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Reactor Shutdown Darkens South Florida

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the glowing-in-the-dark dept.

Power 356

grassy_knoll asks, "So how fragile is the electrical grid, and just what technical problems could shut down five reactors?" "Five reactors at a nuclear power plant in Florida had gone down on Tuesday and two were now back online amid a massive power outage in the southern state, CNN reported. The report on the Turkey Point nuclear plant came as four million people had lost electricity in Miami and elsewhere in Florida, with traffic signals out and major delays on roads, authorities and media said."

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D'oh (4, Funny)

longacre (1090157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566418)

I hear the problem originated with a drone in sector 7-G.

Nothing to see here... (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566510)

Move along. Before we call in the assistance of our Blackwater contractors to ensure that you do.

I wonder what Dave Barry will write about this one?

Interesting! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566420)

It seems all slashdotters come from Florida!

Yeah, I have a backup system :)

I'm from Florida and have no power or internet (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566438)

good thing I backup IP over carrier pigeon.

Re:I'm from Florida and have no power or internet (5, Funny)

tattood (855883) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566904)

Dude, you need to upgrade your service to IP over carrier pidgeon with Quality of Service [faqs.org] .

Re:I'm from Florida and have no power or internet (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22567122)

Argh, the new moderation system makes misclicking far too easy. Posting to undo moderation.

Well, crap... (3, Funny)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566428)

...I never knew Florida had a town named Springfield.

/P

Re:Well, crap... (1)

mastergoon (648848) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566566)

Re:Well, crap... (4, Funny)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567218)

Alaska

global warming (-1, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566442)

Expect more of this because you are letting global warming nut cases take over the power agenda.

don't dare complain... you ASKED for it.

Re:global warming (1)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566452)

Last I checked, said 'nutcases' approved somewhat of nuclear power as being cleaner than coal?

I'm kinda curious as to why they shut down five reactors, though.

Re:global warming (-1, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566560)

i'm sure the reactors shutting down had nothing to do with global warming (no strawman arguements pls). you'd be wrong thinking the environmental movement approves of nuclear though, dead wrong. if they have their way we will all be paying $10 per kilowatt for power, i'm high jacking this topic to highlight the point that THIS is exactly how we will end up if we allow it to happen.

Re:global warming (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566770)

It was due to a distribution line that failed [nrc.gov] . For those not familiar with how nuclear reactors work, two of the fission products of concern are I-135 and Xe-135. I-135 will decay into Xe-135 and Xe-135 is a very strong neutron poison (absorbs neutrons). During normal operations Xe-135 is produced from fission or I-135 decay and it is removed by neutron absorption of Xe-135 or by beta decay of Xe-135. If you are operating at high power and have a significant amount of Xe-135 in the core and you suddenly drop power the neutron flux that is removing a significant fraction of your Xe-135 from neutron absorption is gone. But the I-135 in the core still remains and more than compensate the reduction of Xe-135 from direct fission. The result is a Xe-135 spike that will overwhelm certain types of reactors forcing a shutdown and a waiting period for the Xe-135 to decay. For those familiar with the Chernobyl disaster, the reason that the control rods in that core were fully withdrawn was because they were trying to compensate for a xenon transient (since they were operating at high power before they dropped to low power for the test). The Turkey Point reactors don't suffer from the flaws that the RBMKs had, but they will still be shutdown due to xenon transients.

MOD PARENT UP (1)

Agarax (864558) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566876)

Mod parent up for obvious reasons.

Re:global warming (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566894)

More information Here [energy.gov] (pg 34) and here [wikipedia.org]

Re:global warming (4, Funny)

jbr439 (214107) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567216)

I'm afraid that can't be correct. He was "imprisoned forever by a force field powered by an eternal battery" and is thus incapable of making visits to Earth, even transiently.

Oh ... wait ... xeon transients - never mind

Re:global warming (4, Informative)

Phanatic1a (413374) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567230)

What the hell are you on about? This had nothing to do with the reactor, or fission fragment poisons accumulating in the fuel, or xenon transients. Says right in the FA that

"We understand the initiating event was a malfunctioning disconnect switch" at a substation near Miami, the head of the local utility company Florida Power and Light (FPL), Armando Olivera, said Tuesday evening. ...

"There is no evacuation plan taking place around the area because it's a power problem caused from mechanical failure in the Florida Power and Light system," Mike Stone from the state's emergency department told AFP.


A substation. Not the reactor. Then the reactor went offline because of the undervoltage condition caused by that power outage. Neutron-absorbers in the fuel had *nothing* to do with this.

Re:global warming (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566874)

that THIS is exactly how we will end up if we allow it to happen.

And THIS is exactly how we will end up if we don't. Newsflash, buddy, but the nuclear plant had nothing to do with it other than "being there", the problem was in a distribution switch [youtube.com] that failed. These failures will happen no matter how many tree hugging hippies there are or are not, but I'm sure you won't let that stop you.

Caverns Measureless to Man (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566932)

I Love It!

Re:global warming (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566488)

Yeah we never had power outages before.

Idiot. No, not strong enough. Epic thinking fail.

Re:global warming (3, Funny)

hamburger lady (218108) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566490)

your ideas are intriguing and i would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:global warming (3, Funny)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566802)

It comes with a free Ron Paul and Ralph Nader subscription, both voted The Only Man Who Can Save America!

Re:global warming (4, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567134)

It comes with a free Ron Paul and Ralph Nader subscription, both voted The Only Man Who Can Save America!

I'd love to see the two of them in a debate with each other. That'd be great. Think of the drinking games you could create off that.

Re:global warming (4, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567198)

I'd be a little scared of the vortex of intense stupidity that would form as these two approached each other. I mean, this would probably rip quarks from each other, rip space time and bring the dinosaurs back. I think, in the interest of galactic peace that these two be kept a minimum of two hundred miles apart.

Re:global warming (1)

Funnydaddy (1246842) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566572)

So Obi-wan, do you support massive coal and old fired power stations that belch obnoxious substances into the atmosphere? I don't know about you, but I have kids, and I don't want to have to leave it to them, or my grandchildren to clean up our mess.

Re:global warming (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566596)

wait what? so what you're pretty much implying is that the global warming "nut cases" as you call them advocate for alternative energy sources like nuclear power and it's all their fault this happened? wow...

Re:global warming (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566678)

You're right, we should keep using oil instead. That way we don't have to shut down any nuclear reactors until we run out of oil. Of course, we'll be screwed when we *do* run out of oil, but we'll not have power outages until then. Oh wait, we will. Turns out nuclear power uptime is the same or better then coal or whatever other smoke bleaching power plant you want.

But feel free to continue with the pointless fear mongering over non-existent terrors. Florida is the one that's going to be under water anyway.

Some background information. (5, Informative)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566448)

Here is FPL's page on the Turkey Point reactor: About Turkey Point [fpl.com] . Their site also has a News Releases [fpl.com] page, which I'll be watching for updates whenever they get their PR department in gear.

Soon things will look like a Mad Max movie. (4, Funny)

xC0000005 (715810) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566470)

Oh, wait. This is Florida. Things already look like a Mad Max movie, minus Tina Turner and with a lot more cubans.

Re:Soon things will look like a Mad Max movie. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22567222)

Yeah, it's a tough and rough life having FiOS TV and 20/20mbps internet connection, a 11,000 gallon pool, sun all year round, 2200+ square foot houses for ~$350,000, and no state tax, girls permanently skimpily dressed with nice tans on show all the time. Yup, I sure hate living in Tampa Bay.

I'm happy (1)

drsmall17 (1240792) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566480)

I'm glad I don't live in Florida :D

A possible explanation... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566514)

Maybe someone from the future needed to rebuild their Dilithium Crystals.

Re:A possible explanation... (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566680)

No way man, they need Mr. Fusion [wikipedia.org] , pronto.

Oh, great.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566520)

Now we're going to have yet another round of computer scientists and other pseudo-engineers telling us how they would have done it better.

5 reactors? (5, Informative)

drachenfyre (550754) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566522)

Uh.. Turkey Point has *2* reactors and 3 major fossil fuel generators (As well as several generators under 5 MWs).

Re:5 reactors? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566604)

I demand a recount!

Re:5 reactors? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566732)

I demand a recount!
I see Chad is still hanging around trying to add gore to the news.

MOD PARENT UP (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566654)

In fact, I don't believe any US nuclear power plant has more than three reactors on one site.

Re:MOD PARENT UP (1)

drsmall17 (1240792) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567012)

North Anna has 2 but plans to build 2 more.

Re:5 reactors? (5, Insightful)

johnny maxwell (1050822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566698)

Well, the problem is that huge, bulky plants are much more fragile - in terms of network disruptions - than a more distributed net of many smaller plants.

Nuclear plants however are only available in the huge, bulky variation. In fact they come from some technological stone-age where the idea of giant-gigawatt-city-plants was considered the best solution imaginable.

Nowadays one tries to break power generation up into much smaller parts - perhaps as far as to your own cellar. This would have in fact many advantages besides reliability, "combined heat and power" comes to mind.

Re:5 reactors? (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566798)

Nuclear plants however are only available in the huge, bulky variation

Of course, one can have various definitions of "huge" (insert Viagra jokes here), but the US Navy might not agree with you.

But I really don't think it's a good idea for everyone to have a nuclear reactor in their cellar. Most folks don't have the technologic where-with-all to keep their PC's or cars running correctly. Until and unless you can get any power generation technology simple enough that it rivals a toaster in complexity, I will take centralized facilities any day.

"Mommy! Why is the basement glowing?.

Re:5 reactors? (2, Interesting)

johnny maxwell (1050822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566918)

Of course, one can have various definitions of "huge" (insert Viagra jokes here), but the US Navy might not agree with you.

But I really don't think it's a good idea for everyone to have a nuclear reactor in their cellar. Most folks don't have the technologic where-with-all to keep their PC's or cars running correctly. Until and unless you can get any power generation technology simple enough that it rivals a toaster in complexity, I will take centralized facilities any day.
Yes, it's mostly because of security concerns! But that's just the point, you can build small nuclear reactors - but build securely (that is with multiple layers of containment, emergency automation, a couple of engineers, etc. pp.) they just aren't profitable. That is, if you not happen to be the military - they have quite different views on cost-benefit :)

Re:5 reactors? (5, Insightful)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567032)

One does *not* currently try to break up generation into smaller parts for nuclear reactors...

For nuclear, the economics of initial construction and design requirements make much more sense to do huge reactors. A reactor has to have huge amounts of shielding for protection in case of mishap (it's mostly not for the regular reaction from the core). We're talking shells of concrete several feet thick. And steel too. It's cheaper the larger your volume/power ratio and such is.

None of the reactors listed here [doe.gov] are below 1 MW of electric power.

Re:5 reactors? (1)

johnny maxwell (1050822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567106)

One does *not* currently try to break up generation into smaller parts for nuclear reactors...

For nuclear, the economics of initial construction and design requirements make much more sense to do huge reactors. A reactor has to have huge amounts of shielding for protection in case of mishap (it's mostly not for the regular reaction from the core). We're talking shells of concrete several feet thick. And steel too. It's cheaper the larger your volume/power ratio and such is.
You are arguing from the assumption that power has to be generated nuclear and that by their nature they work better centralised. Granted! But my argument was that because of this very fact, power generation would be better off with a smaller fraction of nuclear powered energy, because of the inherent drawbacks of centralization.

Re:5 reactors? (1)

ozphx (1061292) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567048)

You really think a tiny little turbine is going to be as efficient as a huge one in a powerplant?

Hint: They use a big turbine, and not ten tenth-sized ones for a reason...

Similarily my car has one engine, and not one for each wheel. Same for the tesla roadster. Generally bigger things are more efficient. (Excluding future techs and unobtainium).

Re:5 reactors? (4, Informative)

AlvinTheNerd (1174143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567076)

They are "huge and bulky" because that is what is efficient. A smaller power plant is less efficient especially for nuclear since its main cost is human resources. Having to have a team of engineers for a small plant cost almost as much as for a large plant. That is why you see a lot of multiple cores at single sites.

BTW, there are very small reactors that are designed for something like a small town in Alaska and also ones for ships.

And the reason there are a lot of small plants in the last 20 years or so is that the rate of electricity demand is growing slowly and large plants that won't be fully needed for several years weren't as profitable as something smaller albeit less efficient.

However, that is changing as many companies want to replace groups of smaller plants with a large ones. That and the 'why have anything else' natural gas power plants of the nineties now operate often at a lost and are run only when needed. And the reactors are only getting bigger, not because people still think in the stone age, but because that is what they are being called for. France wants all the power it can get per reactor, they just sell the excess to Germany who is having issues with a stable power grid. South Africa wants 23 gigawatts, China wants 50 gigawatts, Texas 15, UK 20, etc. And they are willing to pay for it, because over its lifespan there are very very few plants that aren't profitable at any scale and many much more profitable than originally thought, look at entrgy and exelon profits in the last few quarters.

And a large system of many small plants are have great reliability in terms of having some power, but are very poor at consistent power. Germany and Denmark are good examples of nations with many small plants and they depend heavily on other nations power systems as a back up.

that reactor (0, Redundant)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566524)

has always been a turkey

it was bound to come to this point

Faulty E-meters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566536)

The cause of the recent power failure in Florida is a result of a bad batch of E-meters ordered by the Church of Scientology. David McCabbage was unavailable for comment.

"All I wanted to do was get rid of these surplus theatans" sad a member of the "Church" went the city went black.

This report would continue, but it's gotten silly, silly silly silly.

Re:Faulty E-meters (0, Offtopic)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566982)

That's nice, boy.

Now, calm down - and stop hopping on my little couch.

Next after the break: Vagina Monologues and the Men Who Love Them!

Live free or Die Hard..... (0, Redundant)

lo5 (966272) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566548)

Next Bruce Wills will show up and start saving everyone....

Re:Live free or Die Hard..... (2, Funny)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567114)

Hey, there is a fate worse than death!

Reactors shut down because nowhere to send power (5, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566564)

The power outage -- ie, some serious switch failures -- triggered the reactor shutdown. Nuclear reactors are great at supplying base load power but if all of a sudden the grid goes offline, they have nowhere to send that power and have to shut themselves down. (Power reactors don't do well with highly dynamic loads.)

It was not, as some posters seem to have misread even the summary, that the reactors went down first and caused the outage. Mind, once the reactors are down it takes longer to bring the whole grid back up, so in that sense it's contributory.

Re:Reactors shut down because nowhere to send powe (4, Informative)

Tesen (858022) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566818)

Actually, I believe they shutdown due to a safety issue. When they lose grid power for powering water cooling pumps etc, their standard response is to shutdown for safety reasons. Yes I know, a power generating plant that gets power off the grid, but consider if the plant is unable to drive a turbine to power its own pumps, where does it get the power from? Okay backup generators, but they can also fail. From what I hear the current dropped enough from the grid to cause them to need to shutdown the reactors. This is a good safety thing. The bad thing is the issues on the grid that caused this and other sites to shutdown generation.

And now, we return you to regular scheduled blackout... if this were an actual emergency, you would of killed the person sitting next to you.

Tes

Re:Reactors shut down because nowhere to send powe (4, Informative)

chris mazuc (8017) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566862)

What I've heard on the radio so far (in Tallahassee, FL) is that the nuclear reactors have their coolant pumps connected to the grid so if the reactor ever had to be shut down the coolant would continue to flow, avoiding a meltdown. There was apparently a problem with the substation supplying (backup) power to the coolant pumps, and as a precaution the entire reactor shut down automatically.

Ah, the usual problem. (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566972)

This would put it in the same category as the massive northeast US seaboard blackout and the London blackout of a few years back then. I'm impressed it only cascaded over such a small region - these sorts of failures (and subsequent surges elsewhere on the grid) have a tendancy to ripple across vast areas very quickly. In the northeast US case, it took out several US States and a large chunk of Canada. This incident merely took out five generators and one small part of one State, which - relatively speaking - is damn impressive in terms of automatic and human responses.

I would want to know more about the maintenance on those switches, their rated capacity, and why enough could fail at the same time to reduce transportable capacity. Even with infinite switches, there'd be a non-zero probability of a complete across-the-board failure, but provided everything is well-maintained, you only need to guarantee that at any given point in the system, what you have spare exceeds what is likely to simultaneously fail, for an acceptable level of "likely".

Were there unnecessary single points of failure or inadequate backup mechanisms? Did so many switches fail at the same time because they were rated far too low for current usage or because poor maintenance degraded them below the ability to handle current usage? Nuclear reactors are extremely bad at handling dynamic loads, so what is going into developing mechanisms for soaking up (or burning up) power when grids do go offline? (Reactors aren't trivial things to restart.)

I guess this is bound to crop up in CSI Miami... (5, Funny)

Channard (693317) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566568)

... at least given how much crime shows draw on real life events, albeit massively embellished. Cue Horatio Caine.. 'Looks like someone's been left in the dark.. permanently.' *removes sunglasses*

Re:I guess this is bound to crop up in CSI Miami.. (2, Funny)

superdave80 (1226592) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567120)

Cue Horatio Caine.. 'Looks like someone's been left in the dark.. '

*removes sunglasses*

'permanently.'

There, fixed that for ya.

Weee Aaaaa! (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567126)

du duuh du duuh

whooo are you? who who who who

ireallywannaknow

whooo are you? who who who who

I have the POWER! (0, Redundant)

thewiz (24994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566570)

Aw...crap!

And what did nuclear have to do with it? (4, Insightful)

vanyel (28049) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566602)

The article says that a switch caused the power outage; if the transmission lines get shut off (perhaps the switch caused a cascading failure, as has happened before), of course power plants (no matter what type) will shut down --- there's nowhere for the power to go!

Re:And what did nuclear have to do with it? (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566706)

if the transmission lines get shut off (perhaps the switch caused a cascading failure, as has happened before), of course power plants (no matter what type) will shut down --- there's nowhere for the power to go!
What they need is a really big lightbulb that they light up if there's nowhere else for the power to go.

Re:And what did nuclear have to do with it? (4, Interesting)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566800)

You joke, but a few years ago my physics teacher showed me a video of a really dense part of a power grid (right next to the power station) when something failed and the power had nowhere to go -- the wires drooped, then glowed red/orange/white hot as they melted and snapped.

Re:And what did nuclear have to do with it? (5, Informative)

HiddenCamper (811539) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566730)

I agree, using the word nuclear in this article was not necessary. The only 'story' about the nuclear plant is the safety system activated, disconnected them from the grid, and scrammed the reactor (shut it down), which just results in less electricity to go around when the grid reconnected. Nuclear reactors take a while to start up, and some models get poisoned quickly if they are shut down and can't be restarted for several days.

Re:And what did nuclear have to do with it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566826)

I disagree that shutting down the plants was necessary. Instead, they could have had a nuclear-powered rock concert. Man, that would have ROCKED!

Its a good thing (3, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566614)

The system detected there was a problem and automatically shut the reactors down; The system worked! Maybe massive blackouts aren't the best result, but they are by far better than the worst result.

Well damn... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566636)

Comcast is taking packet shaping to a whole new level.

Bad editorializing. (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566640)


just what technical problems could shut down five reactors?

If the article submitter had actually read the article, he might have noted the nuclear plants shut down because of an under voltage in the rest of the system (caused by a breakdown elsewhere). My guess is this is some kind of safety measure, otherwise why would you have the system shut down?

Re:Bad editorializing. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566718)

Agreed. I found the NRC press release in about 2 seconds by simply going to their website. Perhaps people should 2 seconds of research before they begin jumping to conclusions about things.

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2008/08-037.html [nrc.gov]

Re:Bad editorializing. (4, Funny)

Stanislav_J (947290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566988)

Perhaps people should 2 seconds of research before they begin jumping to conclusions about things.

You're obviously new here...

Re:Bad editorializing. (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566738)

But the problem is, the reactors should not shut down in that situation. If they just ramped up a little harder, the electrons could simply jump (some might say arc) the gaps in the broken transmission cables! Not to mention, they could fix that pesky little problem of Pensions and Medical benefits for the linemen!

andnothingofvaluewaslost (2, Insightful)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566642)

Haha!

Time for this Asia (China) resident to get his own back by tagging this story as 'andnothingofvaluewaslost'. :p

For those of you who don't know, a lot of the stories about Asian countries losing connectivity to large parts of the rest of the world were tagged as 'andnothingofvaluewas lost'. Of course, it could be argued that it is the countries that lost the connectivity that didn't lose anything of value, but hey.

I wonder why it is often stated that such places have lost their 'connection to the internet' when at least some of them probably don't much notice (China wouldn't notice much more than MSN not working, for example) - do people think that 'the internet' lives in the USA or something?

Re:andnothingofvaluewaslost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566674)

I don't recognize this 51st state called "Asia".

Re:andnothingofvaluewaslost (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566778)

Not to be an elitist American, but... [haydur.com] I couldn't find a substantive content map (well there's xkcd's [xkcd.com] ) but I figure Fiber is illustrative enough.

At any rate, I also think the tagging system is garbage. I think the best fix would be to let the submitters specify the article tags. Yes, give me the POWER! I mean us! Us the article submitters!

Glad they got things back up (2, Insightful)

JRGhaddar (448765) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566652)

This is kind of a blow to the pro-nuclear power constituency, but outages are always a possibility. Safety nets and first response triggers are essential and this problem was corrected rather quickly so I still have confidence in the system.

On a side note:
I really hate how every problem requires a clarification that it wasn't Terrorists.
We live in a state of fear, and not a state of freedom. Are there people that really freak out and cry "Terrorists!" when something goes wrong these days. I'm not complacent just aware that the probability and capabilities of terrorist groups and there infrastructure aren't as ominous as the media and government perpetuate these days.

Re:Glad they got things back up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566822)

How on earth is this a blow? The safety system worked. The only problem is that there aren't enough plants to take over the load so the argument would be pro more generator plants ...

Re:Glad they got things back up (4, Informative)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566854)

This is kind of a blow to the pro-nuclear power constituency
Except that it isn't. If you, the submitter, or the Slashdot "editors" had RTFA, you'd have realized that the reactors shut down because of the blackout, not the other way around. The blackout was caused by switching equipment. The circuit being broken, the reactors had no place to dump their power output, so they automatically shut off. That's what is supposed to happen. Nothing nuclear to see here, move along.

Re:Glad they got things back up (1)

johnny maxwell (1050822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566990)

The circuit being broken, the reactors had no place to dump their power output, so they automatically shut off. That's what is supposed to happen. Nothing nuclear to see here, move along.
Well, that's not entirely true and you probably know that. Because of their - well - nuclear nature you cannot arbitrarily switch a nuclear power plant on and off, reactor start up can in fact easily take a couple of days. So from a power grid point of view the nuclear power plants are _part_ of this problem.

Re:Glad they got things back up (1)

gantzm (212617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567068)

If I remember correctly reactor start up isn't to bad. But synchronizing the generator to the grid is a different issue.

That explains that ... (1)

xZoomerZx (1089699) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566664)

Ok, I'm slightly worried now. I have to read Slashdot to know about local events? Living in RPB, I had just retreated to my lair for an afternoon nap when the electricity flickered briefly, didnt think much about it since I have battery back-ups for all my goodies. House was warmer when I woke 2 hours later, I guess they don't make back-ups for A/C's? (Air Conditioners, not Anonymous Cowards) One a side note, why does every tiny little event require a 'terrorists didn't do it' disclaimer? Is this really the first thing that folks think when there is a minor inconvenience? Geeze, if you are that skeered better build a bunker.

Hurricane preparedness test. (1)

robkill (259732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566684)

FPL just wanted to make sure everyone tested their backup generators prior to hurricane season.

Dear God where are the facts? (4, Informative)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566700)

Did anybody seem to notice that while yes, the nuclear plants shut down, so did the coal plants. Neither of of the plants had problems. It was a problem with the substation.http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/djf500/200802261723DOWJONESDJONLINE000845_FORTUNE5.htm

This is what it was SUPPOSED to do! (4, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566734)

(NPR is running a story on it right now):

    These plants were designed to shut down in case of a fall in the power reaching them from *other sources* (because they need, e.g., to run cooling pumps for a safe shutdown and can't count on their own power). I'm not sure why the outside power browned out, but it did, so these plants did what they were designed to do.

All sorts of things could do this (4, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566758)

Nuclear reactors are, by design, extremely sensitive to unexpected conditions. The reactor fire at Windscale, amongst others, convinced reactor designers very early on to install mechanisms for shutting down reactors quickly and safely. Graphite rods, held by fail-safe hair-trigger mechanisms, can be slammed into place, shutting down a reactor quickly. Failures in the lowering of the control rods have happened, but are fortunately rare.

What would it take to trigger the automatic release of the control rods? An earth tremor above a pre-set limit, insufficient input of cooling water from rivers (or water that's too hot or too impure), a controller hitting the wrong switch, a software glitch, a glitch in a clock crystal screwing with timing calculations, a loose connector, a chip in an old-style spring-based socket catapulting itself into the air (which they had a nasty habit of doing), erronious control signals from other power stations, a downed power line on any segment with single points of failure, etc.

Of these, the vast majority apply to any power station - one line down not too long ago caused a blackout that covered three States and half of Canada. One line down between the east and west coasts about 14-15 years ago shut down large parts of the northwest USA for a couple of weeks. Cascading failures are inherent in the meta-stable mashup of networks that form the power grid. Too many SPFs, too little redundancy, too many communication glitches, too few contingency plans.

Personally, I think the grid needs to be massively redesigned, with far better (and more intelligent) signalling, far more redundancy at all levels and a huge upgrade on software and hardware (NT4 and Windows 3.11 are not acceptable to me for mission-critical systems - they're tried and tested, but they're not reliable and they're not secure).

Of course, this won't happen, massive cascading faults will continue to be reported on a regular basis, and people will continue to be surprised when they occur. Preventative maintenance on the scale needed to cure the system as a system is so expensive (even though it's one-off), the distributed costs of regular blackouts on even a gigantic scale look cheaper on the balace sheet, so an inefficient, decrepid, flawed power grid becomes the preferred option.

Re:All sorts of things could do this (2, Informative)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567000)

'Control rods' are not graphite; they are made from something which is a neutron absorber. This is most usually a boron or cadmium containing material. Graphite is used as a neutron moderator. I'd be surprised if the shutdown in this case was automated. Automated shutdowns are rare; the operators normally have plenty of time to shut down before the things become potentially dangerous and a automated shutdown is triggered.

I was wondering what happened (3, Interesting)

evolvearth (1187169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566784)

I was on campus completely oblivious that anything happened. My girlfriend called me six times in a row, and while I had the phone on vibrate as to not to disturb the interesting lecture on the horribly long lab I'm going to have next week, I was irritated and concerned. I called her after class to see what's up, and that's when I found out there was an outage. The science and engineering side have nice generators, hence my ignorance. The building my girlfriend, Cooper Hall, is a death trap. Apparently, the idiots at USF made sure that when the electricity is out, people are actually locked inside the building. All of the doors were locked from the inside. What the hell would happen if there's a fire? I understand that's the inferior side of campus, but there are people in my phonebook over there and therefore I'm concerned!

Not surprising... it's FPL, after all... (1)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566790)

It's sad, but thanks to FPL and our largely-complicit state legislature, Florida has the power grid of a minor rural village in a POOR third-world country. Name ANY other place in the developed world with the size, population, and average wealth of Florida where it would EVER be considered acceptable to have more than a hundred thousand customers without power for more than TWO WEEKS after a hurricane that barely left a dent in anything besides the power grid itself (Hurricane Wilma... 15 days, 17 hours without power... in Coral f***ing Gables, 2 miles directly south of MIA, right smack in the middle of urban Dade County, lest anyone think I'm talking about some distant exurb out in the 'glades...)

Compounding the problem is FPL's refusal to bury lines unless the host municipality provides them with a brand new 20 foot wide easement dedicated ENTIRELY to FPL. Remember the outrageous $100+ billion estimates FPL gave in post-Wilma press conferences when asked about the cost of burying power lines statewide? Most of the estimate was for easement acquisition via eminent domain. Why is it that power companies in Europe can dig microtunnels for power lines a few feet below the streets in ancient city centers without disturbing a single cobblestone, but it's somehow impossible for FPL to bury power lines below a 10 foot wide pre-existing grassy easement running through people's back yards?

FPL is the worst excuse for a power company in America.

Arghh! Media Feeds Nuclear Power Panic! (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566836)

The account I read stressed that two nuclear reactors had shut down in a way that implied they were the cause. They interviewed a plant supervisor who said things had shut down as they were supposed to and everything was OK, as they are supposed to say.

Right at the end the article also mentions that two coal-burning plants shut down as well.

Same thing, so why the emphasis on the nuclear plants?

Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566838)

My company is moving operations into Florida this year, with this and the hurricanes we might want to order larger capacity UPS units for our MDFs and IDFs.

Five undersea cables! Five reactors! (4, Funny)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566848)

I smell something fivey .... the Pentagon!

Re:Five undersea cables! Five reactors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22566912)

Five cables. Five Nuclear power. Five of something else goes bad and we're half way to a phony phone number. It must be the aliens trying to leave a message. Wait for the beep, guys.

Nothing to see here...it was a ships anchor.... (1)

refactored (260886) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566880)

..broke the cable, same as the other five 'net cables.

Happens all the time....

There is a fleet of ships...ah.. trucks repairing these things round the clock.

Private enterprise should have no part in... (1)

distantbody (852269) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566976)

...the operation of such a technology that requires to-the-letter operation and maintenance. Admittedly I haven't given this opinion hours of scrutiny, so it may be a little naive, but wadya think?

Here's a blog [blogspot.com] on the nuclear industry that I consider to be largely spin-free

Terrorists! (2, Funny)

aaronfaby (741318) | more than 6 years ago | (#22566980)

So, can I assume Fox News is reporting this is the result of a terrorist attack?

The Electric Company (1)

LoadWB (592248) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567024)

"Heyyyyy youuuuu guyyyyyyys!"

Why the power plants shut down (2, Informative)

iabervon (1971) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567040)

The electrical grid is a really tricky system. You've got generators putting in energy at a bunch of points. And the whole thing is AC, which means that, if you look at any particular point, you see the voltage (and current) going in a sine wave. If you drive the system at the correct phase, you're supplying power; if you're slow by 1/120 second, you're turning twice your capacity into waste heat, and you start blowing up substations. Furthermore, since electricity moves at a finite speed along the wires, you can't just have a really good clock and have everybody agree; the difference in phase you need depends on the distance between the power plants along the wires. The solution is to have the power plant measure the phase of the lines they're on, and generate with a matching phase.

Now, if something goes wrong somewhere down the lines, the power plant may not be able to get a good read of the phase. At that point, you just shut down the power plant, shut down the substations (so there isn't customer load on the lines), get the switching stations fixed, start the power plant up again in phase, and reconnect the customers. It's only if the switching stations are really destroyed that they'd actually run a power plant for local customers disconnected from the national grid, and they'd have to shut it down again in order to rejoin the grid.

What happened today is actually how it's supposed to work in case of an equipment failure: a regional blackout, some time to repair the malfunctioning equipment or swap in replacements, and then restoring power. When the grid doesn't handle the failure correctly, power lines melt down and power company manholes and buildings blow up and service isn't restored for days to some customers.

Re:Why the power plants shut down (0)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567168)

you shouldn't need to shut down the grid to resync, just pump in slightly more or slightly less power until they line up then throw the switch. Once they are connectected to the grid generators will stay in sync by themselves.

Argh! Quit the terrorism angle already! (4, Insightful)

achurch (201270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567050)

1998: "A massive power outage left millions of people without power Friday. The cause of the blackout is unclear."

2008: "A massive power outage left millions of people without power Friday. The government says terrorism was not involved, but the cause of the blackout is unclear."

Sigh . . .

Misleading title. (1)

Neanderthal Ninny (1153369) | more than 6 years ago | (#22567160)

This is somewhat a misleading title.
There was a problem with a substation that caused the Turkey Point reactors and other generating station to shutdown. This is a normal protective measure for all generating stations, nuclear or not. What caused the substation problem is the real issue here and what possible isolation methods can be used to prevent such a wide spread outage.
I used to be an substation engineer so it must have something really bad that cause a substation to trip generating stations that far up the line. Leaving the work safety grounds straps in substation and then re-energizing the substation can cause such a nasty drop in power in such a wide area and that would be one big ka-boom at the substation. In the San Francisco Bay Area we had that happen in the several years back and knocked some generating stations offline also.
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