Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

US Nuclear Power Enters the Digital Age

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the up-down-up-down-a-b-b-b-a dept.

Technology 291

An anonymous reader writes "South Carolina's Oconee Nuclear Station will replace its analog monitoring and operating controls with digital systems, as part of a $2 billion plant upgrade by its owner, Duke Energy. It will become the first nuke plant in the US to use digital controls, and its upgrade may be quickly followed by others. The main driver for the move is cost savings; worries about reliability and hackers have been the reason digital systems haven't been adopted sooner."

cancel ×

291 comments

What could possibly go wrong? (0)

fnj (64210) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284046)

What could possibly go wrong with such a grand idea?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

elanghe (682691) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284062)

Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284202)

i like pussy thats a little loose so i last longer before i jizz

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284210)

Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Given the arrogant and secretive corporate culture of current nuclear power companies, nothing we'll ever hear about anyway.

Slashdot fanboys will still love them though.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (4, Interesting)

Radworker (227548) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284404)

And I suppose your opinion is based on something other than hear-say? Like maybe a little personal experience? Until then I suggest you avoid putting your foot in your mouth. I worked in the industry for 20 years and while I wouldn't paint them as choir boys, I know that the Corporate bean counters aren't the demons you portray them to be.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284426)

How much are they paying you to say that?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284532)

I worked in the industry for 20 years...

I hear them call you over the PA to go and clean up the "spill in reactor 3.."

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284506)

Given the arrogant and secretive corporate culture of current nuclear power companies, nothing we'll ever hear about anyway.

Why in the world would a corporate culture, arrogant and secretive or not, want to have anything to do with a bitter, whiny Slashdot drone such as yourself?

Futher, any attempt at cooperation or openness by a nuclear plant operator is seen by the anti-nuke forces as either weakness or some sort of ploy. As a result of this adversarial relationship with a large portion of the population, there's little reason for nuclear operators to volunteer anything beyond what is legally required.

Slashdot fanboys will still love them though.

Here's why I'm a fanboy. Like most of our industrial infrastructure, nuclear plants help build civilization. I don't mind having them compete on even grounds with the other means of producing power, even if nuclear fails hard as a result. But I'm not going to hamstring nuclear power just because it has a corporate culture you don't like.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

umghhh (965931) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284542)

I think you may hear the sirens if things go wrong big time.

this is OT of course but I wonder - are these installations insured and its waste disposal secured?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284094)

Absolutely nothing. We went with the proven nuclear-industry reliability of Siemens(tm)(r) brand PLC hardware. Absolutely nothing could go wrong.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284110)

LOL, mod parent funny

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284390)

Clearly you didn't read the article :-).. In it they describe their simple goal, right there in black and white, as plainly as they possibly can.. Let us know when you catch it...

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284482)

In it they describe their simple goal, right there in black and white, as plainly as they possibly can...

Taken from the context, but I think still relevant and true:

In a nation where a digital blender can be bought for about $30 at Walmart, the ...

... goal of going digital is to save money.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (5, Funny)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284452)

And do you know what we would call the catastrophic failure event in which Duke Energy might irradiate a large swath of land? Hint: it includes the word Nukem!

a china syndrome, Chernobyl or Fukushima (3, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284244)

a china syndrome, Chernobyl or Fukushima. The last thing we need is a BSOD taking out the cooling system.

They better be non networked of side of the plant and maybe not running windows.

AND NO Homer Simpsons

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284310)

Meanwhile Germany plans to abandon all it's nuclear power by 2022.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284524)

It'll be interesting to see if Germany actually goes through with that. It doesn't sound like they have a real plan for replacing the roughly 30% of their power that they get from nuclear.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284360)

I hope they're at least using ECC. I wonder if neutrinos are more prevalent near nuke plants...

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284410)

Neutrinos don't cause SEUs.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284600)

Yes, neutrinos are more common near nuke plants. At least that is what theory tells us. If you find a cheap way to PROVE this experimentally, you would become moderately famous among physicists. Getting extra glitches from memory would qualify...

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284432)

Nothing... just the old HCF [wikipedia.org] . Not like it will never [businessweek.com] happen.

Duke Energy Forever (4, Funny)

Tau Neutrino (76206) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284050)

And they said it would never arrive...

Re:Duke Energy Forever (3, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284106)

What about the Nukem part? :)

Re:Duke Energy Forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284160)

Well, if it explodes on switching those instruments we could call it a Duke Nuke, at most.

Re:Duke Energy Forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284412)

And they said it would never arrive...

It's still vaporware until the changes go on-line.

Great timing. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284054)

So let me get this straight. Before, they were too worried about hackers, but now, they feel it's perfectly safe to do this?

Let me guess. They're installing Windows XP, too.

Re:Great timing. (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284104)

We wouldn't want to fall behind Iran...

Re:Great timing. (1, Funny)

jon.siebert1 (2146474) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284200)

no, Sony is going to take care of the security.

Re:Great timing. (5, Funny)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284314)

Windows XP was a stable, hugely popular operating system that has had over a decade of bug and security patches. Give me XP over the latest xnix flavor any day.

Re:Great timing. (2)

IgnoramusMaximus (692000) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284386)

Mod the guy funny!

Great use of sarcasm there, building on XP having had also over a decade of most obnoxious and prolific malware, ranging from mail worms through trojans all the way to self-replicating root-kits not to mention most numerous and spectacular security holes in the entire software industry.

And more to the point, it is also the only publicly known system to have been successfully compromised specifically to sabotage nuclear facilities....

Oh, wait ... you were serious?!

Re:Great timing. (1)

Medevilae (1456015) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284406)

Hey why aren't you bashing Windows?!?! I'll admit XP was awesome after SP3, but you might want to keep positive comments on the down-low, lest ye draw the fire of wrath from the hipsters that lie in wait in these realms.

Re:Great timing. (4, Insightful)

IgnoramusMaximus (692000) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284444)

This has nothing whatsoever to do with bashing Windows (although XP is a particularly funny idea in the context of nuclear facilities) but with the fact that no consumer-grade desktop OS is suitable for truly mission-critical applications. That also includes OS X as well as many popular Linux flavours.

That is because such systems are impossible to security audit, due to their sprawling complexity, which is a show-stopper in such environments (at least when total idiots are not in charge).

Anywhere where there is a demand for a high grade of reliability and rock-solid security, vastly trimmed-down subsets of an OS and GUI rendering systems that can be formally audited are used. Which usually means either BSD/Linux or some other commercial flavour of *nix like QNX, because such systems are written in a way that makes them easier to analyse at this level.

So you can leave your mindless "our team good! their team bad!" fanboi nonsense at the door.

Re:Great timing. (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284592)

Besides, you can't use it, legally. The Windows EULA specifically forbids it's use in nuclear control, along with several other things.

Re:Great timing. (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284636)

your not running a gang of nuclear reactors ...

Re:Great timing. (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284568)

Just because it's digital doesn't mean it has to be attached to the internet.

A "nuke" power plant owned by Duke? (0)

Powercntrl (458442) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284056)

Cue the DNF jokes, in 3, 2, 1...

Re:A "nuke" power plant owned by Duke? (1)

Tau Neutrino (76206) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284116)

Too late. Beat you to it by a minute.

Re:A "nuke" power plant owned by Duke? (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284118)

More like -1, -2, -3 at this point.

This should work out well.. (3, Interesting)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284084)

South Carolina's Oconee Nuclear Station will replace its analog monitoring and operating controls with digital systems

Chinese Military Admits Existence of Cyberwarfare Unit

Wait..

Re:This should work out well.. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284214)

EXACTLY. And as I pointed out below, Duke is the one that is massively in bed with Chinese.

Re:This should work out well.. (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284424)

South Carolina's Oconee Nuclear Station will replace its analog monitoring and operating controls with digital systems
Chinese Military Admits Existence of Cyberwarfare Unit
Wait..

No need to wait, they are already there [businessweek.com] since a long time ago. Save what you can... in this case, some costs. After all, a blender is $30 at Walmart and this is great for the nation (hint: second phrase of TFA).

Ooo! I can solve that one! (5, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284124)

...hackers have been the reason digital systems haven't been adopted sooner.

Here's an idea, let's not connect it to the Internet.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284138)

But what about when Homer wants to work from home in episode 135?

have a better Y hiting system! (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284280)

maybe a hardwired trigger system or anything better then a drinking bird.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (2)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284662)

They installed a private ISDN line for his control system. This is well documented at SNPP.com

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (4, Insightful)

kvvbassboy (2010962) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284140)

AFAIK, Stuxnet was brought into the system through USB.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (2)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284372)

If the attacker has physical access to the hardware, security is already out the window at that point.

A USB-based attack would require the perpetrator to have as much access as the individuals using the current analog systems do now.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (3, Insightful)

yincrash (854885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284400)

not necessarily. you can use an existing employee as an unwitting vector by infecting an employee's pc who transfers work documents back and forth between work and home via usb key.

so not just no internet access, you also need defined protocols for any media used

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284514)

Not really, it's been shown again and again that if you just drop off enough infected usb keys at an employee parking lot, during a morning or during lunch, that those employees will pick them up and naturally look up what's on those usb keys as soon as they get back in their office.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284576)

Then don't attach USB ports either.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

topham (32406) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284150)

That's getting more and more difficult by the day.

There are other ways to get viruses onto a network.

They are ways to get viruses onto secure networks that are, shall we say, unique.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284226)

and if it's not connected to a network it becomes a very labour intensive task to push out updates to the systems to prevent against the viruses.

Even if there is a whole internal network, that isn't connected to the internet all the modern computer security holes remain, and you either have to keep them all standalone - and update them all manually, or network them internally, update them all internally (as in, download updates by hand, transfer them to the appropriate internal network), you still need to get the updates out ASAP because you could have security problems.

If anything, at this point, you may be worse off not being connected. Because by the time your IT guy gets around to developing and rolling out images for a dozen different types of regular windows/linux/mac machines, and then all the custom hardware, you may have already been compromised, and you lack a lot of the intrusion detection tools that rely on well, the network, to work.

Imagine you have a computer (for sake of argument lets make it a generic windows 7 PC), that you manually update on the 2nd wednesday of every month (the day after patch tuesday) - it isn't internet connected. Now, this computer has some super important stuff on it. And you want to know it hasn't been accessed via USB or someone just plugging in a network connection to it. How does it alert you if someone *is* trying to compromise it (or doing anything untoward)? By the time you look at it again how do you know if a USB drive has been connected - especially if it exploited a 0 day vulnerability that cropped up in the month gap between patch tuesdays. If you want to update the intrusion detection system to keep it up to date every day, you're going to have to go to *every* computer that has anything important on it, every day to upload virus signatures etc. The internal network faces essentially the same issue, you might have a single point of copy over - which is a single point of failure.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284264)

I think the real question is, why should nuclear power plant monitoring and control systems require a full-on desktop/server OS to run? Shouldn't they run things a little closer to the metal than that to reduce the number of pathways where things can go wrong, anyway?

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284344)

I think the real question is, why should nuclear power plant monitoring and control systems require a full-on desktop/server OS to run? Shouldn't they run things a little closer to the metal than that to reduce the number of pathways where things can go wrong, anyway?

I thought QNX was good for this kind of use?

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284474)

Because of cost.

Plain and simple.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284326)

Now, this computer has some super important stuff on it. And you want to know it hasn't been accessed via USB or someone just plugging in a network connection to it.

How about it doesn't have any ethernet or USB ports since it's not meant to networked in the first place?

So make it dedicated hardware (2)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284352)

Like in the old days when you had a cash register. All it did was be a cash register day in and day out without any problems. Currently most cash registers are cheap computers running complicated operating systems. The number of failure points is staggering.

You want digital controls? That's fine. Design some hardware to manage those controls and then STOP. You won't have to worry about drive failures, locking down USB ports, operating system updates, people doing things they shouldn't....

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (3, Informative)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284590)

and if it's not connected to a network it becomes a very labour intensive task to push out updates to the systems to prevent against the viruses.

Maybe it is with windows with all that Microsoft Genuine advantage bullshit, but pushing out updates to Linux and OS X systems that are not connected to the Internet is pretty easy, i should know, i admined a huge network of them. Linux is probably the easiest. I just created a kickstart with the absolute minimum # of packages, used that as my base, and then put a copy of that system on the Internet to automatically download updates. All I have to do is periodically airgap the files(DVD works fine) over to the update server I set up on the LAN. All the machines just connect to that server and download their updates. Pretty damn simple. And if you are really hardcore, you can configure your machines to only download signed packages from trusted vendors(this is the default in RHEL for example). I spend maybe 15 minutes a week airgapping the things over... Now if you use that festering pile of insecure shit called Windows then you may have a point.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284634)

and if it's not connected to a network it becomes a very labour intensive task to push out updates to the systems to prevent against the viruses.

But don't most viruses and worms come from the internet and from removable storage devices?

If you took a computer and:
1.installed an OS that allows file permissions,
2.made the system drive read only for regular users (except the files that they have to change, for example, the profile directory and whatever files the software they use changes),
3.disconnected floppy and DVD drives,
4.disabled all unused ports,
5.made the users sign an agreement not to connect any storage devices without obtaining permission,

I think that the computer would be pretty safe. If more than one such computer was connected to an internal network, the network would be pretty safe too, viruses do not appear out of nowhere, they have to somehow get into at least one PC before being able to spread over the network.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

blind monkey 3 (773904) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284246)

Here's an idea, let's not connect it to the Internet.

How else will they be able to outsource the monitoring to India?

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284338)

Here's an idea, let's not connect it to the Internet.

How else will they be able to outsource the monitoring to India?

That adds a whole new dimension to help desks.

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284368)

...hackers have been the reason digital systems haven't been adopted sooner.

Here's an idea, let's not connect it to the Internet.

Like the Iranian uranium enriching centrifuges were connected to the Internet?

Or... what? Are they going to relocate microcontroller plants in US... or, for the reasons of costs, will be just produced in... a nation which has a 30-strong Blue Army commando [slashdot.org] (strictly for defense, of course. It's not likely they'll ever plant backdoors in hardware, isn't it?)? Something in TFA hints the second. Let me see if I can find it... here, just at the beginning:

In a nation where a digital blender can be bought for about $30 at Walmart,

I wonder where that $30 blender was made? In Toyota plants [usatoday.com] ?

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

beefmusta (1616667) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284414)

...worries about reliability and hackers have been the reason digital systems haven't been adopted sooner.

And thankfully, in recent years any concerns in this regard have proven to [slashdot.org] be [slashdot.org] totally [slashdot.org] unfounded [slashdot.org]

Re:Ooo! I can solve that one! (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284692)

well, it's easy. just use properiaty controls with redundancy built with cheap atmels, not much to hack then. of course, keep their control wires from being exposed - but it's a lot easier to change an analog signal to be slightly off than a digital one(resistor vs. having to know more).

Hackers? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284136)

Isolate the system, for Christ's sake. There's no reason that a system like this should have any connection to the Internet, any external access at all (except maybe read access for monitoring at home by the chief engineers or something), or -- and this is the part that people don't seem to get -- no freaking 802.11 access.

I find it amazing that, working in the medical field, every hospital I walk into is at least partially dependent on wireless networks. (Hint: Send desync commands continually with an iPod -- network down.) But not only that, but they go through all these hijinks to make life suck for legitimate users, and miss obvious things like direct network access through Ethernet ports. I walked into a room a few weeks ago, and a kid had plugged his laptop into the hospital Ethernet and it was (I later verified) BEHIND the firewall. Another hospital used WEP encryption for its "official" network, and my laptop broke it in about ten minutes in a call room.

You have all sorts of people working in administrative roles in these institutions that think security is defined as:
1. Disable the Windows "run" command to piss me off.
2. Don't allow me to click on the clock to see a calendar.
3. Block web sites randomly for "security" reasons. (Hint: I'm a doctor. If I'm going to a web site I either have some legitimate reason to, or I'm goofing off because I have some critical patient that I'm stuck in the hospital with.)
4. Throw up wireless networks with some idiotic click through screen before it will route anything, thus breaking every automated device on the market.

Probably any of us on Slashdot could do a better job than some of these idiots.

Re:Hackers? (4, Insightful)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284672)

Isolate the system, for Christ's sake

No, go further. Isolate all parts of the system. Only have well-defined 1-1 communication where you need it. I.e. no network where everything talks.

Re:Hackers? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284684)

I can't comment on Points #1, #2, or #4, but I worked in a hospital network for several years and I can tell you that sites were blocked for very good reasons. Like the time we found out 40% of our internet bandwidth was being sucked up by internet radio, ESPN.com, Youtube, and Weatherbug (a few packets every few min is one thing, a few packets every few minutes from 10,000 computers going out the firewall at once for no good reason is something else). As for doctors needing stuff for legitimate reasons? Let me tell you about the Department head that got his team exempted from the internet filters because his team was too important to be second-guessed. We had to get a network tech to go down & muck out all the donkey porn popups every three days. This continued until the female network tech decided that she was sick of knowing what these elite doctors did with their hospital-provided computers & threatened to sue for a Hostile Work environment unless we either A) Re-Blocked the doctors or B) Stopped making the network techs clean up the computer (effectively making it unusable).

Progress (1)

virb67 (1771270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284172)

But what we really need to do is hook it up to the internet.

Really? (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284204)

I guess I was an idiot to assume things had already been digital for some time now...

So what are they using right now then, a few vacuum tubes and clocksprings? Or do they have those newfangled "crystal" rectifiers and point contact transistors. (yeah, I know cave-tech and digital aren't mutually exclusive, give me a break ;) ).

Just because there is no computer running the show, doesn't mean it isn't digital. I'm sure there must be some digital bits involved, no? Or is it just big fucking analog panel meters and red buttons? Analog PID controllers for pressure limits, temp limits, water volume, and that sort of thing, or again just gauges and manual control? I'm thinking there is a digital PLC controlling most of those sorts of things as it is... Who knows though, enlighten me.

Re:Really? (2)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284270)

...enlighten me.

Can it be any more obvious??
FTFA:
"The goal of going digital is to save money."

Re:Really? (2)

droopus (33472) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284316)

I found a pretty neat site [englishrussia.com] that has a lot of cool pictures of what appears to be a modern Russian plant.

In this picture [englishrussia.com] we see the control panel and yeah, it looks like it is big fucking analog panel meters and red buttons. But there's a display [englishrussia.com] that is obviously some sort of digital status..not sure if it's electrical or some valve array thing, but as OP said there is already apparently some digital already.

Re:Really? (2)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284486)

Redundancy.

We have much the same on most oil rigs in the north sea.

While the whole HMI system is computerized there is also a "Critical Action Panel" that contains hardwired safety functions.
For example, you can trigger an "Abandon Platform Shutdown" from a single push button should the need arise. This button is independent from the computerized control system.

For something as important as a nuclear plant I would sure hope they have hardwired redundancy for the important functions.

Re:Really? (5, Informative)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284320)

I was and electrician in the Naval Nuclear Power Program from 94-00 and they used hardly any digital anything. Motor controllers were made up of relays. Voltage regulators worked on saturated cores and such. Even the control rods were moved using AC or DC motors, depending on the plant. It seems hard to believe, but nuclear power is a technology from the 50s. The USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine, was launched in 1954, which I find amazing that 57 years ago they had nuclear power plants that could operate a ship while underwater, and that ship wasn't decommissioned until 1980. Yes, for alarms there are mostly just various things that trip relays such as thermocouples, pressure switches, salinity cells, etc. If you understand how the plant works, it's easy to see how it doesn't require anything digital to run. However, you could definitely save some serious cash in manpower by automating things.

Re:Really? (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284356)

Interesting. I understand it is possible to do it more or less manually, I just had assumed pieces here and there had been slowly modernized over the years.

Then again with the level of bureaucracy involved, it probably takes the lifetime of a plant to get new parts approved anyway.

Re:Really? (1)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284492)

It is hugely expensive to modify plants.
It is much cheaper to actually build a new plant...

If only companies were allowed to build new plants on the condition that they shut down the old nasty ones... meh

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284610)

If only companies were allowed to build new plants on the condition that they shut down the old nasty ones... meh

Yea, if only ... they'd build high-tech, super-safe plants all around, abandoning old high-profit-margin plants for the sake of safety. Never would they make choices just to safe money even if said choice would compromise safety! Never! Wait, what? No I haven't read TFA. Why?

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284362)

you could definitely save some serious cash...

Yes, and the article made that perfectly clear:

"Those utilities need to keep those plants running. To have unplanned outages as a result of an analog system isn't doing what we need it to do — that's a financial risk..."

It has nothing to do with such frivolous things like safety

Re:Really? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284650)

then it becomes impossible to fix with a coat hanger n spit during a life emergency

Re:Really? (1)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284490)

Oconee was the first of three nuclear stations built by Duke Energy. According to Duke Energy's web site, the station has generated more than 500 million megawatt-hours of electricity, and is "the first nuclear station in the United States to achieve this milestone."[2]

(Wikipedia)

First unit came online in 1973, so they probably started building in 1968, using plans that were finalized by very conservative senior engineers in 1963 at the latest. These guys at this time would have regarded PLC's as bleeding edge experimental crap that only a fool would use in a large industrial setting.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284512)

You've seen the Simpsons? Like that: buttons and meters. Just it's a fair-sized room for several operators.

It works, and is built to keep working. Unlike pretty much any other commercial 'big panel' system, the processes under control aren't going to change over the lifetime of the facility.

That means a control interface tech upgrade is only going to see a financial opportunity when weighed against personnel cost. (Which is more than wages. At the age of these plants, they're carrying considerable pension factors.)

That is balanced against the heavy cost of R&D to make a replacement that is every bit as reliable -- the engineering departments who built these plants are long gone. It's got to be from scratch. Plus you don't want downtime, or /any/ fuckups, during the conversion.

Which isn't exactly a project most nuclear plant managers would warm to, since they've build a careers on 'steady as she goes'. There'd be a lot of argument to continue carrying the wage overhead as a per-factored operation expense that can be profitably carried for the duration.

Quite possibly, enough older managers have now retired, and enough of the younger generation feel uneasy about the reliability and workability of alien tech they associate with museum displays. Plus they're MBAs who were taught cost-cutting as a career advancement tool, and they're not going to retire at these plants; these guys need interesting- looking resumes when shutdown comes.

That may have swung the balance in the periodic boardroom arguments about the worth of an upgrade

Re:Really? (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284700)

Just because the rest of us use digital controllers, doesn't mean that everyone does.
Process control suppliers such as Foxboro spent decades building analog loop controllers. Yes, they are used in big panels full of big analog gauges with actual knobs to set the setpoints and gains etc.
I had the joy of working in a cement factory in 1982. It had a control room packed with analog Foxboro stuff. There was also a PDP-8 computer, but it didn't do anything to run the plant; it was used to compute batch ingredients based on quarry assays.

This is actually scary (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284206)

Duke energy is the one that is working CLOSELY with China (they are more chinese than is GE). My guess is that these controls will come from them. As such, it will be VERY prone to control by them at the worst possible time.

Re:This is actually scary (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284408)

I googled around and all I found was some stories about Duke partnering in "clean energy technologies" with a dominant (and probably partly state-owned) Chinese electricity provider. So what is the nature of this relationship with China?

Ah, very good (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284232)

kill -9 all

sounds very safe

I hope they are not using windoze (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284248)

What's going to happen when they have to reboot?

Sometimes analog... (1)

droopus (33472) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284274)

I'm sure this will work out just fine. [wikipedia.org]

As digital a geek as I am, I actually downgraded my pool. The garbage "computers" [inyopools.com] I''ve had foisted upon me by pool guys are absolute crap. So I pulled all the expensive valve actuators [inyopools.com] and run it by turning valves, and backwashing manually.

I love tech and all the things I do and can do with it. But sometimes, simpler and analog works.

How apt... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284312)

...that the previous Slashdot story was 'Chinese Military Admits Existence of Cyberwarfare Unit". So obliging of the US to pre-install a few dirty nuclear bombs. At minimum, one would hope that they are going to use hardwired ROMs for all code. It would also be nice if the CPU was hard wired, so the program counter could not leave ROM space.

Social engineering (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284366)

is much less of a danger in this case I think. You couldn't convince a dedicated, highly paid engineer to endanger a digital system any more easily than you could convince him to endanger a system based on analog controls. These aren't bored medium waged desk workers, they are among the world's best educated and most aware of the systems they control. I think it wouldn't take a huge amount of effort to train them on how to keep the systems isolated.

a while ago (1)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284370)

You know, when I wrote software for a nuclear reactor in 1977, it was definitely on a digital computer, albeit a PDP11 in FORTRAN.

For just a bit more money, build a completely new (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284374)

next-gen plant that'll run for 50 years, cost less and be safer

Re:For just a bit more money, build a completely n (1)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284580)

Nitpick: next-generation designs are meant to run for 60-80 years, then be refurbed to run for 100-120.

(if current experience holds, they'll then be refurbished once more and ultimately run for 150-200)

This brings a whole new meaning to (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284384)

the Blue Screen of Death

Luckily ... (1)

hellopolly (53483) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284436)

I still got one of these [reference.com] .

Target Practice (1)

InfiniteZero (587028) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284504)

Target practice by the, uhh, 30-strong commando unit of Chinese cyberwarriors.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, ... (3, Insightful)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284582)

... the german Government just decided yesterday to finally abandon and decommission all nuclear power by 2021. That's in 10 years. We'll be having a little extended backup reserve of 3 nuclear power plants, but their countdown has begun already.

With regular nuclear power, we are now talking about a technology that Germans considers unmanageable, safety wise. You might want to ponder that for a minute.

I for my part am glad that our current conservative government has finally gotten a clue (25 years after Chernobyl, none-the-less), also due to recent problems with our 'eternal' nuclear dump sites.

Nuclear, as of current state of technology, is a bad idea. There is no fucking way that *anybody* can take over responsibility for 50 000 years worth of deadly toxic waste. Anyone who thought that needs a clobbering.

Re:Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, ... (4, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284640)

I for my part am glad that our current conservative government has finally gotten a clue (25 years after Chernobyl, none-the-less),

so you're glad that your government decided to dump the electricity generation technology that has the fewest deaths per Joule, better than the next nearest by a factor of 10?

Going for deaths over bad publicity is your idea of getting a clue?

Re:Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, ... (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284676)

Nuclear, as of current state of technology, is a bad idea. There is no fucking way that *anybody* can take over responsibility for 50 000 years worth of deadly toxic waste. Anyone who thought that needs a clobbering.

I am glad some of those older plants get closed, but even more glad that further research isn't going to stop, and that quite a few other countries still see a future for nuclear power. It'd be better if we had something safer and cleaner to meet our energy needs, but that's a long way off, and at the same time we want to wean ourselves away from fossil fuels. In the near future I see a mix of energy sources: fossil, solar, hydro, perhaps biofuels become viable at some point.... and nuclear. I don't think we can do very well without, but I'd rather see modern nukes instead of 40 year old 2nd generation designs being patched up.

Some of this research is showing promise and may enable nuclear power that can be cheaper (cheaper than current plants due to simpler plant designs), safer (passive cooling, non-pressurised reactor vessels, nuclear reactions that slow rather than accellerate at higher temps, this makes serious accidents far less likely to occur if something breaks, and when an accident does occur it will be far less severe), and cleaner (nuclear waste that stays bad for 100-300 years rather than 10.000). It would be foolish to stop this research because of the current "OMG nucular" sentiment.

Sorry, can't resist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36284608)

"Duke" Energy and a "Nuke" Plant. Something tells me it will take them "Forever" to finish it.

umm we already do this... (4, Informative)

gearloos (816828) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284618)

Well, being an Power Systems Controls Engineer at a major utility, I can tell you we already do analogs via a digital stream. The protocol of choice is DNP. It is a standard That also accepts the analog transducers used for the last 50 + years. I don't actually see why this is worthy of a story. The bigger story is how all of the utilities are going to adapt to the latest NERC-CIP regulations and adapt to "secure" versions of the various protocols. Things like secure DNP and a secure version of 61850.

Hacers not the main problem with all digital I& (4, Interesting)

notany (528696) | more than 3 years ago | (#36284648)

The biggest problem with digital I&C is the “software common cause failure issue"

Imagine modern nuclear plant with multiple-channel redundancy in instrument and control systems, if one instrument fails, there are others. Same applies to whole cooling systems, if one cooling system fails, there are other completely independent systems that continue to work. Typically redundant systems use instruments from different manufacturers or instruments that are implemented with different technology.

This is not possible for digital systems because they are too costly to implement multiple times. What this means is that redundant digital control systems use same software. If one system fails because of software error, others may follow. This has already happened in German nuclear plant that had new digital system installed. Only the old analog system that was still operational saved the reactor.

This is why Finnish radiation and nuclear safety authority required changes in Areva's plans for the most modern nuclear reactor being build, Olkiluoto 3. They added analog safety requirements. Reactor must be able to shout down even when digital I&C has total failure. Relying for all digital systems compromises redundancy.

More info:

http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2053091 [neimagazine.com]

http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Instrumentation-Control-Systems-Nuclear/dp/0309057329 [amazon.com]

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...