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Uneven Enforcement Suspected At Nuclear Plants

Soulskill posted 1 year,4 days | from the bring-donuts-for-the-inspectors dept.

Power 93

mdsolar sends this news from the Associated Press: "The number of safety violations at U.S. nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses, according to a congressional study awaiting release. Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures cited in the Government Accountability Office report show that while the West has the fewest reactors, it had the most lower-level violations from 2000 to 2012 — more than 2½ times the Southeast's rate per reactor. The Southeast, with the most reactors of the NRC's four regions, had the fewest such violations, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. The striking variations do not appear to reflect real differences in reactor performance. Instead, the report says, the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently among regions, perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."

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SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (2)

lesincompetent (2836253) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146281)

And the majority of such violations tend to happen in a particular sector called 7-G.

I'm Fuckin Monkey!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146285)

Fuck yeah!!!! I'm a fucking monkey!

Re:I'm Fuckin Monkey!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146955)

Shrooms and posting never mix.

Re:I'm Fuckin Monkey!!! (-1, Flamebait)

magic maverick (2615475) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147599)

Fuck off granddad. No one fucking asked you.

Experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146289)

Specifically, they know which palms to line with silver in the east because they have more invested in the industry.

Re:Experience (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146701)

There is a lot of political pressure in the Southeast to cover up environmental problems of any sort. A lot of agencies that are supposed to investigate environmental violations at the state level in the South are little more than pro-business fronts who rubber-stamp everything in favor of industry. I've seen governors down here openly instruct their environmental agencies to be more "pro business." In my state you almost have to be caught openly dumping toxic waste barrels into a river to get a fine, and even then it would probably be a small fine.

So it doesn't surprise me that this has filtered up to the federal level in the region as well.

Re:Experience (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146899)

Citing many vocal political types from Southeast about less government is better, and also a positive concept of voting using their wallet. How would their collective wallets work with a Fukushima 2.0 event in their neck of the woods?

Re:Experience (2, Funny)

Lehk228 (705449) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147165)

with their hands out to uncle sam and probably dsome rant about how obama intentionally caused the disaster to poison baby jesus

Re:Experience (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148467)

damit! now i've got coffee all over my keyboard. XD

Re: Experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45150117)

Tree-hugging Californians call it a radiation leak. We Texans call it Intelligent Design.

Re:Experience (1)

Drakonblayde (871676) | 1 year,4 days | (#45150845)

Which doesn't really apply to the nuclear industry in the southeast, seeing as how the NRC has the oversight, and not state agencies. Federal law actually places severe constraints on any states ability to regulate nuclear plants, which results in the ball being pretty much entirely in the NRC's court.

Someone very close to me happens to be employed as a civil engineer at a southeastern nuclear plant. The NRC is constantly in their business. Right now, my acquaintance has spent the last two weeks in hectic meetings over a "potential" hazard that someone at the NRC thought might could happen (the chances are astronomically small) because they saw a video from a vendor trying to sell a solution to the problem and directed the plant to make sure that particular issue could never, ever happen.

The consequence is that the culture at the plant is one where safety is the paramount concern, because they don't want the NRC to make their lives any harder than it already is. As a consumer and someone who's outside of the industry, I can actually appreciate that. I suspect that the higher rate of incidents out west has alot more to do with bad NRC oversight than with southeastern state agencies keeping things on the down low.

(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (3, Insightful)

cyberpocalypse (2845685) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146293)

This is what happens when you let companies oversee themselves without any real penalties. Imagine a speeding sign. You speed, cop pulls you over, gives you a warning. You do the same, he pulls you over and gives you a warning. ... You will keep speeding. Government has allowed many of the NRCs to self-govern causing all sorts of stupidity ranging from: "we can't do security testing here, it will bring down the grid!", to all other forms of nonsense the NRC lobbyists will throw around. The reality is simple, the gov can't just "shut these places down." What are you gonna do, allow NYC to go dark. The entire regulatory "Dosey Do" one's partner is as old as the industry itself: "If you speed..." All bark and no bite. Its surprising we haven't had any major malfunctions on a constant basis

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146483)

The reality is simple, the gov can't just "shut these places down." What are you gonna do, allow NYC to go dark.

Which is why we need both more grid capacity and more generating capacity. Then you can shut the worst places down, and they can reopen if they can get their shit together. Lather, rinse, repeat. I don't for a second imagine that some environmentalists can really stop all new nuclear plants in this country, so I'm imagining that there's some reason why TPTB doesn't actually want more built right now.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | 1 year,4 days | (#45151133)

Building new capacity just de-values existing capacity. The more supply available the lower the wholesale cost. We basically have to pay companies to build new capacity. Subsidies, guaranteed pricing, free insurance, tax breaks, protection from NIMBY lawsuits etc.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45151489)

Exacty. What he's suggesting has a very real and tangible cost attached to it. We pay that cost whether it's in increased rates or taxes. People forget that when the government pays for this that money doesn't just fall out of the sky. In fact, most of the time when the government pays for something it costs 3x what it would have in the private sector and the end product is generally inferrior.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (4, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146551)

This is what happens when you let companies oversee themselves without any real penalties.

No, its not.

the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently

The problem is more likely that the regulators are ill-trained, and ill-supervised. Anywhere away from the
NRC's central office the oversight of its OWN STAFF is lax.

Inspectors and regulators should rotate, like Baseball umpires, not always covering the same area, and thereby making the regulations more evenly applied and making it harder for these (in your opinion) evil plant operators to come to an agreement under the table.

Also, without knowing the exact nature of these so called safety violations, you can't tell how many of them are for having too few "Remember your hard hat" signs and a fresh supply of toilet paper in each stall, as opposed to things that actually have serious implications. Anyone having dealt with any federal regulator knows that they nit pick stuff that allows them to write up infractions and make it look like they are doing their job, while overlooking big issues. I had an uncle that was a HUD building inspector that always ran around with a thermometer in his pocket protector to make sure the hot water wasn't too hot, and would write building managers up for two degrees over the limit. Of course he would totally overlook drug dealing out of apartments and broken elevators.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

cyberpocalypse (2845685) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146695)

Guidelines meet nothing. All a guideline means: "this work(ed,s) for $INSERT_AUTHOR" and this is what many constantly fail to realize. If standards and guidelines worked, many compromises and security lapses would not occur. Guidelines are so outdated and based on re-hashed (herd following the herd) concepts that they are laughable. Further, too many individuals and companies often do follow guidelines and use that as the de-facto "we are secured." As someone who has had to deal with MSP, and MSSP functions catering to these companies, I can tell you some scary stuff. Many of the staff tasked with this (security) are like fish out of the water. They don't understand security, but DO UNDERSTAND SCADA based systems. There is always a disconnection from the Praetorian Guard and those in the infosec/hacker community.

Nice job blaming the regulators (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146747)

I love this line of reasoning. It's the same reasoning that blames the Union Auto Workers and a guy who tightens bolts for a living for making shotty cars instead of the CEOs and Engineers who made the decision to use cheap bolts.

If the regulators are untrained it's by design. You don't just 'forget' to train the people that inspect your Nuclear power plants you know...

Re:Nice job blaming the regulators (2)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146855)

How is it like blaming autoworkers?

The the report does not blame the plant workers.
The report doesn't even blame the plant operators.

It places the blame squarely on the Federal Government. The regulators and inspectors are FEDERAL Employees.

Its the EXACT Opposite of what you postulate.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148375)

Hot water hurts. Broken elevators can't fall on people. Drug dealers are less painful than hot water.

Or, uncle is a bastard and kick him in the balls for us all.

But I'm going with the first.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

afidel (530433) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146607)

Sure they can shut em down, Davis Besse which feeds into the NE grid (which NYC draws from) was shut down for over 24 months when they found a football sized hole in the reactor head.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (5, Interesting)

Radworker (227548) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148067)

It was a little bigger than a football actually. My arm is a little bigger than a football and it has been in that hole. I was on site for the first 5 months of that outage and was never so glad in my life to be away from some place.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

0123456 (636235) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146669)

This is what happens when the government makes building new reactors insanely restrictive and expensive. People keep running the old ones, because they can't shut them down because they need the power, and then you complain that they're old and falling apart.

Old or new, it's uneconomical (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146807)

Old nuclear power is uneconomical as well. http://will.illinois.edu/nfs/RenaissanceinReverse7.18.2013.pdf [illinois.edu]

Re:Old or new, it's uneconomical (2)

bobbied (2522392) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147123)

SOME plants are being shut down for economic reasons. What that report fails to mention, is that a 40 year old plant's maintenance costs which have increased along with the decrease in wholesale power prices that is shutting them down. These plants broke even and started making money YEARS ago, it's just that they are getting old and worn out so maintenance costs are going up.

The jury is out on new nuclear power plants being viable. Not that we will ever find out. Not until the NRC starts to stick with one set of rules. Historically, nuclear plants have higher than expected costs because the NRC kept upping the amti because of the politics of building the plant. Got to keep the environmentalists happy, or at least placated in some way. If I was an electric generator, I'd sure not want to get into a 20 year ROI project with the NRC throwing wild cards that drive my costs up. Just way too much risk, for what looks to be razor thin margins for perhaps a few decades.

Re:Old or new, it's uneconomical (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45149471)

The report goes into quite a lot of detail on maintenance costs. But new or old, all face the downward pressure on natural gas prices that wind an solar are exerting. Peakers in California are getting less use owing to solar and Midwest wind is also cutting down demand for gas so gas stays cheap.

Re:Old or new, it's uneconomical (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | 1 year,4 days | (#45151143)

These plants broke even and started making money YEARS ago

The for-profit companies running them broke even years ago, but it's debatable if tax payers ever will.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (3, Interesting)

Radworker (227548) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146759)

Take a look at DC Cook or Indian Pt. for that matter. The NRC will shut down a plant. If you want to call a spade a spade, the pushing match over inspections vs profitability have a predictable swing with predictable consequences. Let the bean-counters convince you that they can run without inspections and pretty soon you will start having Davis Besse like events. Let the Nimbys win the safety at all cost argument and pretty soon you have 140+ day outages again like we saw as recently as the 90's that drive the price per KW/H way up. The NRC is just the poor bunch of engineers caught in the middle of this political infighting.

Thats my opinion after working in the industry for 20 years anyways.

YMMV

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

bobbied (2522392) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147209)

The NRC is just the poor bunch of engineers caught in the middle of this political infighting.

I don't work in the industry but the little I do know about this tells me what you are saying is true. You have a group of government paid engineers over at the NRC who are pulled one way by the politicians that appoint their management who are wholly unqualified political operatives, another way by the industry that makes their jobs necessary and yet another by the realization that the price of messing up could be huge (assuming they actually care after 20 years.)

It's amazing we don't have more graft and corruption along with more real accidents than we've had in this country..

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (2)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146783)

what exactly happens? these are violations that pose very low risk. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (what NRC means in the industry, not your use of the initials) has an inspector and office in each and every plant. what "overseeing themselves" are you talking about?

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

steelfood (895457) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146999)

As an aside, NYC is primarily powered by the Niagra Falls, not by dead animals or radiation.

Re:(un)Fair and (un)Balanced (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45151439)

I disagree with your position. Companies are motivated by greed first and foremost. I think we can all agree. This is why self regulation does work. If you operate something like a nuclear reactor you walk a tight rope of public safety and the continued operation of a plant that makes no money when not generating. Additionally, if a plant like that fails it's not just the opportunity cost of the generation it would have provided. There's clean up and disposal, reimbursement for public harm, payment for inspections, loss of public trust that is very costly to recover, and the list goes on and on. Believe me the companies that run these things DO NOT want them to fail.

"we can't do security testing here, it will bring down the grid!"

Believe it or not there is some merrit to this. I am an electrical managment system analyst. I went to a conference put on by INL a few years back and talked to several people in the oil and gas industry. It seems some of them are still running NT with win95 clients. It's the only system that will run their software. Now keep in mind this is on a closed loop network, so in theory it's secure, but heavy policies are required to keep folks from sticking a bad usb drive into the wrong system. Where I work we at least have modern software, but the prior system we had was an alpha DEC unix system that was over a decade old and could not be patched because the vendor didn't guarantee that it would still operate properly. When another analyst tried to do an IP scan on the network it crashed scada and brought down our ems. A lot of this stuff is very fragile and designed to work under tight tolerences based on time. Security was never really considered because these systems were not intended to be connected to external systems. It wasn't until regulators decided that we absolutely must share real time data with our partners that this stuff started to become interconnected.

Now we have CIP to comply with which is every bit as useless as nuclear regulation. If your business is generating, transmitting, and selling energy then it's just common sense that you do everything possible to protect your ability to do that. All regulation amounts to is another way to extract money from people who actually produce something. It doesn't guarantee security, or reliability. It creates an unnecessary layer of paperwork and time that detracts from making things more reliable and secure.

As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima (1, Funny)

mbone (558574) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146303)

As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima, which is apparently run by Homer Simpson, and appears to have no enforcement at all.

Mr burns runs the place Homer just works there (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146335)

Burns is cheap and pays people off so the plan can pass the Inspections

Re:Mr burns runs the place Homer just works there (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146457)

Burns is cheap and pays people off so the plan can pass the Inspections

no, he hides them in underground utility guarding a jar of bees which they ironically manage to break open causing them to go running to the surface for safety where they are spotted by nuclear regulatory officials.

Re:Mr burns runs the place Homer just works there (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146671)

At which point, Mr. Burns offered them money, or a washer/dryer combo.

Re:As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146715)

Doh!

Re:As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima (1)

steelfood (895457) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147027)

No, it's worse at TEPCO. It's not a lack of enforcement that's problematic, but a cover-up at every level of the lack of enforcement.

Re:As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima (3, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147475)

As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima, which is apparently run by Homer Simpson, and appears to have no enforcement at all.

Shesh folks. Give these folks a break. Hindsight is 20/20 and this Monday morning quarterbacking of the Fukushima incident is getting rather old.

Remember, this incident was the result of an earthquake that far exceeded the design requirements of the plant and was beyond the scope of their contingency planning. What we have there now was deemed an acceptable risk prior to the earthquake that NOBODY expected or planned for.

Now, you can argue that we SHOULD have designed for larger earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis and the facts are on your side. But one needs to go back and remember that TEPCO was doing what the government REQUIRED it to do if not more, NOBODY was expecting that big of a quake, and when you get right down to it, the Plant held up quite well considering how far beyond design limits the earthquake actually was.

So it's great fun to skewer TEPCO and point out the mistakes they've made or things that in hindsight might not have been the best choice, but you must realize that we are way outside of "normal" conditions here. Sometimes you have to make judgment calls and act NOW even without all the necessary facts or time to accomplish the engineering analysis required. Under the post earthquake conditions it was EXTREMELY difficult even to approach the site, much less move any equipment or materials around. They did really well, considering the nature and extent of the damage.

Could things have been better? No doubt, but TEPCO has managed not to make any MAJOR mistakes or killed anybody throughout this whole mess. Further, even though the environmental damage is significant, they've managed to not make it that much worse though a bad choice of theirs. So we've had a few hundred gallons of radioactive water wash into the sea or some guy accidentally shut off some pumps that needed to stay running. So? Mistakes happen but so far, nothing major has been messed up.

Re:As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima (1)

sjames (1099) | 1 year,4 days | (#45149815)

It's beyond the initial decisions abvout the plant though. It's the pattern of lying about the problem, the inability to get backup generators that were brought onsite hooked up because of plug incompatibility (ever heard of a splice?), and the several problems afterward.

Yes, the media has (surprise) blown a lot of this out of proportion but TEPCO has shown a pattern of incompetence that earns them a skewering.

In a back-handed way it shows that nuclear power is actually quite safe given that that pack of idiots hasn't managed to kill anyone yet.

Does that mean my nuke is safer? (1)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146333)

I'm optimistically hoping this means the guys manning the nuke near house below Jordan Lake in NC are doing a better job maintaining it than their peers in the West. On the other hand, it could just be lazy NRC regulators.

Poor conclusion (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146351)

perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."

There's a simpler explanation here; Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. A system administrator who works with 150,000 workstations and 13,000 servers is going to do things differently than someone who only supports 1,500 workstations and 10 servers.

I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

Re:Poor conclusion (1)

dj245 (732906) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146403)

perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."

There's a simpler explanation here; Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. A system administrator who works with 150,000 workstations and 13,000 servers is going to do things differently than someone who only supports 1,500 workstations and 10 servers.

I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

I agree with your general point, but "those running them" are generally tied to the plant and don't travel around much. They live near the plant and commute each day, just like anyone else with a 9-5 job. Transfers between plants in the same company are possible, of course, but nobody likes to relocate for no reason. Similarly, the plant operators can change companies, but that is about turnover and has nothing to do with the number of reactors in a given area. Operator experience is not really tied to the number of reactors in a given area.

For the NRC inspectors, your point is entirely true. Perhaps that is what you meant to say.

Re:Poor conclusion (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146505)

For the NRC inspectors, your point is entirely true. Perhaps that is what you meant to say.

I actually meant it in both regards; There is some lateral movement of plant operators, as there is of the inspectors. What I'm saying is that we can't jump to the conclusion that there is preferential treatment going on, when the reality may be plain old human complacency or lack of experience. We would need to know more about the structure of the NRC and the plant operations to arrive at any conclusions with confidence, though I suspect such information would be cloaked under the guise of 'national security' and is thus inaccessible.

As we are stuck in the position of not only lacking in sufficient information, but that the ability to get sufficient information itself is compromised... the only thing we can say is exactly what has been said: That some plants have more problems than others.

We can't really have a discussion about this, other than to demand more transparency. We need more facts. All we have now is rampant speculation.

Re:Poor conclusion (1)

firewrought (36952) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147151)

"Those running [nuclear reactors]" are generally tied to the plant and don't travel around much. Operator experience is not really tied to the number of reactors in a given area.

But organizational experience is geographically clustered. When something goes bad wrong at one unit in a big fleet (like Entergy's or Exelon's), the whole organization is stimulated to respond (with new processes, best practices, safety culture, etc.). Western fleets are smaller and their operators have less cumulative organizational experience (though they are apparently trying to compensate by starting a new industry group [neimagazine.com] ).

Re:Poor conclusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146447)

" Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. " I disagree with this premise. Varied TYPES of reactors, perhaps.

Re:Poor conclusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146809)

" Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. " I disagree with this premise.

Ok, let's hear your logic. Oh, you didn't have an argument.

Varied TYPES of reactors, perhaps.

Again, what's you reasoning for this?

I ask because both common sense and Statistics disagree with you. A single system can run for years with no major issues, while another system built the same way can have all sorts of problems. The fact of the matter is that if you never run into problems, you never gain any experience in dealing with them, and as you increase the number of reactors you increase the chances that something is going to go wrong somewhere.

Re:Poor conclusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45148747)

You didn't quote me, you truncated it at my first sentence of disagreement so obviously no argument is in that. Good eye?
Then you say "again" as if your truncation separated my two simple sentences for any reason besides your pedantic attitude.
All this lines up with you being a troll without an actual thought between the ears.

"I ask because both common sense and Statistics disagree with you. A single system can run for years with no major issues, while another system built the same way can have all sorts of problems" *can, he says. Yes, it *can, or *may.

You obviously don't cite any statistics, so I wonder if you know what the word "statistics" refers to? Maybe not.

" The fact of the matter is that if you never run into problems, you never gain any experience in dealing with them,"
- Wrong. Patently. They actually do train for scenarios that never actually do happen, that's part of it.

"and as you increase the number of reactors you increase the chances that something is going to go wrong somewhere."

Valid theory, more reactors = more POTENTIAL problems. But you wrongly assert that having "more problems" translates directly into more experience.
That's asinine. More problems can result from any number of things, including less experienced crews, negligence, funding, management issues, any of it.

Having multiple issues is potentially a learning experience, but it doesn't magically impart best practices, attention to detail, or any actual knowledge.
Comprehensive training, education, systems reviews, these are ways to learn - but learning/experience is a function of individuals.

You don't prove your point at all, beyond "more reactors = more potential problems". The rest is trollshit, and your attitude screams punk ass bitch.

Re:Poor conclusion (1)

fldsofglry (2754803) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146463)

Couldn't the inverse be true inspectors? Less experienced inspectors error on the side of caution while more experienced don't see the problem with a minor violation?

I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

According to the summary and the article, tt doesn't sound like it is a preferential treatment, but rather the way the inspector interprets the rules and regulations.

Huh? (1)

socode (703891) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146427)

So...
1) dramatic variation: uneven enforcement OR uneven adherence to regulations?
2) low variation: no-one is looking OR that violations are petty and adherence is relatively good?

We need to understand which case it actually is - otherwise we are pressuring the overseers to "fix" the problem by gaming the numbers or having a quota of violations found.

Good utilities (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146449)

It is also possible that the utilities in the SE are doing a better job.

Re:Good utilities (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146627)

It is also possible that the utilities in the SE are doing a better job.

The story clearly says:

The striking variations do not appear to reflect real differences in reactor performance. Instead, the report says, the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently among regions,

This report places no such condemnation or accolades on the operators.
It lays the problem directly at the NRC's doorstep.

The regulators are at fault here, not the operators.

Re:Good utilities (1)

matfud (464184) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147335)

"No difference in reactor performance" does not mean that there are no problems. It just means that everything carries on regardless.
Many minor infractions could be only potential problems. Not a problem until they become a real problem. Many may be H&S issues that have not caused any injury or death yet. Many may be a pointless waste of time and effort.

Re:Good utilities (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147703)

I don't think you get to define "No difference in reactor performance".

Performance includes all kinds of things, such a electrical production, prevention of radiation leaks, days between on the job injuries, the need to take unusual protective steps up to and including shutting down the reactor.

Anything that affects or triggers changes in electrical output is not the sole measure of performance. There is absolutely nothing in the article or the summary that would lead you to any such conclusion.

Re:Good utilities (1)

matfud (464184) | 1 year,4 days | (#45150851)

I am not disagreeing with you. I just found the phrase "reactor performance" to not be descriptive of what constitutes poor performance or problems.

It is likely that many of the issues are treated differently in various places. Often with good reason. Sometimes due to bad oversight.

Re: Good utilities (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146791)

Yep, you aren't from 'round there, are you?

Cultural issue? (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146507)

At a glance, the low number of citations seems correlated with a low grade for public integrity. More corrupt states have less careful inspection. http://www.stateintegrity.org/ [stateintegrity.org]

Re:Cultural issue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45147513)

OUCH! You may have a valid point here...

I stopped reading at 'md*solar*' (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146547)

...

Has anyone checked... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146585)

...if there is a co-relation between outsourced inspectors being paid per violation detected, and the number of citations?

Just asking...

correlation does not imply causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45146755)

Yet another example of anti nuclear agenda taking facts and correlating them in a way that implies that the industry is on the brink of disaster because we are a bunch of loose cannons. So transparent.

Uh, duh, blue states want to kill nuclear/coal (0)

mattmarlowe (694498) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146815)

Redstates want to keep nuclear, and even *gasp* coal because they believe society needs jobs and cheap energy to grow and be stable.....so, yeah, they don't overregulate and hound the industries to death with mini-taxes meant to increase costs under the guise of safety....

Blue states - however......for them, the sanctity of gaia and a pure green earth is more important than anything else so......in those areas, they gladly double and triple energy prices and make do with much higher levels of unemployment and consider the nuclear/coal industries, when they are not banned all together, as free sources of additional state taxes....any possible violation is a way for the state to charge another fee....hip hip hooray. Whatever....it's not like someone else won't end up burning all that coal and it all goes into the same atmosphere...witness california coasts getting polution via ocean winds from china and having to export its manufacturing jobs elsewhere.

Re:Uh, duh, blue states want to kill nuclear/coal (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45147257)

Or, to reverse your amazingly slanted "reasoning":

Blue states want to boost green energy and limit toxic and otherwise polluting industries because they care about their citizens, and want to make sure they'll still be happy and healthy in fifty or a hundred years. So yes, they limit outrageous profits at public expense and enforce the safety regulations necessary to make sure that following generations won't be living in a devastated hellhole.

Redstates, however, are dominated by corporations, including mining and energy corporations, that want to maximize short-term profit and don't care about any long term effects or costs they can somehow externalize. So yeah, they cheerfully engage in regulatory capture and don't care how many people die or how wrecked the environment gets.... the big capitalists can always take their profits and move to somewhere nice.

The plant's response is a big factor (5, Interesting)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45146977)

As a person who works in the nuclear power industry, I can explain some factors.

First, plant inspectors are moved on a regular basis, and there is enough involvement from various other NRC reviewers and experts to keep a check.

Second, the threshold for violations is so low that it is pretty much impossible to not have any. Only a small percentage of violations have safety significance, and most of those have low safety significant. Most violations are cited because they may be potential indicators of a drop in safety. By setting the threshold this low the NRC keeps operating performance within a conservatively safe margin.

Third, a final citing for a violation depends a lot on the plant's response to the initial finding. If a plant shows deference to the finding, cannot adequately explain its occurrence, or shows that there was some known programmatic fault that enabled the condition, they are more likely to get cited with a violation in the end. Some plant owners can be a bit short when responding to what they may perceive as a petty finding.

Fourth, plants that have a history of violation often get added scrutiny, therefore there is bit of a circular effect.

The utilities that own plants in the southeast are, in my opinion, the best at both preventing conditions that are potential violations and also at responding to findings. Fleet owners often do a little bit better job than single unit owners (but there are exceptions). I can tell you with certainty, those plants that are falling off the mark get exposed by both the NRC as well as INPO, and nobody lets up until they get back to a state of operational excellence with and appropriate safety culture.

If folks in other occupations got a comparable level of scrutiny as nuclear plant workers and operators do, they would probably start with tens of violations or more an hour. If car inspections were held at that same level of scrutiny, you would have to immediately park your car if air pressure dropped .001 psi in a tire, and could not use it again until you found the cause of the problem, repaired it, and put in place safeguards to ensure it was not likely to ever happen again. Then prepare a lengthy report, have it reviewed with great scrutiny and hopefully approved by the regulator. Then you would likely receive a fine because you did not discover it yourself.

We, in the nuclear industry, welcome this level of scrutiny. It is part of our lives and culture.

I am not an evil, fire breathing, money hungry fiend. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. A Sierra club member in my teens, I'd hike the trails and clean up other people's trash, carrying it out with me. I care as much as anyone about our environment. All sources of power have their pros and cons. Nuclear waste is a serious one for my industry, but if you compare on a true scale of impact and risk, it is hands down the best path forward for baseload generation.

Sorry for that last preachy part, couldn't help myself. Cheers.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (3, Informative)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147149)

I forgot to add... violations are often self-identified and reported. So a plant with more self identified violations could possibly just be policing themselves with greater scrutiny.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147243)

Nice post. I think that the tire example is a little off though. Lots of plants are leaking tritium without fixing the problem.

Also, I think that this really pins the issue of thinking of power as baseload and the problem of nuclear waste together. Eliminate the "baseload" mindset, and the waste problem stops getting worse. Economics seems to be helping with that. Baseload used to be cheap but inflexible. Now it is just inflexible. http://will.illinois.edu/nfs/RenaissanceinReverse7.18.2013.pdf [illinois.edu]

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (2)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147465)

Thanks and good point. Analogies like this are never perfect, but I think my example is pretty fair overall. Tritium leakage is not ignored, it has been well analyzed. For some plants, 100% stoppage of it is pretty hard to accomplish, but analysis shows it is not a safety issue operationally. The debate over the environmental impact is out there. It is pretty benign and the quantities are small. That's another discussion.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148275)

I think the tritium is a sign of lack of maintenance. The leaks are a new development so it seems that with sound equipment the problem can be avoided. At Vermont Yankee it turned out to be more than just tritium as well and their was quite a lot of false testimony given by Entergy regarding the state of their equipment.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148653)

To a certain extent, yes, tritium leakage could have been reduced or eliminated if certain maintenance activities were identified and executed. But seeing as we are dealing primarily with drainage systems and an issue that appeared slowly over time, that is easier said than done.

I don't have the facts on your false testimony claim (along with the "quite a lot of" to make is sound as bad as possible), but I admit the whole thing at VY was handled poorly and ignored/minimized too long and that someone may have stated false facts. I am disappointed in their response big time. Too bad that some folks in the industry feel the need to get so defensive about certain issues. Its a reaction in part to those factions that continuously portray issues to be much greater than they are, and the general public can no longer get a sense which issues they should really be concerned with.

But why it the tritium leak thing such a big deal? I know it sounds bad if you don't know the real facts, amounts, impacts.

I will never claim the industry is not without fault. Name one that is. I am just saying the risks are not as they are often portrayed. Tritium is a great example of that.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147509)

You can't ignore the need for baseload generation and come up with a solution in any meaningful timeframe. I admit, it would be very convenient if we could.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148251)

Interestingly you can, and at lower cost than reliance on nuclear power. http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Electricity_scenarios [rmi.org] Everything gets sewn up by about 2050.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45148711)

Interestingly you can, and at lower cost than reliance on nuclear power. http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Electricity_scenarios [rmi.org] Everything gets sewn up by about 2050.

Wow, is that little one pager full of assumptions, most of which are not safe ones. Not the least of which is we stick with our current stupid once-through fuel cycle in 60 year old BWR designs.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148759)

I'm sorry, but that reference is absolutely ridiculous. I can do it one better, lets just all quit using power all-together and we can get by with one windmill each for pumping water from wells.

Please, I hate it when these academia 'think tanks' show us how they have it all figured out and those idiots that have been managing the industry for years don't have a clue. There is a reason these guys are not managers at electric utilities and instead are just talking about dream scenarios.

If you want to explain it, go ahead, but I am so freaking tired of folks who go out and find some BS article or paper that has no validation whatsoever and just post it without making any kind of statement or point that gives any indication if they even know what they are posting. Have you taken even the slightest critical look it?

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148881)

So far as I know, the scenario that emphasizes nuclear power is considered quite well thought though in the industry. RMI has had a lot to do with transforming the auto industry as well. You might want to see if you can get the book from your library and give it a good read.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

khallow (566160) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147867)

Lots of plants are leaking tritium without fixing the problem.

If you're generating tritium, then you're leaking it. The real question is how much tritium is the nuclear plant leaking? Dose makes the poison.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148321)

Didn't used to be a problem, so it seems like a sign of decrepitude.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

khallow (566160) | 1 year,4 days | (#45149105)

It could be that an older plant is leaking more tritium, that's a reasonable scenario. Or it could be that detection thresholds are more sensitive than they used to be.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45147249)

All sources of power have their pros and cons. Nuclear waste is a serious one for my industry, but if you compare on a true scale of impact and risk, it is hands down the best path forward for baseload generation.

I understand where you are coming from, but as long as the USA is going to try to be the world's policeman we need to worry about the military implications.

And as long as we're going to let corporations buy and sell elections, we can't really trust any oversight mechanisms.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (2)

Required Snark (1702878) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147989)

At San Onofre spent years with defective equipment and ignoring safety procedures. Both Edison and the NRC fundamentally failed to detect serious problems, even when there was evidence that operations were in bad shape.

http://voiceofsandiego.org/2012/07/18/the-trouble-with-the-san-onofre-nuclear-plant/ [voiceofsandiego.org]

San Onofre’s safety problems began drawing attention in 2007. A fire prevention specialist responsible for hourly patrols around the plant had deliberately falsified inspection records for years. In 2008, a safety battery was discovered to have been disconnected for four years.

Concerns began mounting. Whistleblowers alleged they’d been fired for raising safety questions. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission added an extra on-site inspector. The NRC flagged the plant for its problems. San Onofre stayed under the ominous federal warning for four years. It was a serious threat to the plant: Improve or else. Federal regulators have shut down at least one nuclear plant that didn’t heed their order.

The San Onofre mess was brewing for years. It's not like there were no warning signs. Nothing substantial happened.

When Edison replaced the heat exchange system, they self certified that it was a replacement, not a substantial change. It was in fact an upgrade, so they could extract more power. They deliberately lied and no one at the NRC either knew or cared.

Around 50 reactors are not in compliance with fire safety standards that were set in the 1980's as the result of a fire at the Brown's Ferry facility.

http://allthingsnuclear.org/fission-stories-98-fires-at-browns-ferry-get-your/ [allthingsnuclear.org]

The owners of 51 reactors formally notified the NRC of their plans to comply with the NFPA 805 fire protection regulations. In doing so, they implicitly conceded that these reactors failed to comply with the 1980 fire protection regulations. After all, no owner could justify spending the millions of dollars needed to comply with the 2004 regulations if it already satisfied the 1980 regulations.

In the eight years since that time only four reactors have taken the steps to comply. Today, 47 of those 51 reactors still do not comply with either the 1980 or 2004 fire regulations.

Ironically and sadly, the three reactors at Browns Ferry are among those that fail to comply with either the 1980 or the 2004 fire protection regulations. That’s right—more than 37 years after a fire nearly melted down the Unit 1 and Unit 2 reactors, these reactors operate in violation of fire protection regulations expressly developed to prevent another Browns Ferry fire.

In the real world, the safety culture of the nuclear industry is pathetic. The lack of major failures is due to luck as much as anything else. As aging plants have their operational lives extended far beyond their original design, it is inevitable that a very serious accident with major radiation release will occur. Everyone involved goes through the motions, but no one is taking real responsibility.

Re:The plant's response is a big factor (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148135)

Nice objective and knowledgeable choice of sources there (he said sarcastically).

Has anyone considered... (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | 1 year,4 days | (#45147217)

...the idea that the guys in the west might just be being more open and being honest when it comes to reporting incidents? Or maybe the guys in the east are having just as many, but aren't reporting them, thinking "hell, it's only a tiny spill, no need to report it and get everyone riled up about it!". Why do I get the feeling that this article is just another piece of FUD? http://atomicinsights.com/accidents/ [atomicinsights.com]

40 years (1)

epine (68316) | 1 year,4 days | (#45148903)

now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses

What do 'best before' dates on food really mean? [theglobeandmail.com]

Some number pencilled into an operating permit granted in 1969 is not the last word on how long these facilities will continue to operate safely.

There was—at the time—not a single reactor of a modern design with a forty year operational record on which to base even the wildest guess. The number "40 years" had more to do with investor ROI than any engineering crystal ball.

I recall one reactor shut down for an expensive refurbish a long time ago because circulation pipes had become unexpectedly brittle in less than a decade of exposure to a constant, low level of neutron flux.

Summary: we didn't know shit.

On day one, it's extremely hard to tell the difference between a Toyota and a Chevy. At year thirty, the stakeholders think they've won the lottery because it was a Toyota after all. At year thirty-five, Toyota develops a frightening latency in response to the graphite rods. At year forty-two you've got this headache sorted—or so you would like to believe. It was operator over-reaction to upgraded SCADA data collection rates. No, it was xenon capture by surface pockets in metals exposed to decades of micro-crystalline annealing. No, it was pockets of non-uniform fission density due to a very minor change in the fuel-pellet binding agent made as older mines ceased production.

All the reactors built in the 1970s were version 0.9. No reactor anywhere had a forty year operational track record with a modern design.

Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

garyebickford (222422) | 1 year,4 days | (#45149647)

Back in 1990 or thereabouts, I worked for a company building a robotic system to be used in maintaining nuclear plants - in particular replacing old steam generator tubes. I learned some things.

- some plants are so clean that you might set off the radiation alarms going IN to the plant. (This is in fact how the problem with Radon in homes was discovered. A plant worker set off the alarms going in to work at one of these very clean plants.)
- the rules for what you can and can't bring into the steam generator structure (for example) vary wildly from one company to another. This applies to things in hoses as well.
- others are the nuclear equivalent to the guy down the street with a couple of busted trucks in his yard.
- similarly, the design rules for the engineering and construction drawings for different plants ranged from aerospace quality to kindergarten sketches. One actual drawing for an outbuildings I reviewed back in 1985 for a different project - studying the possibility of scanning plant drawings into CAD - was a huge sepia toned mess, with the entire building on one drawing - structural, plumbing, electrical, finish work, ... In several places changed had been accomplished by literally cutting a piece of the drawing out and taping a new piece in.
- especially back in the 1960s, when most US facilities were designed, US plants were defined as buildings, construction projects, and were designed by architects (with the help of some engineers). Each plant was different, and so each plant had different mistakes - misrouted piping that crossed through other pipes and had to be rerouted in the field, or just crossing essential walkways at waist height; cabling that wouldn't fit or couldn't be pulled through the original routing trays, ... Try carrying an 80 pound robot controller box down a walkway with 1/2 dozen pipes running across it at different heights!
- In France and other places, all the plants were defined as machines, like airplanes, so they were all essentially the same design. When a mistake or a fault was found in one, it could be prevented or fixed in all the others at the same time much like the FAA rules on airplanes - when a problem shows up the whole fleet can be inspected.
- the water in the 'hot' side (going through the reactor, out to the heat exchanger) and the 'warm' side (from the heat exchanger to the steam generator) is so pure that it eats stainless steel. The steam generator tubes were (IIRC) over an inch thick stainless, and over 20 years that thickness would erode away until the tubes were at risk of blowing out.
- the key facts: When these plants were designed, the AEC controlled the industry. And the brilliant strategy for life planning was, "We'll build a plant, run it for 20 years, fill it with concrete, and leave it there for 50,000 years." (Yes, really). There were no serious plans for actually maintaining the internal systems like the steam generators. Then in the 70s that wasn't going to work. So for another 20 years, the plan was, "We'll hire day labor off the street. Each guy can work for two days, then he'll have had his lifetime dose of radiation and can never do this work again." (When I got involved Westinghouse was finally trying to come up with a robotic system to replace those guys.)
- finally, there are weird things about the high voltages around power plants that you have to be aware of, like avoiding leaving long power cords laying around - the voltage differentials on the ground can generate enough (induced?) current in the cord to cook it.

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

Radworker (227548) | 1 year,4 days | (#45151691)

If you are referring to the ROSA arm, sir your 80 lb estimate is low and if you are referring to the UAB found in ROSA III suffice to say we took it apart to get it into the building . Tube diameters were between 3/4 and one inch but the wall thickness was no where near that.

The reason plants had radiation monitoring equipment going into the plant was related to a Westinghouse engineer becoming contaminated in the north test cell at Waltz Mill and dragging that from Waltz Mill all the way to a site where it was discovered on the way out not in. So, the monitors where there to protect the plant from having to explain "unexplainable" contaminations.

The "day labor" comment was essentially true however the lifetime part of that is dead wrong. back then (until 1992) exposure limits were 3 R per quarter and 5 R per year (Federal limits, wholebody, form 4) with a lifetime limit of 1(N-18)R or one rem per your age minus 18. So assuming that you were grabbed off of a bar stool a few days before a change in quarter at the ripe old age of 23 (1(23-18)=5) and jumped into the steam generator for the typical 3-5 minutes it would take to accumulate 3 rem. A few days later when the quarter changed they threw you back in for a little less than 2 rem more. You have worked a week and hit 5 rem total committed dose. Next year you could get another rem according to the law. In 1992 the law was changed (10cfr20) and the quarterly limit went away along with the lifetime limit.

However, what utility in its right mind is going to change its story from "it isn't safe for you to be exposed to more than 1 rem for every year you have been over 18" to "sure come get all you like up to 5 rem per year. No worries." That is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I am sure even now people with high lifetime exposures are either refused access to the RCA or maybe even refused unescorted access to avoid being the cause of the person receiving more than the old 1N-18 rule.

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

garyebickford (222422) | 1 year,4 days | (#45153811)

I left the project before it got to the point of having an official product name (at least as far as I can recall), so I don't know if it was ROSA or not. I worked for the company (and ran the control systems group) for the company who built the controller. And it's true, 80 lbs is low for the entire six-axis system - I was avoiding complexity in my comment.

A big part of the problem was that the 'packaging' constraints continually changed as new information was collected from the various plants. Originally the control system was constrained to (IIRC) 200 lbs. and was going to be one box that could be rolled into the steam generator facility. Then it turned out that it would have to be carried into some facilities because there was no way to roll anything in due in part to the piping issue. So it was broken into two boxes of 120 lbs. each (including the extra weight due to the second box, plumbing, etc.). Then it turned out it would have to be carried up ladders (LADDERS!!!???) in some plants, and oh by the way, the maximum OSHA weight was 80 lbs. per box. I left the company shortly after that, but they were considering going to a fourth box at that point.

So, as you say, in at least some sense it had to be brought into the plants in a semi-disassembled form. I know that some plants would never, never, allow the boxes to be opened inside the facility and then brought back out so I'm not sure what you mean by 'taking it apart' - I assume you mean unplugging the wiring (and plumbing? I left before that issue was fully resolved) sections. They were unhappy enough just about plugging and unplugging the connections.

For those who aren't familiar, the motor controllers for a pretty hefty six-axis robot are pretty big themselves, and even at something like 95% efficiency generate a lot of heat. So in addition to the pure electrical constraints (at the time I left the design team was divided between advocates of 400 or 480 Hz power, which made transformers small and light, vs. 60Hz power, which made things cheaper), the question of how to get rid of the heat was a big problem. There were thoughts of running a cooling system outside, but some plants would not allow air, water, or anything else besides electricity to flow in and out of the facility (rightly so), but that meant that the controllers had to have some huge convective cooling capacity without using fans.

My recollection of the steam tubing thickness may be incorrect, as this was around 1990, but that was my recollection. I wondered about it back then as it would seem to be inefficient, but I wasn't knowledgeable regarding the pressures involved.

Point of trivia - I left because I refused to fire the one very knowledgeable but expensive consulting engineer we had at the time who I thought was essential to the success of the product. He was the one who worked out the true power and heat budgets for the system. There was basically him, me, and two junior programmers. The project was going over the budget the CEO had agreed to with the client, which was less than 1/2 the budget we had worked out internally and bid to the client originally. So they fired me, then fired the engineer.

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

Radworker (227548) | 1 year,3 days | (#45156007)

That would be ROSA III and it was a behemoth. Sure it was portable in the same sense that the Navy labels anything with handles portable. The main motor control unit (Universal Amp Box) did indeed require that you take it down to modules to get it in the building. Nothing related to ROSA III would be removed from a radiological area after first use due to needing local spot coolers in containment with it. Very few things are ever intended to be carried in then removed from a commercial plant. BTW they went with 60HZ and hooked local 480v instead of power from outside. The only downfall to the system other than being heavy as hell was the fact that if you changed out an actuator or resolver it was going home to be recalibrated before being used again. The process was not doable in the field.

Considering you never actually saw the inside of containment it is no surprise that you have spotty recollection about the particulars of plant design. The problems that you describe would be mostly talking about "chiller" plants. Whoever decided packing the containment building with ice to reduce the size requirements of containment needs to be shot. A few of these plants are jungle gyms.

ROSA III went the way of the betamax as it was too expensive to maintain and much cheaper equipment could do 90% of what it could do. It was intended to be a "one robot does all" maintenance tool. It didn't succeed on that count and the costs doomed it.

   

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

garyebickford (222422) | 1 year,3 days | (#45158615)

Interesting to hear the end of the story. As I alluded to in my comment, I did not leave on a good note and didn't keep in contact - but I felt that I did the right thing. Where I truly failed was in not being a better politician, and not being able to convince management that the project cost problem was his, not mine - if he wanted to do the project for 1/2 of the cost of development, he needed to go find money. I think he could have done that. (For that matter, I _know_ he could have done that - he could have written a personal check for it without touching his own petty cash, although he was not the founder so that wasn't likely.) For myself, I marked it as a success as the original design that I came up with turned into a real product that was successful at least for a time.

I'm still curious - how did they handle cooling? I don't recall the numbers, but passive convective cooling was not going to work, especially since at least one major customer would not allow a big finned heat sink, much less fans. I suppose that if the machine were just going to be kept there, a lot of these problems would be reduced because it wouldn't be necessary to wash it down and remove it, which was the original plan.

Even before my then-company got involved, Westinghouse had a working robot, but was having trouble with hysteresis in the motor system - the arm would jump all over the place and shudder constantly when not in motion. So they came to us to see if we could fix the problem. We quickly determined that the cycle time of their original prototype controller was too slow. The controller needed to be able to respond at least twice as fast as the highest resonant frequency in the arm. In some cases stronger damping can be used instead but there are lots of issues with that in a robotics application - speed goes away, for one.

I lobbied some for an opportunity for a site visit to at least one plant, or even a Westinghouse simulator, but never got the go ahead. It would have given all of us on the dev team a better sense of what we were dealing with.

The 90% rule here is a good lesson for everyone.

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

Radworker (227548) | 1 year,3 days | (#45160265)

They were never giving you the full story then. The equipment would be shipped hot back to Waltz Mill where it would be maintained between outage seasons. A system was not dedicated to a single plant but carried between plants. With minor retooling it would be used on 44's 51's and any other generator that you find out there. It was interesting using them in CE designs though.

The cooling issue was solved using a combination of venturi coolers with heat pipes for some components and a tent with a spot cooler for other parts. I don't recall all of the details about the control system but I do remember the erratic behavior of the ROSA I systems. What you are saying might help to make sense as to why they switched to brushless DC motors and multiple resolvers per axis.

Did you ever make it out to Waltz Mill to work at the mock-ups? I probably was there 8 to 10 times a year for durations of at least a week.

I quit working there in 1997 and went to work for their competition in 2000. I moved from Upstate NY to Lynchburg VA in 2001. Ultimately I left the industry in 2008 after the passing of my first wife and now serve as a lowly IT Manager. Westinghouse and Waltz Mill now seem like a lifetime ago.

Re:Some plants good, some can never be good (1)

garyebickford (222422) | 1 year,3 days | (#45160489)

The plan when I was working on the system was to transport it in and out, and I think it was to be scrubbed before leaving the plant at that time. But I left before the first prototype was shipped to Westinghouse for integration - in fact before the first one was even built and powered up. We actually talked about mini-cooling towers to accelerate the convective flow, but that didn't look like it was going to work. We also talked about heat pipes - as I recall the customers weren't going to be happy about yet another liquid in the building. And then the boss insisted on firing the only guy who could do the heat flow computations! :P

The whole project was a progression of designs, followed by new constraints, followed by new designs, rinse and repeat. We literally completely redesigned the physical system three complete times while I was there, all under the original 1/2 price contract. If our executive had any balls he would have gone after Westinghouse for change orders. As it was, Westinghouse basically got their product paid for largely by the $500K SBIR grant. But for my company it turned that SBIR into a going business, which was the whole point, so it all worked out.

I went out to Waltz Mill (at least I think that was the place - the name rings a bell) on an earlier project, which was just programming a simpler three-axis controller for some one-off project but I don't recall what it did. I saw the official arm only once, before we really got started on the controller. I don't think that was out there - I think that was somewhere in Pittsburgh. But it was a while ago so I could be wrong.

Funny, now I'm in the process of leaving the job I'm at and looking for an project lead, project manager or IT director position! :) But, as my sig shows, I have an extracurricular interest as well. One of the cool things of life today is we have time and resources for multiple careers.

Inconsistent enforcement... (1)

niftymitch (1625721) | 1 year,4 days | (#45150495)

Not just power plants.

There was a NPR show poking into the recent chicken contamination related
problems. The numbers cited were so extremely different that I found it incredible
that they were valid.

One caller asserted that a small european nation had zero salmonella contamination
at their chicken processing plants. I can understand a low number but not zero
for a bug that is ubiquitous to chickens.

Perhaps this plant permits sanitizing of chicken with intense gamma radiation
which has repeatedly been dis-allowed in the US. Perhaps it is a case of strict
washing with acetic acid also dis-allowed (last I heard) in the US.

Perhaps is is a simple problem that Google translate got it wrong.

In the US it appears that the energy required to file problem reports is large
and demands astounding dedication. Perhaps it is only the largest plants
that has the critical mass of inspectors to slog through the system and
file reports.

If I recall Kafka noted that unlike the mythical man month for software
bureaucracy increases in effectiveness the larger it gets. This may
simply be a measure of how effectively the system gets gamed by
a largish bureaucratic organization. Sadly Kafka was unavailable
to comment on this internet reported fact.

Any Safety Culture evolves into a Vulture Culture (1)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | 1 year,4 days | (#45151777)

Here is the ggggggist of it,

Lower-level violations are those considered to pose very low risk, such as improper upkeep of an electrical transformer or failure to analyze a problem with no impact on a system's operation, such as the effect of a pipe break. Higher-level violations range from low to high safety significance, such as an improperly maintained electrical system that caused a fire and affected a plant's ability to shut down safely.

I can grok exactly where this stream of 98% low-level 'potential' violations is coming from, and I will tell you even though it will not be Politically Correct for me to do so.

There are a great many Useless Eaters (my bad) invading industrial plants these days whose direct expertise does not include knowledge of the Thing being manufactured or produced. They are graduates of a quasi-liberal arts educational process that has emitted them from university and sent them out into the world to manage or assist in the management of people. The Human Resources Type. Ask any career machinist to (politely and quietly) point one out to you, they're sure to nod their head as someone passes by within two minutes or so.

And why are these Human Resources people cruising the halls like nervous night watchmen? Because they are young and have just joined a fraternity whose senior members have established themselves as people who you come to if there is a problem. The seniors count on you to tell them when there is a problem but otherwise they stay out of your hair. It is an excellent arrangement because with a small Safety Culture in place when a machinist or other employee brings something up, you'd better listen.

But there are too many of these young Human Resources people, too soon. They were trained to 'lead' but in the glare of reality they are realizing that they will not be leading anything for years to come, because their seniors are comfortable in their positions, years away from forced retirement, made indispensable by their high degree of experience. Many of them are graduated from among the ranks of those they manage.

And quite frankly, the seniors want the juniors to stay out of their hair. But also they want the juniors to cruise the plant and perhaps gain by osmosis some of the know-how that their education has denied therm. So go forth young man and learn our trade.

But what is there for these young barely skilled people to do?? There is only one Task for which they seem suited, in a place where the actual process has been tweaked and streamlined to perfection for decades now. It is a vital task but as we see first hand, even the noblest endeavor may become absurd if undue emphasis is placed on it.

It's Safety. It has become a Zero Tolerance game that is a distant social relation to the indictment of small children who draw pictures of guns. It begins with an almost religious affirmation that everybody knows is a dumb myth, "All Accidents Can Be Avoided." It's true, but only with complete hindsight and a level of plodding procedure that would have everyone strapped securely along the walls of the room (safely) unable to reach their tools.

But we are supposed to suspend our disbelief and put ourselves into a mental Total Safety Zone (in meetings with videos and small talk and with group hugs) where we believe it is possible.

The problem is that for every small but reasonable step such as brighter yellow pained lines or enforcement of speed limits in the yard or filling that little gas can outside, there is a TON of well-meant but trite suggestions that merely clog the system.

Malfeasance takes root within a Total Safety Culture too. I was told that Halliburton had once, with great fanfare, introduced a program where anonymous tips of safety violations would net a cash bonus. Sounds like it would be great for everyone. It became apparent that only a few people were using the system and that the targets of this activity tended to be those with whom there was a strictly personal animosity. The rest of the workforce simply did not participate but a chilling effect was felt by all that over time grew into something that did not remotely resemble the 'positive result' its (clumsy) planners had hoped to achieve.

Who'da thunk it. They should have hired me to tell them what would happen.

Our nuclear power plants in North America are some of the cleanest, most self-policed areas that human ingenuity may achieve. I'm talking about the practical, actual mindfulness that arises when intelligent and capable people are facing and mitigating risk to the greatest extent imaginable, on a daily basis. Their safety and operating record is a testament to this.

But they are vulnerable in a bad way. Stories such as this, where the merest rumor of the potential that central oversight may be unevenly enforced (note that no one has the god-damned courage to say 'insufficiently enforced, there's a clue) is enough to send shock waves through the press to cater to the mushroom cloud fears of people who see nuclear power as doom.

Why am I discussing Industrial Safety Culture in a thread about Regulatory Enforcement? Because I believe that the NRC (like the industrial centers of manufacturing) has been infiltrated by Useless Eaters whom, when sent to improve a system that is already operating at beyond-human efficiency and safety (that is my opinion) are beginning to bottom-feed.

The issuance of vague safety-related press releases in this unreasonable atmosphere of fear of all things nuclear, is a form of direct extortion. It is a power play. An invasion.

Safety is a tool like any other. If it becomes a Culture left unchecked by the unspoken and seldom quoted Rule Of Absurdity Avoidance, a malignancy is formed.

Years ago in a written pre-employment questionnaire I was supposed to answer YES or NO to the statement, "It is perfectly all right to temporarily place both elbows on the steering wheel in order to light a cigarette." I left it blank because on second reading I sensed that some sort of man-trap was being placed before me, and the manly thing to do was step over it. It's that word "perfectly" that set off the alarms... I was thinking, why would anyone add the word perfectly to such a question, and why? I figured that if my refusal to answer that question disqualified me, I was better off. They never called back. I've since met folks who work for them, and it was the right call.

Far more effective than regulation (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#45151995)

Just require that all employees live within 1 mile of the plant up to and including the CEO. No need for the regulatory dog and pony show put on with a wink and a smile. You say it's safe? Great you'll have no problem with it being in your back yard then.

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