Thursday, May 25, 2006

More on John McCain and Nuclear Energy

Senator John McCain is attracting some positive attention from Bloggers courtesy of his speech earlier this week in New Hampshire. Here's Blue Crab Boulevard:

I'm not a fan of McCain, as anybody who's been reading here for any length of time knows. But the headline of this article is something I happen to believe in. We need more nuclear energy in this country.

I worked in that field for many years. I know how safe those plants are. I know that despite what the media and the activists tell you that Three Mile Island was not a disaster, but rather a testimony that reactors are incredibly safe with incredibly overbuilt safety systems.
Don Surber took note of the speech as well. Thanks to The Blogometer for the pointers.

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Gaius Arbo said...

Thanks very much for the link, I'm glad some folks actually read my site!


bert said...

Since Mr. McErlain provided the link, I checked out the Blue Crab site and I am sorry to report that Blue Crab did not learn much during his many years of work in the field—whatever field that might be.

Blue Crab states that the operations crew at TMI did “literally, almost everything wrong” and, in support of this assertion, he provides a link to a brief explanation of the event prepared by the TMI utility, GPU.

However, the GPU report says something very different.

On the failure of the pressurizer power operated relief valve to close, the report says that the “signals available to the operator … did not indicate to the operator that the valve continued to be open.”

On the indication that caused the operator to turn off the ECCS pumps, the report says that the operator “was unaware that … the indicator can, under some circumstances, become ambiguous.” The reason that the operator was unaware was that he had not been trained to recognize those circumstances.

On the tripping of the reactor coolant pumps, the report says, “the operator noted that the main pumps were getting to a region of operating conditions that were beyond their defined limits.”

The report concludes that the accident “was a result of a complex combination or interaction between equipment failures, operator misjudgements, ambiguous instrumentation and a number of factors which all, when contributing together, led to this problem” and that “it is clear to us…that the accident was not a simple case of an operator who made a mistake but, rather, that the accident was a result of a complex interaction of an unanticipated combination of factors.”

It is generally agreed that the accident at TMI was due to a combination of design deficiencies, equipment failures, training weaknesses, and operator errors. To imply, as Blue Crab does, that the “incredibly overbuilt safety systems” worked fine and to say that the problem was that the operators did “literally, almost everything wrong” shows that his acquaintance with the incident is slight.

It is also interesting to note that the GPU booklet, which was written shortly after the event, states that the utility expects to return the plant to service within three years.

The damage to the TMI-2 reactor was far worse than what is reported in the GPU document, although obviously there was no way to know that at the time. While it is certainly true that the numerous safety systems kept the radiological consequences extremely low, Blue Crab’s “incredibly overbuilt safety systems” did not prevent the destruction of the utility’s $700+ million investment in a few hours. It would have been nice if Blue Crab had acknowledged this but, of course, he would rather take potshots at “the media” and “the activists”.

Even more astonishing is Blue Crab's claim that the drawing of the reactor layout, supplied by the utility, is wrong because, owing to a design flaw, the pressurizer was actually below the reactor core.

The 39th edition of "Steam/its generation and use", published by Babcock & Wilcox, the designer of the TMI-2 nuclear steam supply system, shows quite clearly (Chapter 23, Figure 13) that the B&W pressurizer is above the reactor core. This edition, which was published the year before the TMI accident, states (p.23-12) that "the surge line at the bottom of the pressurizer is connected into the reactor outlet line in one of the coolant loops". This is, of course, the standard configuration for a pressurized water reactor and it would be quite extraordinary if the TMI pressurizer had been installed below the core.

What I find most remarkable, however, is that Blue Crab writes as if he knows enough about nuclear power to criticize the utility, the NSSS designer, and the operators when, in fact, he quite clearly does not know what he is talking about. Alas, a look at Blue Crab's site suggests that such irresponsible commentary is typical.

Eric McErlain said...


Might I suggest that you leave your comment at BCB's site as well?

bert said...

Mr. Mcerlain,
Thank you for the suggestion but I will probably not follow through on it. After my brief visit to Blue Crab’s site, I concluded that he seems to enjoy producing far more heat than light. I also noticed that when someone published a criticism of him that was uncomfortably close to the truth, he was so sensitive that he deleted it. In this last respect, his site reminded me of this one, where my criticism of the link to Ben Stein’s intemperate and grossly mistaken attack on the media was deleted –no doubt by some other sensitive soul.

Eric McErlain said...


We're very lenient here when it comes to commenting. Your comment wasn't deleted, rather, I closed the comment string entirely when someone followed up your initial comment with a remark -- one unrelated to your point -- that I found to be intemperate. In retrospect, I should have noted that, and I'll update the post to reflect my action.

It's an action I've taken before, and one that I'll take again if I think it's necessary.

bert said...

Mr. McErlain,

Thank you for the explanation.