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Power United States

Alabama Nuclear Reactor Gets 'F' Grade 436

Posted by samzenpus
from the better-than-an-incomplete dept.
GatorSnake writes "The US federal government issued a rare red finding against an Alabama nuclear power plant after an emergency cooling system failure. 'In an emergency, the failure of the valve could have meant that one of the plant's emergency cooling systems would not have worked as designed (PDF).' Does this further erode the argument that Fukushima was just an isolated incident in the 'modern' nuclear power age?"
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Alabama Nuclear Reactor Gets 'F' Grade

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  • Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ThatsMyNick (2004126)
    Next Question!
    • by Narcocide (102829)

      After it melts down, can I microwave my HotPockets on the scattered chunks of radioactive concrete?

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shadow99_1 (86250) <{theshadow99} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:24AM (#36104290)

      All nuclear plants are not created equal. The far far bigger problem is continuing to use early reactor designs past their end of life! It's like a 30 year old car that has not spent those years in a garage. It needs considerable work to stay usable, often to the point of requiring it to be rebuilt. Well the same thing holds true to nuclear plants, but we just don't spend that sort of money renovating the old ones. So they start to fail. How much effort is actually required to have severe problems is rather interesting, but I for on do not expect them to simply keep working.

      We should have continued building and updating designs over the last 30 or 40 years, but anti-nuclear nuts have left us all pretty damn screwed.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:35AM (#36104342) Journal
        It isn't just the "nuclear nuts", though they probably haven't improve the R&D supply. Properly decommissioning a plant, especially one that really deserves it, is not inexpensive, and turns a reasonably profitable(once the construction/startup expenses have been amortized or written off) baseline unit into a big cost center. There is, thus, a strong built in incentive to keep patching and running as long as possible. Best case, you can continue to use the plant as a generating asset. Worst case, if you've had to make a number of repairs that compromise capacity, it may well still be cheaper to keep the lights on and the plant "operating" than it is to tear it down.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BrokenHalo (565198)

        All nuclear plants are not created equal.

        This is obviously true, but (car analogies aside) "the argument that Fukushima was just an isolated incident in the 'modern' nuclear power age" is meaningless. Each and every incident is isolated. Whether or not they can be collectively assumed to make some sort of judgement on the safety of nuclear power depends more on your point of view, which will usually remain unchanged.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nomaxxx (1136289) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @07:14AM (#36104554) Homepage

        We should have continued building and updating designs over the last 30 or 40 years, but anti-nuclear nuts have left us all pretty damn screwed.

        Blaming anti-nuclear people for the lack of upgrades/maintenance of existing nuclear plants is wrong.

        The real problem is that energy companies don't allocate enough money to that matter. As long as it works and produces energy, they keep maintenance to a minimum level to maximize profits.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          Some safety features just can't be retrofit into a plant, they must be a fundamental part of a plant's design.

          The anti-nuclear lobby fights construction of new plants tooth and nail without proposing any viable alternatives. End result is the next most viable alternative (service life extensions and retrofitting what you can to old plants) is what we get.

      • by he-sk (103163)

        ... anti-nuclear nuts have left us all pretty damn screwed.

        Um, no.

        1. Up-to-date designs don't matter shit if operators decide to skip regular maintenance and fake the protocols.
        2. Plants that are designed with the state of the art in mind today WILL become obsolete in 10, 50, 100 years at which point greedy operators will push to continue their operation and corrupt politicians will gladly oblige.

        It's nuclear nuts who keep insisting on pushing a technology that is not needed, incredibly complex to operate, and has catastrophic results when (not if) something goes

      • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

        by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @07:27AM (#36104620)

        Well, yes. The anti-nuclear nuts prevented the construction of more nuclear plants. But the fact that we still use the old existing reactors has nothing to do with the anti-nuclear lobby.

        It's ordinary economics. Profitability. A management has two choices:
        1. Keep running the plant. As long as maintenance doesn't become too expensive, that's means income and profit.
        2. Shut down, and take it down. That's awfully expensive.

        Which of the two would you choose, if you had some shareholders breathing down your neck?

      • but anti-nuclear nuts have left us all pretty damn screwed.

        Which ones? The Banks or the Governments? Nobody else had any say remember. Those damned kids and their dog/hippies/whatever got no say at all in actual reality.
        Also remember that it was two very strong nuclear power advocates that knew the science that ended up winding up the government run commercial nuclear programs in the UK and USA - Thatcher and Carter. You do the R&D until you can design something good and THEN you build it. Westingh

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:29AM (#36105070) Homepage Journal

        but anti-nuclear nuts have left us all pretty damn screwed.

        I don't think you can absolve the "invisible hand of the Free Market" from blame in this regard.

        "Cost-cutting" has seemed to be an on-going theme in nuclear disasters.

      • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:54AM (#36105300)
        If you think the world has continued to use outdated nuclear plants because anti-nuclear demonstrators won't let them build new ones, you are sadly naive and misguided. Old nuclear plants are used for far to long because of PROFIT. Yeah blame random citizens and call them luddites, no one will notice the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. It was nice to see that the nuclear shills went away for a while there while Fukushima was really bad. I mean a reasoned debate over energy generation is one thing but zomg 'anti-nuclear nuts' are forcing nuclear plants to be dangerous we're 'screwed' is far from that.
    • by phayes (202222) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:49AM (#36104412) Homepage

      Much like for a teacher who only gives out A's being a phoney, having a review hand out a failing grade give me more confidence in the system. It shows that the USG is not glossing over problems.

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Next Question!

    • by aminorex (141494)

      Wrong. It's not an argument, it's an observation. It may imply an argument, but implying an argument is typically just a ploy to avoid holding a weak argument up for refutation.

      Another observation: For every life lost due to Fukushima, there are literally hundreds of lives saved because coal was not burned. The real Fukushima disaster would have been if the plant were never built and operated.

  • by El Pollo Loco (562236) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:09AM (#36104230)
    Does this further erode the argument that Fukushima was just an isolated incident in the 'modern' nuclear power age?"
    Modernity is irrelevant when the contracts go to the lowest bidder, who also cut costs in the name of profit.
    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Modernity is irrelevant when the contracts go to the lowest bidder, who also cut costs in the name of profit.

      You don't think Modernity might have something to do with it along the lines of personal responsibility, amount of shame felt, sense of societal responsibility, etc etc. I think modernity might have a great deal to do with it.

      • I consulted my MBA dictionary and cannot find the "shame" you talk about, care to explain what this could possibly mean?

    • Re:Isolated? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by erroneus (253617) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:17AM (#36104268) Homepage

      That is exactly the problem. This is no different from the tragedies frequently encountered in coal mines. They cut corners and costs in the name of greater profits. And then when bad things happen, they say "whoops! This is an isolated incident. And we will fire someone for doing what we encouraged and even told them to do!"

      The nuclear industry in the US has amazingly fearsome oversight. It happens that I word for a nuclear technology company and I can tell you first hand that "NRC" is mentioned in seemingly every business conversation with numerous and frequent meetings that involve NRC. So if the NRC didn't find this sooner, I have to wonder why. Has the government been cutting back on the NRC? I hope not and if they have, they need to reverse it and fast.

      Nuclear energy is the best we have right now. But it also needs to be regulated and monitored closely. No one questions that fact.

      • Re:Isolated? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by shipofgold (911683) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @07:51AM (#36104764)

        That is exactly the problem. This is no different from the tragedies frequently encountered in coal mines. They cut corners and costs in the name of greater profits. And then when bad things happen, they say "whoops! This is an isolated incident. And we will fire someone for doing what we encouraged and even told them to do!"

        The problem is in most cases nobody is explicitly told to cut safety. What they are told is "Here is your budget, do everything". Most mid level managers don't have the balls to reply "Sorry can't do everything with that budget", and instead bounce it downstairs to where it finally gets to the team responsible for execution. They're given tasks which take 36 hours per day, and when they don't get done in the timeframe alotted everybody shrugs and says "we will get to it next week".

        When bad things happen everybody starts pointing fingers.....guys upstairs saying "I told them to do it", guys downstairs saying "didn't have enough time/people/resources", and the lawyers saying "isolated incident".

        Something this dangerous should not be in the hands of profit making corporations...the budgets are always set so the profit margin is there. As the plants age the budgets for maintenance need to increase eroding overall profit. Today nobody worries about profit in 30 years.

    • Re:Isolated? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chatterton (228704) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:26AM (#36104304) Homepage

      Lowest bidder and profit: Capitalists win, Everyone else lose. Dangerous things should not let in the hands of capitalists.

      There should be a law saying that if someone put some money in an industry with the objective of making a profit, he should live with his family next to the most dangerous installation he put money in.

  • The problem with nuclear reactors is that when things go wrong, it goes wrong in a way that's very hard to control and can have an enormous impact on the health of entire generations. Strong security measures are vital, but what Fukushima has shown us, is that greed and corruption can and will undermine those security measures.

    I'm not fundamentally opposed to nuclear power, as long as it is safe and cost effective. But I really doubt whether it can be both at the same time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dr_Barnowl (709838)

      This is why we really need to spread out our research on fusion ; it's far more intrinsically safe.

      Fission reactors are based on the premise of controlling something that runs away from you if you let it. So if you stop trying (cut costs, etc), something disastrous happens.

      If you stop trying hard enough to make fusion work, it just stops working.

      • Fission reactors are based on the premise of controlling something that runs away from you if you let it.

        early design surely were, but today we have enough design with safety features that are built in such a way, that when control is lost, the reactors shuts down on its own.

      • by mcvos (645701) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @07:16AM (#36104560)

        If you stop trying hard enough to make fusion work, it just stops working.

        The problem is that you need to work so hard (= put so much energy into it) that fusion ends up costing energy rather than producing it.

        I agree with you that efficient fusion would be far superior in fission and lack almost all of fission's problems, but it doesn't seem likely that a breakthrough will come soon. Waiting for fusion will cost too much time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
      In IT, we have "Small, Fast, Cheap. Choose two."

      In reactor design, we seem to have "Efficient, Cost Effective, Safe. Choose two."

      I don't like it.
      • by aminorex (141494) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:12AM (#36104880) Homepage Journal

        Still safer than coal. It's exactly like air travel versus car travel. Car travel is more familiar and the damages from accidents are more sparsely distributed, so it is less feared, while in fact air travel is vastly safer by any reasonable measure. Sensational media coverage and uncritical audience politics are killing us.

      • by Andy Dodd (701)

        Not true. Modern designs achieve all three. See for example GE's ESBWR design - cheaper, significantly safer, and more efficient than ABWRs, which were safer and more efficient (not sure about cheaper) than first-gen BWRs.

        Unfortunately, Fukushima's units are first-gen BWRs, and in fact were some of the oldest operating reactors in the world.

    • by sticks_us (150624) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:25AM (#36104298) Homepage

      I tend to agree in many ways. It's not entirely an engineering problem.

      The real risks come as a result of our system, which is squarely rooted in human greed and fallibility. We're risk-takers by nature, and the risk/reward equation is skewed toward danger.

      For example:

      If I'm a CEO and build a reactor, cutting costs by attenuating the safety systems specified by the engineers (e.g. using cheap materials for failsafes, or not installing them at all), my profit goes up. I saved a lot of money during construction, didn't I!

      However, if something goes wrong and my poorly implemented safety mechanisms fail, my personal risk is actually quite low. I probably won't notice an impact on my earnings, I certainly won't go to jail, and once the media is done feeding on the corpse of my disaster, it's back to "business as usual."

      This is a far cry from the careful designs of the engineer, and the scenario gets played out all the time, in various disciplines (see also: BP oil spill, mortgage-backed securities, etc).

      Maybe the solution is to let the engineers control the nuclear industry, soup-to-nuts, and send the MBA's packing?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      what Fukushima has shown us, is that greed and corruption can and will undermine those security measures.

      No, what Fukushima showed is that you can build a reactor that withstands a quake ten times the size it is rated to withstand, shut down gracefully (as graceful as a SCRAM can be) and still maintain enough power to engage its emergency cooling, but there's fundamentally no defense against having about the mass of the Great Lakes flung into your face at ~150km/h.

      • yes there is, not putting your frickin backup generators in the basement!

      • Newer nuclear power stations are protected from flooding, and in fact Fukushima Daini just down the coast from Daiichi survived a similar size wave. They key protection is that the emergency generators were in a waterproof building and thus worked as intended. The ones at Daiichi that failed were flooded.

        Actually they are going to re-build the villages destroyed by the tsunami in the same place, so they must think they can prevent another one doing the same again. I got back from Japan at the end of March so things may have changed since then, but at the time there was talk of putting underwater barriers in that remove a lot of the wave's energy.

      • by Andy Dodd (701) <.ude.llenroc. .ta. .7dta.> on Thursday May 12, 2011 @10:02AM (#36106198) Homepage

        You're wrong there - had the backup generators been at the top of the hill or possibly merely installed with snorkels, it would have been fine.

        Had the reactors been ABWRs with a backup gas turbine inside the big concrete turbine building in addition to the diesel generators, it probably would have been fine. None of the buildings seem to have sustained any significant damage from the tsunami.

        Had the reactors been ESBWRs (close to but not yet approved by the NRC), it would have been fine. ESBWRs don't need backup generators for decay heat removal. They don't need ANYTHING for the first 72 hours after a SCRAM, and the only thing they need beyond that is a fire truck to refill the ICCS pools. Probably once they're refilled you have longer since decay heat generation is constantly reducing.

    • Compared to the processes used by the oil industry, nuclear is not harder to control. The track record shows far fewer out of control events related to nuclear than both hydroelectric and oil. As for an enormous impact on our health, consider that coal power releases significant amounts of toxins into the air and ground worldwide and that is under normal operation. This certainly has an unmeasured deleterious effect on nearly everyone's health.

      The problem you mention is a problem for both the nuclear and

      • by mcvos (645701)

        Compared to the processes used by the oil industry, nuclear is not harder to control.

        Your choice of words suggests you think that means it's easy, but not being harder than "practically impossible" really doesn't mean much.

        Nuclear isn't perfect, but it is the best we have.

        It's not the best we have, it's the second worst we have. You only think it's the best because you look only at the two worst options. It's like being not quite as bad as China. It's like voting Democrat because the Republican guy is even worse. As long as "it's better than coal" is the best thing the pro-nuclear fans can come up with, I suggest we stay away from it.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          It's clearly not the second worst we have.

          It's clearly worse than coal, a typical coal plant releases more radiation into the air due to trace amounts of uranium in their coal in one year than the entire lifetime of Three Mile Island. Some coal plant fly ash has such high uranium content that the Chinese are starting to mine it for nuclear plant fuel.
          It's clearly worse than gas - hydrofracturing operations in the past 5-10 years have sickened more people in the United States than the entire history of nucl

    • by Znork (31774)

      It's a problem with large nuclear reactors. Small designs like the Toshiba 4S where the core is sunk in a sealed vault 30 meters under ground would be much easier to contain so even a catastrophic failure would have very little impact.

      When it comes nuclear fuel, the economies of scale may be outweighed by the risks of scale; the more of it you stick in one place, the more dangerous and hard to control it becomes. Loss of control over a minor part of it can easily lead to loss of control of all of it.

    • by bhmit1 (2270)

      Given the prevailing options, I'll take nuclear for now. No power is safe, but we over emphasis the rare and unknown deaths while ignoring the common ones that happen every day:

      http://www.geekosystem.com/coal-oil-nuclear-deaths-chart/ [geekosystem.com]

      That said, we need to figure out a better solution for the used fuel. And long term, we really need to work on energy storage so that renewable becomes a better option.

    • by slb (72208) *

      The problem with nuclear reactors is that when things go wrong, it goes wrong in a way that's very hard to control and can have an enormous impact on the health of entire generations.

      Are you aware that the casualties related to the Fukushima plant accident are zero ? OK I'll grant you that maybe some operators at the plant may have decreased their lifespan of a few months due to a statistically significant increased risk of cancer, but that's hardly an "enormous impact" on the health of an "entire" generation. Please avoid the usual scaremongering headlines of the mass media regarding health and nuclear energy and remember that when deaths are accounted for energy produced, nuclear ener

    • A nuclear power plant *may* cause a serious impact on the health of thousands (but it is unlikely). A coal fired plant *will* cause a serious impact on the health of millions (and *may* end up with a disaster of a similar scale to a nuclear accident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster [wikipedia.org] )

  • zero (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:12AM (#36104240)

    that adds another zero to the zero deaths from nuclear this year. thats zero up from last year. gonna need some big design changes to catch up with fossil fuels.

    • Does that count include uranium miners who sicken and die?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by prefec2 (875483)

      This is nonsense. a) Most of those deads in the fossil fuel industry die in insecure mines in China. b) People with deformations, broken imune system and reduced life expectancy suffer from the Chernobyl incident (20 years ago). Also a lot of babies where born dead in that period and we will see a cancer increase in Japan in the next years. Radiation is killing slowly. BTW some people already died in Fukushima by conamination. And when you look at the liquidators in Chernobyl they paid a high price. c) Why

  • by mangu (126918) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:13AM (#36104242)

    When the nuclear power industry was stopped in its tracks by regulations about 30 years ago, development in nuclear power stopped.

    However, no alternative exists for nuclear power in many places. All other sources are either too expensive, too polluting, or impractical. Therefore they kept using the same old designs and refurbishing old power plants that, by their original design, should have been decommissioned decades ago.

    The first thing to do should be to remove the arbitrary regulations that make it impossible to develop and built new power plants.

  • The NRC initially became concerned about the plant when it realized that employees had begun logging maintenance work directly on thereifixedit [failblog.org]...
  • We're already hitting crunch time. I sort of doubt even building nuclear plants is going to give us enough energy at this point. The only answer is going to be dirty coal/shale/etc and something like a couple orders of magnitude increase in research to find something else.

    We're going to live in interesting times soon people.

  • There's no secure energy source in the world.
    Even your fire place and a match box are not secure.
    As a rule of thumb, the more energy they produce, the more unsecure.
    Then if you take into account the byproducts of a nuclear power plant these considerations rise even more issues.
    Even solar panels have drawbacks and generate pollution during the fabrication and the disposal phases. Not to talk about the needed batteries which are not part of the panels, but are a needed part of the setup. And a polluting on
    • by wish bot (265150) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:30AM (#36104320)

      Solar doesn't require batteries. It can feed directly into the grid via an inverter. Solar panels are near 100% recyclable and most manufactures have free recycling schemes. The carbon payback from manufacturing is as low as 1 year.

      You also need to stop thinking of solar as a domestic production source - that's just perverse. Solar on industrial scales is already approaching parity with coal power stations and was cheaper than nuclear last year.

      And yes, yes, it doesn't produce power at night. Maybe you've heard of power storage, which is already used in many places to help balance grid loads.

      There are plenty of challenges, but so many geeks have blinkers on when it comes to solar.

      • Solar doesn't require batteries

        Maybe you've heard of power storage

        What do you think batteries are? Masturbatory aids?

        Sure, there are a number of grid storage technologies, but batteries are definitely one of them.

  • From TFA:

    It is similar in design to the reactors that malfunctioned at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after a massive earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.

    This shows that the (American-designed) Fukushima plant has design faults replicated in other plants of similar design. The British regulator is now re-examining proposals for new build in the light of the Japanese disaster. It is not at all clear that other designs of reactor have the same problems.

  • by kaiidth (104315) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:21AM (#36104278)

    Modern nuclear age? What?

    The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant began construction in 1966 (Fukushima Dai-ichi dates from 1971). Furthermore, both use General Electric boiling water reactors. The major difference seems to be that Browns Ferry is/was expected to continue to operate until 2033.

    Similarly designed technology dating from a similar time has similar flaws. In most areas engineers learn from their mistakes and upgrade regularly for precisely this reason. Then we actually would be in the 'modern nuclear age', and discovering a new flaw would be disturbing news as opposed to being a wholly predictable consequence of expecting to keep dodgy, ancient crap running for well over half a century.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And similarly to Fukushima, Browns Ferry has had a natural disaster hit close by.
      What would have happened if one of those 100+ tornadoes in the area had actually hit the plant rather than just close by?

    • by DragonHawk (21256) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:43AM (#36105188) Homepage Journal

      It seems every time there's a problem with a nuclear power plant, some people trot out the excuse "Oh, it was an old design", like that's supposed to make things better.

      The fact remains, we keep nuclear power plants running for decades. Just like all power plants of that generating capacity, nuclear plants are hugely expensive to build, so you need to keep them running for decades to make them cost effective. If we're going to declare nuclear power designs obsolete and unsafe so soon after they are built, then there is no way they will ever be cost justified.

      You can't handwave the problem away by saying "they're old".

      • by Andy Dodd (701)

        The problem is that any attempt to build new modernized nuclear plants results in massive opposition.

        And result is that the next most viable solution (service life extensions to old plants) is chosen.

        From best to worst in terms of currently viable baseload generation (wind and solar are not currently viable for baseload, at best they're good for 10-15% penetration, the country with the highest wind/solar penetration in the world is the Netherlands at around 20% and that would not be viable if not for neighb

  • No... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tm2b (42473) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:25AM (#36104302) Journal
    There are no modern nuclear reactors running commercially in the United States.

    And that's the problem - the United States is not part of any "modern nuclear age.". We're stuck in the 1950s and 1960s, design-wise - retrofits really don't substitute.
  • by Xelios (822510) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:30AM (#36104316)
    We won't enter the "modern" nuclear age until we're actually allowed to build modern nuclear plants. Last time I checked the vast majority of reactors running today are old Mark I and Mark II designs from 20-50 years ago.
  • by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:32AM (#36104330) Journal
    Firstly, this wasn't the primary, but one of several redundant backup systems. Granted any redundant system not fully tested is not to be considered tested.

    Secondly, the NRC has a long and storied history of letting nuclear plants run with known issues based on the promises that they'd be fixed. Now that they're in the spotlight because of Fukishima they're doing this shocking thing and actually calling plants on issues that have been long standing.

    Thirdly, as a country we need to take a honest look at our existing nuclear plants. They're old. We've made HUGE advancements in nuclear power (just look at any reactor on a navy vessel) What we need to do is use that knowledge to either reengineer our existing reactors or look to replace them in place with better reactors.

    Fourthly, we need to take an honest look at our nuclear fuel cycle, which is retarded. We need to start reprocessing fuel, not just storing it in dry casks. There is a huge amount of wasted energy not being extracted from those rods.
  • A site was inspected, a problem was found and a rating issued.
    How else should this work????
    With any luck, the problem will be fixed or the reactor will closed down until it is fit again.
    I hope all correcting work will be monitored.
    I guess if Alabama gets hit by a global axis moving event it may not work too well.

    I think the US has more to worry from the Hanford site; but the clean up expertise must be phenomenal.
  • Absolutely NOT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbope (130292) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @06:55AM (#36104438)

    No, it merely underscores that we do not *have* a "modern" nuclear age.

    People, please remember that the vast majority of nuclear reactors in use were built in the 50's and 60's. They were built based on early reactor designs. Reactor designs have improved considerably in the last 20 years but because the public basically has a "no nukes" position, very few new design reactors have actually been built. We are still basically running old reactor designs, many of which are long past their design lifetimes. Until we replace them with modern, safer reactor designs or forms of renewable energy, there will be a danger of another Fukushima/Chernobyl type of catastrophe.

  • by DrBoumBoum (926687) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @07:09AM (#36104526) Journal

    Following the Fukushima accident I've asked several times about the Davis-Besse [wikipedia.org] near miss. What happened there was that boric acid had beed leaking undetected from a crack onto the reactor chamber for more than ten year. When it was finally discovered, it had eaten through the 20 cm of the pressure vessel's steel (the so-called "first containment chamber"); the remaining barrier containing the reactor's material was the 1 cm (or 5 mm, not clear) internal stainless cladding of the vessel, bearing alone the 170 bars of internal pressure. The cladding had bulged but did not break - by mere luck one would say.

    Had it eventually given, then the high-pressure reactor coolant would have escaped in a jet; due to the location of the leak, it could have jammed the adjacent control rod mechanism, preventing insertion of the rods. So the Davis-Besse plant was literally at that time half-an-inch away from a total loss of coolant accident with a core on full power and no way to stop it. Right in Ohio, in the middle of the US. What would have happened then? I've asked several times but the only response I got was basically Nothing to see here, move along [slashdot.org].

    Not that I like to dwelve in shaden-freude but really this kind of answer, coming from people who pride themselves so much of being smart and rational, looks disturbing. Shouldn't we try to assess the reality of the situation rather than build a fantasy world that suits our desires, conveniently ignoring uncomfortable facts?

    • by dhovis (303725) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @11:08AM (#36107210)

      No, you didn't get a "nothing to see here". You actually got an answer. By design, if a water-moderated reactor loses its cooling, it also loses moderation of the neutrons. Fast neutrons don't work as well, so the reaction rate would slow. The residual heat would still have melted the fuel rods and it would be a big mess to clean up, but nobody would have died.

      I know it is not the answer you want, but there you have it. It would not have been a Chernobyl-type accident. The Chernobyl reactor had a positive-void coefficient, which means that the reaction rate would go up if cooling was lost. Davis-Besse has negative-void coefficient. The reaction rate will go down if coolant is lost.

  • From TFS: "Does this further erode the argument that Fukushima was just an isolated incident in the 'modern' nuclear power age?"
    The plant was build in 1974 [wikipedia.org]
    These are old reactors and due to "environmentalist" blocking of building new (safe) ones they are kept functioning. Is it strange they start to rot?
  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:50AM (#36105274)

    Does this further erode the argument that Fukushima was just an isolated incident in the 'modern' nuclear power age?"

    The principles of reliable and robust engineering and risk management do not change no matter how "modern" the device. Fukushima was fundamentally not a failure of technology but one of risk assessment and mitigation. They knew that an earthquake and tsunami combination was a virtual inevitability but they failed to build the seawall protections and backup generator system to withstand the most severe events that could reasonably occur. 9.0 earthquakes occur fairly regularly along the Pacific rim. It was absolutely possible for engineers to build adequate protections but for various reasons (cost undoubtedly among them) they chose not to. Despite the design being an older design the problems at Fukushima still could have been prevented with adequate backup systems and/or improved seawalls.

    When auditing risks you evaluate three things: Frequency, Severity, and Detectability. When talking about nuclear plants severe events are fairly rare but the potential severity is extremely high. That's potentially ok if the risk is detectible but as Fukushima illustrates, sometimes flaws are only obvious to the people looking after the fact. Complexity typically increases frequency of problems and decreases their detectability. Nuclear plants are unquestionably complex and some parts of them are difficult to evaluate for problems.

    The problem with the analysis is that it's still possible to underestimate or even completely miss a failure mode. The engineers at Fukushima clearly understood the severity part of the equation but they seem to have underestimated the frequency or likelihood of a 15 meter high tsunami and then failed to develop adequate mitigation plans. Sadly this sort of mistake is all too common in every human endeavor.

    These are old reactors and due to "environmentalist" blocking of building new (safe) ones they are kept functioning. Is it strange they start to rot?

    There is no such thing as a 100% safe nuclear (fission) plant. These plants are designed by people and even the best intentioned people make mistakes. We might decide the risks are acceptable but there will be risks. Newer designs have the potential to be safer (safer not safe) but without adequate risk analysis and maintenance, they can be every bit as dangerous as older designs.

  • by Burdell (228580) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @08:58AM (#36105342)

    This is pure NRC "look at us, we're better than Japan's oversight" grandstanding. There was no active failure or danger; a bad valve in a redundant cooling system was found during a maintenance shutdown and replaced (that's why they inspect things while the reactor is down). It appears to have been a manufacturing defect, and all similar valves were also inspected after the bad one was found (no other failures were discovered).

    This is the same Alabama plant that was shut down due to the recent tornadoes. They lost off-site power and ran the cooling systems on redundant diesel generators without any problem. Obviously the cooling systems worked. This plant had a horrible safety record decades ago and will probably always be under increased scrutiny, but they greatly improved things before bringing the reactors back online. I live about 30 miles east of this plant, and I have no problems with it.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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