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Heroism Is Part of a Nuclear Worker's Job

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the especially-when-they-get-super-powers dept.

Japan 349

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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Nothing but respect... (5, Insightful)

LordStormes (1749242) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529428)

... 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.

Re:Nothing but respect... (5, Insightful)

stabiesoft (733417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529478)

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.

Re:Nothing but respect... (0, Troll)

CajunArson (465943) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529514)

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

  Spread FUD much? So far there have been no reports of workers getting sick from radioactive exposure. Sure they are getting some exposure but nothing that will cause a significant increase in cancer risk. If any one of those workers smokes then the smoking will likely be thousands of times more likely to be lethal than the "radeeayshun" will.

Re:Nothing but respect... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529610)

You sound a lot like all the Internet physicists that keep telling us it's not that bad even in the worst case... as it continues to get much worse every day

Re:Nothing but respect... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529694)

Actually, things have been getting progressively better for the last two days. Radiation levels are down, they have visually confirmed there is cooling water in No.4 reactors pool for spent fuel and more has been successfully added. However, for some reason, you don't seem to see those news under big headlines in the media ...

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

Cogita (1119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530178)

Actually, things have been getting progressively better for the last two days. Radiation levels are down, they have visually confirmed there is cooling water in No.4 reactors pool for spent fuel and more has been successfully added. However, for some reason, you don't seem to see those news under big headlines in the media ...

Sources please? In today's media, it's hard to find the good news.

Re:Nothing but respect... (3, Informative)

RKThoadan (89437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530328)

http://mitnse.com/ [mitnse.com] is one of the best sources for information.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530322)

the smoking will likely be thousands of times more likely to be lethal than the "radeeayshun" will.

Do you get full dental coverage working for the TSA?

Re:Nothing but respect... (5, Informative)

scubamage (727538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529616)

There have been hydrogen explosions in a plant that has uncooled, exposed nuclear waste directly next to the explosions. 30km away radiation levels are 10 times higher than normal. The workers have been evacuated more than twice due to obscenely high radiation levels. I think you need to do your research.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1, Troll)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529690)

Still, there aren't any reports of radiation sickness among the workers.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there has not been any severe exposures, but the only way to know what is going to happen to the workers is to wait and see.

And the evacuations are part of the reason for that, they are managing the exposure as much as they can.

Re:Nothing but respect... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529798)

Exactly. 10 times higher than normal. Not 2 orders of magnitude, not 3. World average background radiation / year is 2.4 mSv. So effective yearly exposure at 10x normal is 24 mSv. Say these levels continue for another month, (1/12)*24 = 2 mSv.

A chest x-ray is 7 mSv.

Re:Nothing but respect... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530158)

Do you know how high 10 times higher than normal is? Do you know what the human tolerance for radiation is? Do you know that we are exposed to cosmic background radiation every single day when you go outside, and that the radiation you are exposed to in an average airline flight is more than 10 times normal? I can't fucking stand the ignorance surrounding the most basic facts on radiation and health.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530360)

All of which is over-blown media-frenzy nonsense. There are issues, but none as bad as being reported. The situation has been under control and improving for at least 24 hours. You can ask for sources, but I honestly cannot let you know them. Over the next 24 hours you will see much of the technical press reporting the improving situation, and I would estimate in the next 48-96 hours the more traditional media will finally start reporting the real information rather than overblown speculation.

Re:Nothing but respect... (5, Informative)

Subliminalbits (998434) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529660)

I might be a little dramatic, but the increase in cancer occurrence is statistically noticeable at over 100 mSv/yr. The new limits in Japan are 250 mSv. The operators won't all get cancer and die, but staying has the potential to cost some operators a great deal many years down the road. It doesn't do any good to overstate the risk, but lets not sell them short either.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530004)

There are risks inherent with any job, though. Those of us in IT don't have particularly risky jobs (aside from carpal tunnel and other injuries.... I say this as I am typing with a wrist brace on!) but anyone doing any job has a risk someplace along the line of some magnitude and degree. Truckers risk traffic accidents. Industrial workers lose thumbs. Even the turn management dudes constantly expose themselves to chemicals, many of which have dubious safety studies done. The fact that they know these risks and are doing their jobs anyway is the heroism we should applaud. We also know the dangers, so ideally once the crisis is over they'll be closely monitored to catch cancer early for the rest of their lives.

Re:Nothing but respect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529716)

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

Oh hi, meet my friend uncertainty.
Grandparent never said these things as facts, just possible, unfortunate outcomes.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529734)

Actually, information about the amount of radiation needed to cause cancer at the very low end of the spectrum is sketchy at best.

According to Idaho State Uni [isu.edu] radiation sickness will only occur at higher concentrations. But there is whole spectrum in between 'safe levels' and levels where radiation sickness will occur. And this spectrum is where cancer is most likely to occur - enough to damage cells that then go on to reproduce cancerous cells but not enough to kill the person outright.

Ironically most of our understanding about how much radiation is too much came from the nuclear explosions in Hiroshima.

Re:Nothing but respect... (4, Insightful)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529850)

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

Spread FUD much? So far there have been no reports of workers getting sick from radioactive exposure. Sure they are getting some exposure but nothing that will cause a significant increase in cancer risk. If any one of those workers smokes then the smoking will likely be thousands of times more likely to be lethal than the "radeeayshun" will.

Do YOU spread FUD much? Really? Thousands of time more likely to be lethal than radiation? You should have just said nothing, because actual numbers of exposure are hard to come by. Smoking might increase your risk for cancer over a long time, but a short dose of high radiation could kill you or significantly increase your risk. I'm not saying the original post isn't FUD.

Just a check on wikipedia indicates smoking 1.5 packs per day only gives 15-30 mSv/yr. And the limit for Fukushima workers has been raised to 250 mSv/yr. And considering shorter doses can be lethal, due to the body's inability to repair damaged DNA quickly as opposed to over time, it should be concerning that some locations were receiving exposure of up to 10 mSv/hr.

My point is, you just pulled that statistic out of your ass.

Re:Nothing but respect... (0)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530226)

To his credit, the radiation from a pack of cigarettes isn't the problem, it's the chemical toxins.

That said - It's clear that some people at Fukushima have had enough exposure for longterm effects at this point. Just how much those affects are and if they are worse than chainsmoking - unknown.

Re:Nothing but respect... (2)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529908)

He stated his expectation, you made your statement as a fact. Neither of you know, but stating something that is unknown is lying even when it later turns out to be correct.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1, Informative)

bfields (66644) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530282)

So far there have been no reports of workers getting sick from radioactive exposure.

From http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/asia/16workers.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com]

Five workers have died since the quake and 22 more have been injured for various reasons, while two are missing. One worker was hospitalized after suddenly grasping his chest and finding himself unable to stand, and another needed treatment after receiving a blast of radiation near a damaged reactor. Eleven workers were injured in a hydrogen explosion at reactor No. 3.

That's a little vague, though it does suggest at least one incident ("needed treatment after receiving a blast of radiation"). (I suppose it could have been purely precautionary.)

Re:Nothing but respect... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529532)

I have no respect for these idiots you call heroes. It's the responsibility of the managers of these plants and power companies to ensure that all the safety fallbacks are working. You won't see them doing these "heroic" deeds, now will you?

Re:Nothing but respect... (2)

mcvos (645701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529658)

I have a lot of respect for the workers at the plant who risk their health and work hard to prevent a disaster. But I also think it's an irresponsible policy to require this kind of heroism from people. I have only contempt for the people who ignored the IAEA warning about Japanese reactors a couple of years ago, and for the people who are still deciding to build new reactors near fault lines without sufficient safety precautions to withstand the worst earthquakes.

The reactor should have been safe. Better able to withstand earthquake and tsunami, and more, better, and more reliable backup systems.

Re:Nothing but respect... (4, Interesting)

delvsional (745684) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530364)

I have a lot of respect for the workers at the plant who risk their health and work hard to prevent a disaster. But I also think it's an irresponsible policy to require this kind of heroism from people. I have only contempt for the people who ignored the IAEA warning about Japanese reactors a couple of years ago, and for the people who are still deciding to build new reactors near fault lines without sufficient safety precautions to withstand the worst earthquakes.

The reactor should have been safe. Better able to withstand earthquake and tsunami, and more, better, and more reliable backup systems.

The actual earthquake, Where the ground moved around, did no significant damage to the plant. It was the tsunami that destroyed the tanks for the diesel fuel for the emergency diesel generators (all 13 EDGs). This along with the loss of outside transmission losses meant no power to run the pumps for feedwater into the reactor vessel.

Many newer plant have completely passive systems, fed by gravity and other things that will work without electricity. One thing you have in an abundance after a nuclear accident is heat. some of the older plants and many reactors (especially in the navy) have pumps that run off of steam.

the plant I speak of is a little different from theirs. It's a PWR, theirs was a BWR. Our Aux feed system (with three separate trains) runs off of aux feed. in the event of an accident the natural circulation of the primary would move that heat to the steam generators with or without pumps running. The aux feed system which can be run with or without electricity will provide feedwater to remove decay heat from the Reactor.

There are Seismic considerations to everything we do as well. A similar earthquake and tsunami would not destroy our EDGs. Thus I doubt any resulting accident would be nearly as severe, our plant is 5 years newer

with regard to them being required to stay, I doubt that anyone was required to stay. I know if there was an accident where I work, (even if it was as severe) there would be no question that I would stay. Along with many others. I was in the coast guard before this. I was a sea marshal for a short time. I was a firefighter, repair team member, damage control team member. Many others as well would see it as their duty to stay, even if the company didn't ask. I personally know people from here who have volunteered to go help the Japanese plants.

Re:Nothing but respect... (2)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529852)

That's like saying you have no respect for a cop that sacrifices himself to rescue people in a hostage situation, becasue the government should have prevented the crime in the first place. It may be true that the events should never have happened, but that doesn't take away from the courage and sacrifice of those on the pointy end of the stick when it does. It's not the workers fault that the plant wasn't up to spec (although even that is arguable, no one was really expecting an earthquake of this magnitude), but it's their choice to put their lives and future health on the line to contain the damage. It's the kind of courage most of us would like to think we have, though thankfully few of us will ever be so tested.

Re:Nothing but respect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529780)

Yet those people only get paid a fraction compared to their managers who fled the scene as soon as they could. In the end, the CEOs of energy corporations can use their lives and sacrificed health as an example how well they were handling the problem, thus granting them (the CEOs, not the workers, silly) another fat bonus and an employee-of-the-month badge to those who died.

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

curious.corn (167387) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529808)

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...

Re:Nothing but respect... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529822)

I not so sure the Japanese are that unique; over 30 Russian firefighters knowingly sacrificed themselves at Chernobyl.

Re:Nothing but respect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530164)

The Japanese are better at this than anyone else on Earth - honor and duty above all else.

Stereotype much?

Here's to the nuclear workers (1)

stjobe (78285) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529436)

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.

Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (-1, Troll)

Neil Watson (60859) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529450)

Please stop adding the hysteria and FUD. The Register has one of the few correct and educated reports on the troubles at Fukushima.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/18/fukushima_friday/ [theregister.co.uk]

Re:Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529492)

Sure.

The people who did and are still risking their lives to try and keep it a stable situation still deserve respect.

I'd like to think i'd do the same if the time came, but i don't know if i could.

Re:Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (1)

stabiesoft (733417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529552)

So when is your flight over to help out?

Re:Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529700)

The Register? Are you sure? I haven't read this piece yet, but a few days ago they had an article explaining how this disaster proved how safe nuclear technology was. I do enjoy reading The Register occasionally, but it's not exactly an objective and unbiased source of information. Try iaea.org instead.

Re:Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (3, Informative)

jspayne (98716) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529722)

I was actually impressed with his earlier article [theregister.co.uk] , until his true colors as a nuclear shill started to show. He made excellent points about the successes of the safety systems and layers of protection, but then pissed all his credibility away by saying:

At Chernobyl, this actually happened inside the containment vessel and the resulting explosion ruptured the vessel, leading to a serious release of core radioactives – though this has had basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl.

*faceplam*

I'm pretty pro-nuke/anti-hysteria, but this is just irresponsible. If you want the straight-up story, go to the IAEA page [iaea.org] or see the analysis by Ars [arstechnica.com] .

Re:Stop the FUD. Be cause and research. (1)

shadowfaxcrx (1736978) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529752)

From your article:

"The Japanese people, rightly, are hailing the personnel at the site as heroes. Not the least impressive aspect of their performance is the way they appear to be tackling the situation with such professionalism as not to carelessly risk their own well-being."

So, nothing in OP's point really changes.

That said, I'll agree with your article that the media hypes. . Everything. . to the nth degree, and that this practice severely detracts from its credibility, but in this case there is I think legitimate cause for concern. The Japanese nuclear industry does not exactly have a sterling record for safety or transparency.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/652169.stm [bbc.co.uk]
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,992195-1,00.html [time.com]

Note that both of those articles were written over a decade before this incident, and by well-respected news agencies. Japan has a long and, frankly, sordid history of poor safety practices in the nuclear industry. Whether this incident will be a major disaster or a minor incident as your source predicts remains to be seen, but that people are worried is hardly surprising.

After all, if you're face to face with a cobra, you're probably going to be nervous even if one guy claims that its poison glands have been removed.

why not use robots? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529454)

i mean seriously

Re:why not use robots? (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529554)

Prince Of Space buggered off as well...

Re:why not use robots? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529936)

The radiation levels are high.

Everyone knows that you don't put robots in that sort of environment unless you want them to become sentient and rain nuclear death down on all of humanity.

Homer Simpson (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529464)

That is all.

Re:Homer Simpson (1)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530350)

Someday he will be the patron saint of the nuclear power industry.

It's not the same 50 people every day (5, Interesting)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529466)

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.

Re:It's not the same 50 people every day (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530354)

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.

a jet pilot and a firefighter? (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529472)

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.

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (2)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529538)

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.

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (1)

mikael (484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530052)

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 jam a whole office block.

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (2)

Rhaban (987410) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529548)

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

Do you happen to live in Springfield?

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529674)

No the Peach Bottom nuclear plant near the Chesapeake Bay (northern tip).

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (1)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529720)

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 heroic sacrifice that those workers at Fukushima are making, there certainly are signs that they failed to use the "boring time" to best advantage.

Re:a jet pilot and a firefighter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529844)

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.

Engineering and Operations are very different jobs within a nuclear plant.

You know when you have an extrodinary job when... (1)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529474)

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

Re:You know when you have an extrodinary job when. (1)

doti (966971) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529628)

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

Re:You know when you have an extrodinary job when. (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529746)

No, I want the opposite device.

I want the "off" button to be as easy to press as possible.

Doses worry me (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Doses worry me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529898)

According to The Register article linked in another post, 20mSv a year was the allowed limit for workers before the natural disaster. It has been raised to 250 for the occasion. Since the cancer rate for workers at nuclear power plants are lower than for the general population (according to the same article), I assume that must mean noone ever works there for longer than five years?

Re:Doses worry me (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530112)

20 mSv / year is the dose the workers receive by working at the plant. The previous legal limit in Japan was 100 mSv, I'm not sure over what interval.

Re:Doses worry me (1, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530130)

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 workers here arrive before the sun comes up and go home well after the sun goes down... I question whether they go home at all!)

It's bad. It's tragic. But now allowing radiation levels high enough to cause birth defects and sterility? Oh boy....

Re:Doses worry me (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530358)

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.

Anotherr honorable note (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529498)

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

Re:Anotherr honorable note (1)

strikeleader (937501) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529572)

I think we can all take a lesson from this.

Re:Anotherr honorable note (2)

budgenator (254554) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529704)

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

Re:Anotherr honorable note (2)

evanism (600676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529760)

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?

Re:Anotherr honorable note (2)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529926)

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 past a some shops and notice that several of them had smashed windows and had been looted. That's the kind of mentality we're dealing with this country. But there are many more far reaching problems than that.

Re:Anotherr honorable note (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530152)

Was that before or after Katrina? That just sounds like New Orleans to me

Re:Anotherr honorable note (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530330)

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 surroundings, and looked to government to provide even the most basic necessities of life.

The work ethic of the Japanese culture simply does not leave room for such behavior.

feel-good nuclear safety stories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529594)

'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'

I wonder why all these feel-good stories regarding nuclear reactors are flooding out media at just this time.

Heroes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529608)

I'd rather we as a nation placed a higher value on nuclear energy and the heroes who safeguard us from the highly unlikely and rare accidents it produces than spending trillions on foreign wars which cost many more lives and are products of our own choice of energy dependency.

If 500 brave souls are lost every 50 years to providing us with energy independence, that's a bean-counter's best-case scenario over tossing 50000 youth into a war zone for decades on end just to guarantee sources of foreign oil.

Heroism (1, Insightful)

EatAtJoes (102729) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529620)

It's no different in software engineering than in running a dangerous power plant:

Heroism indicates failure.

If you need heroism, someone or something has failed: your design; your management; your organization as a whole usually. I've been a "hero" numerous times and it did feel good -- but it's macho BS to think that this is how it should be. Making hard decisions up front -- managing expectations, avoiding feature creep, understanding your operating environment -- prevents it.

In the case of power plants, it's holding the line on safety despite CONSTANT pressure to disregard it -- such as putting more spent fuel than the design allows in Unit 4's storage pond.

All the claims that what's happening at Fukushima are somehow a vindication of nuclear power betray this love for malfunction. Think about all of the heroes we'll need if storage ponds in the US (Shearon Harris anyone?) go up in flames.

Re:Heroism (0)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529894)

A great point!

Tsunami is a Japanese word. We use that word world-wide for a variety of reasons but among them is the fact that tsunamis occur more often in that part of the world just as earthquakes do.

As a result of the frequency of earthquakes in Japan, their building technologies and codes are probably the best in the world relevant to guarding against damage and loss of life due to earthquakes.

But what about tsunamis? They had a backup generator, but that backup generator wasn't protected well enough it seems. "No one can stop a tsunami" they say. Well, true. But you can choose not to place things which are vulnerable to them within range of a tsunami. Who says the backup diesel generators needed to be on site? Can't they be elsewhere? And why were they unable to draw power needed from other power plants which remained operational? Have they no power grid structure to enable this?

I see this failure as absolutely huge and it has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with planning and logistics. I suspect the appropriate options were determined to be "too expensive" as is often the case.

Re:Heroism (1)

turtledawn (149719) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530002)

Maybe you need to go look at the destruction photos again. No, the backup generators could NOT have been offsite and remained connected. I'll agree they could have been more highly elevated, though. No, they are not able to pull power from the grid because the grid was DESTROYED. There are people running cable as fast as humanly possible, but high voltage cabling is not something you just grab off the shelf at WalMart and start unspooling - assuming the WalMart or equivalent wasn't washed thirty miles out to sea.

Re:Heroism (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530194)

Then perhaps nuclear plants shouldn't be within range of a tsunami at all.

The fact is, planning to manage in the event of tsunami should have been written into procedures and into site selection among other things.

Re:Heroism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530084)

And why were they unable to draw power needed from other power plants which remained operational? Have they no power grid structure to enable this?

It depends which nuclear reactors you're talking about. One massive electrical problem in Japan is that Kansai (West region) and Kanto (East region) use different voltage and frequencies, with limited transformation capacity between the two. All reactors on the Kansai side are doing fine, but after the incident a sizeable portion of the Kanto side reactors were offline.

maybe we need a better way of making electricity? (4, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

happydan (948604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529802)

Never mind that this reactor is pushing 40 years old...

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529836)

It was going to be decommissioned in a few years anyway, from what I understand.

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

kayumi (763841) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529914)

It was scheduled to be taken offline this month.

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529838)

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

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

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

kayumi (763841) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530034)

profit. Replacing old reactors too 'early' reduces profits. The same way that improving
security is more expensive than hoping for heroes when you need them.

I admire these guys especially since I suspect that they may well be aware that some of
there sacrifices were only made necessary by the bastards in management.

Just like the Tokaimura incident a few years back and some 100km to the south which
was clearly the managements fault (workers were not told that it may be less than ideal
to transport radioactive liquids in buckets).

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (1)

toxonix (1793960) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530040)

Cost. Cost and politics are not the same thing. If you threw out every piece of engineering as soon as a new design came along, you'd never have a running system in the first place. Reactor cores last longer than most engineer's careers. They are also integral to the design. No reactor is completely fail safe.

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529918)

Gee, you could try supporting, say, offshore wind power. Here in MA, we've got a company that's been trying for the last 12 years to build a wind farm near cape cod. It's safe, clean energy.

Nah, that would block the view from the Kennedy vacation home. Better to whip up a frenzy of pseudo-science bullshit with your leftist buddies to save your royal family from having to actually see a windmill that to actually help solve the problem.

Re:maybe we need a better way of making electricit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530016)

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?

Sure there are, because of that, you don't hear about them.

It raises the question ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529708)

... if running a nuclear plant requires the same mindset as going into battle or entering a burning building, how is any of this a good idea?

Re:It raises the question ... (3, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529996)

Running *ANY* power plant requires that level of dedication to duty. Being a police officer or a fireman also requires that level of dedication to duty. Being an air traffic controller requires that level of dedication to duty.

I am guessing "Rambo Tribble" has never served in the military and simply has no idea what sort of things require any level of dedication to duty or even what it means. But our "day to day lives" are actually vigilantly guarded by such people and they are frequently taken for granted.

I have served in many roles that required such dedication to duty. Among them, service in the US Navy and several positions in IT infrastructure services. Without people in place to maintain things, civilization as we know it would collapse -- all aspects of our infrastructures require a LOT of people with a lot of dedication. Ever have a day when the trash people failed to pick up when scheduled? How about the occasions when sewage systems are stopped?

To suggest that something shouldn't be done if it requires such "heroes" is to suggest that civilization itself should be reconsidered because it's not easy enough.

Re:It raises the question ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530342)

Courage, is indeed, a requirement for any success in life. However, designing systems that incorporate, as a matter of course, threats to life commensurate with those mentioned, is foolhardy, to say the least.

I've had enough of this wanking (3, Insightful)

curious.corn (167387) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?! ...

Re:I've had enough of this wanking (0, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529970)

Well, let's not split hairs. The entire Fukushima crisis has been a great boon to liberals and greens (and stinky hippies). In Germany nuclear power plants are shutting down across the board, and in other countries political gains are being made as well. So why are you all pissed? Your side is winning! If the reactor melts down and thousands die, it will be impossible to commission a new nuclear reactor in the West: what a huge victory! This goal has been the ambition of liberals and greens for a long time.

Re:I've had enough of this wanking (1)

curious.corn (167387) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530306)

I sense a troll bait but I'll bite...

My side is not "winning": I have no side, I really wish nuclear energy really was more economical to setup, maintain and decommission than other current sources. Unfortunately it doesn't seem so: it's an expensive, dangerous technology with 2 major problems:

1. there's no long term solution for waste disposal
2. it is never safe enough to operate because when it starts to fail it's extremely difficult - if not impossible - to adequately intervene and prevent further damage.

I'm an engineer... a techie nerd myself; but I'd rather optimize energy conservation than keep lighting matches we still don't know how to put out.

Re:I've had enough of this wanking (1)

honkycat (249849) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530352)

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic/sardonic or not, I hope so... but just in case not: the aim of liberals and greens (and stinky hippies) who were opposed to nuclear power was not simply to eliminate nuclear power plants, but to prevent the disasters that they can cause. This isn't winning, this is having their nightmare come to pass. If it helps prevent other disasters in the future, that's salvaging some good from the tragedy, but I don't know a single anti-nuclear activist who wouldn't prefer to be wrong if it meant living in a world where the proliferating nuclear power plants all operated without hurting anyone.

Note that I'm not personally an activist of any sort on this topic.

Re:I've had enough of this wanking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530064)

What /. are you reading that you missed all the comments just like yours?

Also, where you have 'loose', you mean 'lose'.

Also in the news... (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529778)

... 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?)

this is personal (0)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529882)

simply statistically speaking, for the possibly mortal, probably life shortening sacrifices these nuclear workers are making, less people will die of cancer in the coming decades. i'm on the east coast of the usa, so it is highly unlikely to be me they are saving, but if you could somehow draw up a list of dots of future cancer sufferers due to this accident, those dots would be concentrated in japan, but there would be a smattering of dots elsewhere on the globe as well

Bring on the nuclear power fans (1, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529956)

During all of this, I've noticed the slashdot community seems to lean in favor of nuclear power. Not individuals, but the community as a whole - based on the comments that get highest moderation. This is in spite of the fact that the situation there is a total unmitigated disaster. One person held it up as a case in FAVOR of nuclear power, basically saying - look, even with the natural disasters they only released a little radioactive steam. That's just plain ignorant. The building have exploded, 3 reactors are thought have had partial meltdowns (one of them breached), the simple cooling ponds are in trouble (if they were full of water, someone could just walk in there and confirm it - the fact nobody has says the radiation levels are too high to go in because something is wrong), radiation is more than 10 times background 30km away. And regardless of weather you buy all those facts, it is requiring a HUGE effort of man power to prevent it getting worse and there is no solid plan. I did read they're importing 150 tons of boron to dump on it - because well, you need to do that when there is a little steam leak I suppose...

Re:Bring on the nuclear power fans (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530386)

An unmitigated disaster would literally require all of the radioactive material present at the plant to be dispersed into the environment in such a way that it made a certain range unlivable, while not dispersing any further.

The fact that the reactor cores are becoming more stable provides quite a lot of mitigation, and the fact that there are not yet reports of problems with 4 of the 6 cooling pools also provides a great deal of mitigation. Restoring cooling to the other 2 spend fuel pools will also provide a great deal of mitigation.

The weather is also providing a great deal of mitigation, blowing most of the contamination out into the ocean, where it is least harmful to people (that statement has a component of crazy, but he ocean is big and already has very low levels of radioactive material in it).

Thorium is the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35529972)

Someone explain how the current nuclear reactors produce power with uranium and the explain how the move to thorium will be much safer. Thorium is the future of reactors.

Mixed feelings... (2)

alendit (1454311) | more than 3 years ago | (#35529976)

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 feeling that it was exactly calculated, that this plant will likely cost lives someday.

So now these workers (maybe) giving up their health or more, because someone wanted to make some more money. And what if things go completely fubar? There isn't even a way to punish a corporation for such a behaviour, because the damage is almost always higher than anyone can pay for.

cold? (1)

laxergreg (1901558) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530012)

"in the cold, dark recesses of a critically damaged nuclear plant"

I'm pretty sure it's getting quite hot in there right about now.

I still find it all very hard to believe. (0)

BlueCoder (223005) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530076)

I don't think it really matters how old the nuclear plant was or that a 9.0 earthquake hit. It should be impossible for any of this to occur. You plan for these things... it's called a worst case senerio. All running reactors should be able to be shut down within minutes. In fact it should all be automatic, especially in the case of large earthquakes.

In fact I would go so far as to say that if it can melt down then they need to have a plan for what to do when it does. Retrofit the reactors. At the least have all the reactor rods retract and have robots that can transport the rods to a containment tank. Be able to pull the dam fuel! Have a gods dam meltdown plan in place!

Re:I still find it all very hard to believe. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35530408)

Two nice pieces of misinformation.

The reactors did stop immediately (and automatically) when the first sign of an earthquake was detected, as many other plants in the quake zone also did successfully. The fuel, however, takes several days to fully cool, which is where the problems have come from after the tsunami destroyed all backup cooling mechanisms.

And a meltdown can occur, yes. This where the next safety mechanism comes in if the cooling mechanisms completely fail. There is a containment chamber in the bottom of the vessel, where the fuel will run into and be spread out to allow rapid cooling, if it does melt. I think this would constitute a "meltdown plan" and eliminate a need to "retrofit the reactors" when the appropriate mechanisms are already in place.

Management takes advantage of this (1)

radionerd (916462) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530122)

Believing that they can depend on the loyalty of their underlings, allows management to get away with reducing staff and spending less on emergency preparedness. This is also true in other fields like ambulance crews, fire fighters, cops, and even down to the technical support staff. I worked for a city government agency that supported radio communications for public safety. When we did drills for the "Big One" it was just assumed that the support staff would work 24 hours a day until they dropped dead. They were not amused when I pointed out that when the big quake comes, I will care far less about a point to point microwave links than I will care about my family. At the beginning of the "drill" I explained that I'd be back after I checked on my wife and kid..... see you tomorrow.

Heroism is found in many works... (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 3 years ago | (#35530128)

...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.
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