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March 23, 2011

Nuclear Bloopers

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This four-minute clip from last night's Rachel Maddow Show covers the expensive price tag of nuclear and the troubling side of human error. "Unless your safety experts are from the planet Krypton, nothing you as a human will ever overcome the possibility of human error," she says. "Accidents happen. Mistakes happen all the time. And sometimes they happen all the time in the same place."

Maddow is specifically talking about the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, located at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, CA. It's a beautiful area. But it happens to sit near a few earthquake faults. Which means the room for error needs to be close to zero. Unfortunately, there's a history of "oops" and shrugs associated with this facility. A recent report (pdf) from the Union of Concerned Scientists on recent "near misses" at American nuclear sites brings to mind flashes of Homer Simpson's employer on The Simpsons. Here's the facepalm moment from the report's section concerning Diablo Canyon:

[W]orkers changed the gear ratios on the motors for the valves, to enable them to move against any pressures that might occur. The workers then tested the valves to verify that they could move from fully closed to fully open in 25 seconds or less, as required. However, the valves failed the test. To fix that problem, an engineer shortened the travel distance between the two positions, and both valves passed retests.

Eighteen months later, when operators tried to open the valves to allow pumps to provide flow inside the containment building, they would not open. That meant operators would be unable to provide cooling water to the reactor core and containment vessel at a key point during an accident.

Safety. Cost. Waste. It boggles the mind. Click here for facts, news, and info on nuclear.

-- Brian Foley


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