Friday, March 27, 2009

Going Back to Three Mile Island

122606threemileislandpark We promise not to go nuts on TMI stories – could look like a plea for expiation, which isn’t really needed – but here’s a good write-up on TMI yesterday and today by an NEI staffer, Tom Kauffman, who worked at TMI at the time of the accident and went back there recently as a media representative:

The accident also forever changed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The TMI-2 accident had the greatest impact on nuclear generation of any single event in history,” the agency said in a recent news release.

“The public’s memories of the TMI accident will certainly fade over time,” I told the editor, “but as long as nuclear plants operate in the United States, the people who operate, maintain and regulate them will always be mindful of their responsibility to stay vigilant and focused on safety.”

Grant Tom his role – we’re pretty sure the nuclear industry was focused on safety at the time of TMI, else you would’ve had a human in additional to an industrial disaster – and he’s right on the details. Nuclear energy is exhibit A in how government and industry can work together to provide a net positive by tamping down each other’s worst instincts – the drive for profit on one side and regulating an industry to death on the other.

Tom focuses on TMI today. Maybe he’ll do a part 2 on his experiences on that day in 1979. First hand accounts always appreciated.


After you’ve looked at that story, prowl around the Insight portion of the NEI Web site. Insight is intended as a layman-friendly newsletter that covers topics such as nuclear medicine, environmental initiatives at nuclear plants and other feature-like, “light” topics. Lately, Insight has been posting stories like Tom’s that do not appear in the printed newsletter but expand the themes that do appear there. Terrific introduction to the wider world of nuclear utility.

After the TMI accident, Disney artist Art Riley proposed turning it into an amusement park. This is is concept image. See here for more. Far fetched? The Germans have done it with a plant that never opened. See here for more.


Mark Goldes said...

Forget Nuclear (and Coal):
Future Cars Can Become Power Plants When Parked!

Magnetic generators are expected to replace the need to plug-in a plug-in hybrid. A generator is on the horizon that could eventually demonstrate a compact, inexpensive, capability to end the need to plug-in. Revolutionary breakthroughs will make possible the elimination of the need for batteries of every variety.

Much more powerful examples will later fit in the space of an engine and gas tank. When that occurs, since no fuel or battery recharge is required, automobile manufacturers may conclude that engines are likely to become obsolete. The market could decide most future cars must be totally electric.

Until now, car ownership has been an expense. A few plug-in hybrids, equipped with a two way plug, can feed power to the local utility while parked. The car’s owner could earn up to $4,000 every year.
Payments to car owner’s using magnetic generators might total $15,000 per year.

When a substantial number of vehicles powered by magnetic generators fill a parking garage, it will have become a multi-megawatt power plant.

The cost of many vehicles might be paid for by utilities, as they purchase power whenever needed.

The parked cars, trucks and buses, each become decentralized power plants - a rapid, cost-effective alternative to the many tough and costly challenges of constructing new coal burning and nuclear power generation facilities.

Stephen said...

Well... Ignoring the poster before myself, who seems to have no idea about anything (all generators are magnetic, they still need to get their energy from somewhere to rotate the magnetic field and cars are about the worst way to generate electricity because it's a low-reliability, impossible to regulate, expensive, inefficient means of generating power)...

Three Mile Island has been called "The Worst Nuclear Disaster in US History"

Let me get this straight: The worst disiaster and according to some a "Nightmare" in which the death toll was zero. The number injured was zero. Zero left homeless, zero acres of land contaminated etc etc.

Somehow this is supposed to demonstrate DANGER? and show how nuclear power plants are UNSAFE?

What happened at TMI was basically an example of all the active systems failing and the operators failing to have situational awareness. The operators had no idea what was happening, the core went uncooled, the systems failed to show the relevant data and the whole thing ended up taking days to even get to the bottom of.

And yet... the pressure vessel never came even remotely close to being breached and the containment system never was even slightly threatened... never even came close.

Yes the core was damaged and the reactor ended up being unable to be put back into service. This stuff will happen, in any industry you will, occasionally, have mishaps that damage equipment or cause operational problems. Transformers catch fire, valves get stuck, motors jam etc. The question is whether it actually endangers anyone or anything beyond the internals of the system.

Anonymous said...

It is ironic that TMI is labeled the "worst disaster" for a particular industry, when in fact about two months later that same year a true "worst disaster" for a U. S. industry did occur, with hundreds of lives lost, associated property damage, and lingering tragedy yet today.

Everyone remembers Three Mile Island. Everyone in the world knows the name Chornobil (Ukranian spelling). But for the true "worst disaster", no one knows the date or place. Well, the date was May 25, 1979, and the place was a little town in Illinois, Elk Grove Village, just off the runway of O'Hare Airport, and the event was the loss of American Airlines Flight 191, a DC-10 bound for LAX which just at takeoff had an engine fall off. 284 people on the plane died, plus two on the ground.

Following this true "worst disaster", there were a few newspaper articles and headlines, and the DC-10 fleet was grounded for a few months until things got sorted out. But no one outside of the industry talks about it today. There are no "anniversary celebrations" or other public flagellations. There are no protest groups demonizing the airline industry, or decrying jet airlines or the whole aviation industry as "unsafe".

Compare that to TMI. The Unit 1 reactor was "grounded" for seven years or so, although undamaged and not at fault for the Unit 2 accident. Nobody died. No one's private property (beyond the reactor owners) was lost. But people who weren't alive at the time of the TMI accident know about it and how "bad" it was.