failing to do their job.

      I am a retired firefighter and I can tell you that the vast majority of a firefighter's time is spent doing "boring" things. Done right, those things include a constant regimen of training, education and maintenance so that every firefighter has the skill, knowledge and ability, and his equipment has the reliability, to perform optimally when things finally get "exciting". While I do not wish to minimize the he

  • this [thinkgeek.com] is a real, working device. Though, in the case of a nuclear reactor, you want the opposite effect.

    • by doti (966971)

      I could be used to fry all the devices connected to the hub, protecting sensitive data in the advent of a sudden danger.

    • No, I want the opposite device.

      I want the "off" button to be as easy to press as possible.
  • Doses worry me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:31AM (#35529496)

    If I understood things correctly the Japanese authorities now allow radiation doses up to 250mSv for the workers.

    To put this in perspective, natural background radiation is aproximately 1-3 mSv per year , while at 10.000mSv death is to be expected.
    Anything above 100mSv is definitively carcinogenic, and above 1000mSv you will see serious bone marrow damage.
    250mSv is probably not going to give you acute radiation sickness, but it certainly is not going to be good for you. In particular it will increase your risk for cancer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by erroneus (253617)

      Japan is having a "population crisis" as it is with their working cultural values and requirements are preventing people from having children at all. Now this?

      It was a huge mistake for governments to allow economies to get bad enough to require both men and women to work just to survive -- this is a global problem with global consequences -- and worse that "overtime is expected" in places such as Japan and at "Japanese companies." (Note, I currently work for a Japanese company and essentially all Japanese

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      To put this in perspective, natural background radiation is aproximately 1-3 mSv per year , while at 10.000mSv death is to be expected.

      You mean 10,000 (ten thousand).

      What's with this irritating Europe-style switching of the command and decimal point in English? I see it more and more. It might be what they do in Europe but in English, using the decimal there is rather misleading.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:31AM (#35529498)

    Look at the people in line ups for food and supplies; calm and polite. No one shouting, shoving or being impatient.

    • The Japanese have a saying, "The tall nail get hammered", this keeps people predominately civil.

      • by Arkham (10779)
        That's unfortunately a very Americanized view of the original statement, "". What it really means is something along the lines of, "You should not emphasize your own individual excellence or difference over group harmony (wa, ) to avoid resentment and dissension." The Japanese have great respect for the group over the individual. It's not about repression.
    • by evanism (600676)
      Are you suggesting that the good countrymen and women of the USA should be more like this, rather than say, New orleans and the super dome? "reports of rampant drug use, fights, rape, and filthy living conditions were widespread". (Wikipedia) Interesting isn't it?
      • by MaWeiTao (908546)

        Who's talking about that? While those claims of what happened at the super dome are untrue there certainly was a lot of looting. There's plenty of photographic evidence of it. And I guarantee you a lot of Americans would not patiently stand in line for hours. They'd start pissing and moaning and eventually just rush the store, grabbing everything they can.

        Hell, several years ago I was hanging out with a friend. The power goes out for a good hour or two. I leave for home when the power is restored, drive pas

      • by lwsimon (724555)

        The year after Katrina, the Mississippi flooded and caused a disaster similar in scale, but mostly in rural areas and farming communities. There was no looting there either, and people pulled together - you just don't hear about it.

        The problem with Katrina wasn't that New Orleans residents are Americans, but that they are dependent Americans - most of those who stayed behind did not have jobs or income before the event took place, much less after. They did not feel any sense of honor or ownership of their

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:45AM (#35529678)

    One that doesn't have a catastrophic failure mode? Maybe we should be putting our money into that rather than war machines and dick pills?

    Is there any business operation anywhere on the planet that isn't operated as a giant catastrofuck? I mean seriously, everywhere you look it seems like lying, corner-cutting, and profit-raping. Are there any responsbile operators out there?

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      Modern nuclear reactor designs do not experience meltdown. They are designed to be passively safe.

      Why don't we use them? Politics, mainly.

      • Modern nuclear reactor designs do not experience meltdown. They are designed to be passively safe.

        So what? The bigger risk has generally been (and in this case still is) keeping stored spent fuel from igniting after an emergency or attack.

  • by curious.corn (167387) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:50AM (#35529754)
    Hei folks, ever since this whole clusterfuck broke out I'm having a really hard time getting around the attitude of most online techie communities.

    Since the very first hours YC, Ars, TheReg and /. have started patting themselves on the back about this being a "job well done", bashing "media hysteria" and calling names against "tree huggers" and "anti-nukes activists". It's wrong, it's biased, it's annoying as hell. Besides, the amount of manipulation and spin is frankly unacceptable from these sources that one would hope they knew better.

    Listen all : it's mission accomplished when the crew back on deck - Apollo 13 style - not when the PR wish it was - Iraq invasion style.
    Let's not loose our cool, scientific, matter-of-fact and "it ain't finished yet" attitude; have we turned ourselves in our own version of FOX?! ...
  • ... Recent financial crises and the need for improved benefits and pay structures to retain "key management and directorial personnel" pay and benefits must be reduced for the most critical workers in nuclear power plants.

    (Yeah, it's all well and good to recognize how important they are when there is a crisis, but how well are they recognized when there isn't?)

  • I completely agree, that people who risk their lives to save others are nothing else but heroes.

    What I am confused about is what made such an act of heroism nessesary. With all the reports about Fukushima like http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/2011/03/17/wikileaks-cables-reveal-worry-over-japan-s-nuclear-plants-115875-22994842/ [mirror.co.uk] or http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8384966/Japan-nuclear-plant-disaster-engineer-retired-35-years-ago-over-Fukushima-safety-concerns.html [telegraph.co.uk] I can not shake off the fee

  • ...and in many places. I noticed that many slashdotters failed to understand the point of the article: Here is no requirement that an employee in a dangerous job being a "hero". But the act of for him to stay and say "no, if I leave people may die" even when he may even lose your life with this, this is a hero... And those who risk their lives to defend the lives of others that deserve recognition for all of us, ever.
  • The sad fact is that this kind of heroism simply wouldn't have been necessary had the Japanese government/TEPCO taken safety more seriously instead of covering up problems and doing things on the cheap.

    Damn the cost, Japan is one of the world's richest and most capable economies. If they can build high quality bullet trains, they can make sure their nuclear plants within range of major population centres (basically all of them) are safe given their location. Passive cooling for plants, and/or ability for

  • I was surprised to see that nobody had made the connection to Heinlein's wonderful short story, "The Long Watch" [wikipedia.org].

    The main parallel would be the willingness to submit oneself to dangerous or even fatal radiation levels in order to prevent a disaster.

    Terje

  • ...especially, to the nuclear power promoters, industry shills, sycophants and other pro-nuke hacks whose tireless solicitations on behalf of plants that are "safer than everything" put these workers there to begin with.

    Lunching in Washington, submitting op-ed pieces, cashing checks, cozy at home posting on reddit and slashdot, they're the real heroes.

    Let's hear it for them!

    - js.

  • I work in a company where I understand a lot of shit that 99% of the rest in my company doesn't. (Note the 1% is more than me - I'm surrounded by people a lot cleverer than I am). So I work 10 hrs a day trying to get all our Hudson plans green and to make sure our automated processes work fine 24/7. Of course, if there's a hick up then I get the phone call; I'm the one to work over the weekend. You know the drill...I'm sure a lot of /. are in the same position.

    These guys are "us" (probably less me, more

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday March 18, 2011 @01:13PM (#35533696) Journal

    A few years ago, some people asserted that widespread looting was a natural consequence of disasters when civic services couldn't immediately save them.

    Hm, I guess not?

    I guess humans DON'T have to behave like animals, if they choose not to?

  • by plopez (54068) on Friday March 18, 2011 @03:08PM (#35535404) Journal

    I highly reccomend this documentary.
    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-battle-of-chernobyl/ [topdocumentaryfilms.com]

    It details the struggle to get the reactor under control, which cost (to date) thousands of lives.

Let's organize this thing and take all the fun out of it.

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