Monday, August 30, 2010

Union of Concerned Scientists Distorts Nuclear Events in Weekly Blog Series

Last week, Margaret Harding, former GE engineering manager, took on a post by UCS’ David Lochbaum that misstated the nuclear events at two reactors. From Margaret:

On August 24th, Mr. Lochbaum posted a story on the Union of Concerned Scientists website about an event in 1988, then proceeded to link it to a 2005 event at a different plant and makes the case that the nuclear industry is filled with screw-ups and near misses. You can read the original article here. As it happens, my career has included learning about these particular events and leading the team that developed some of the solutions that are currently in place to prevent/mitigate the effect. From that, I can say – Mr. Lochbaum got it wrong.

To find out how Margaret is correct, stop by for the rest. As well, Dan Yurman has more background to their story.

Looking forward to reading more from Margaret, maybe this will turn into a bigger debate between her and Mr. Lochbaum.


Anonymous said...

I always call the kooks to task when they get all wee-weed up about safety systems functioning as designed. Those are no more "incidents" than a circuit breaker opening if you have an overload on one of the circuits in your home. When a safety system operates as designed and a safe condition is attained as a result, that should count as a positive, not a fault in either design or management.

gmax137 said...

I'm going to buck the trend here, and say that I think the 'Fission Stories' and it's predecessor 'Nugget Files' should be required reading by all of us in the nuclear industry , and especially by the managers at the operating plants. Yes, some of these stories are 20+ years old - but Lochbaum said as much in the post introducing the series.

And yes, we all have an 'OE' person or group - but I don't think it hurts to emphasize how easy it is for well intentioned efforts to go offtrack.

We need to tell and re-tell these stories to ourselves and (especially) to our new hires. What we don't need to do is feel as if we have fixed all those problems 'back in the day.' In 1990 we looked at our calcs and evals from 1980 and said, "wow we do much better now." In 2000 we said the same thing about our work from 1990, and in 2010 we have improved over 2000. This is not a bad thing - it shows that we can constantly hold ourselves to higher standards.

And finally, the important point in these stories is never the specific details of the story - the important point is the need for constant vigilance. Our enemy is complacency.

Anonymous said...

The safety record of nuclear energy in this country is proof enough that there is no culture of complacency, or lack of desire for self-improvement and the need to keep current with technology and methodology. When problems are identified, there is always great effort expended to identify the cause, implement corrective actions, and avoid repetition. I've been involved in any number of industries over the years, things like aviation, civil engineering, petrochemicals, medical technology, and I have to say that nuclear outstrips them all when it comes to safety and quality assurance.

Brian Mays said...

gmax137 - I think that you'd be hard pressed to find a person of any significance in the nuclear industry who is in favor of complacency or who is against benefiting from lessons learned. In fact, many nuclear companies have programs and policies in place specifically to capture this information.

Nevertheless, the UCS's "Fission Stories" are really more like ghost stories -- their purpose is to frighten the reader with phantasms. I can almost picture Dave Lochbaum holding a flashlight under his chin.

In any case, if the story is wrong then it is not much use to anyone, is it?