1. Wow, someone in Tacoma Park being busted for pot … what are the odds?!
    I have to hand it to Alvarez and Tucker for their efforts to keep the stereotype of the dirty, pot-smoking anti-nuclear hippie alive and kicking. It makes me wonder what the police would find in Paul Gunter’s basement.

  2. @Brian – if there was any truth to the police report that was described in the story – and I am pretty sure that the cops described what they discovered with great accuracy – these particular residents of Takoma Park were not just participants in its normal activities. They were apparently actively promoting and supplying the market.
    For the record, I am not squeaky clean here. I inhaled on a number of occasions during my senior year in high school. Looking back, I think I might have been attempting to moderate my reputation as a nerd. When I decided to enter the Naval Academy at age 17, I figured out that it would be a stupid activity to continue. I always told the investigators about my prior service use.

    1. Well, Rod, I certainly hope that you’ve changed your spots. I assume that you now have to meet Fitness for Duty requirements in your new job. 😉
      I think that there’s a difference between taking a few tokes as a teenager in the seventies and raising 69 marijuana plants in one’s basement.

  3. I would just like to ask for a clarification: It seems that the Alvarez/Wasserman piece addresses two somewhat seperate issues – containment buildings; spent fuel pools.
    Are the pools vulnerable to some sort of attack? How easy/difficult would it be to drain the pools, and if that happened, what would be the likely outcome? Could an airplane crash into the containment pool cause enough loss of water to cause a problem?
    Mr. Wasserman and Alvarez may or may not be credible, but Alvarez refers to a National Academy panel – do you have any more information about that panel? What National Academy are we talking about? I would *presume* we are talking about the National Academy of Sciences – but, in reality, there are a lot of National Academies, and the panel could just as easily be the National Academy of Public Administration, or any number of other acadamies.
    Rod: It’s certainly worth noting Alvarez’s past as a Pot Cultivator, but that doesn’t really make him wrong (although, he is probably wrong for other reasons). I would be very interested, if you have the time, on further followup on the claims in that article, based more upon engineering and science arguments, if that is something you are willing to do.
    The thing is, I may run into someone who cites this article in the future, and I’d like a bit better response than, “Well, Wasserman is quoting Alvarez, who was busted 20 years ago for growing pot in his basement with his wife”. Just because someone was a criminal 20 years ago, doesn’t make them wrong now. As you mentioned, with regards to smoking up in high school, but then cleaning up, it’s quite possible Alvarez has cleaned up, and someone who was busted on pot charges might possibly still be a fine scientist or engineer – at least the *possibility* exists.
    So, I’d rather see deconstruction of the sources (like that National Academies reference), and an actual analysis of the claims – I’ve run into someone else on the internet, at the MythBusters site, a few weeks ago, when I was posting a suggestion that the MythBusters Bust the Myth that nuclear plants are easy targets for terrorists, who made the same claim about the GE Mark III containment buildings – that they are too thin and not strong enough.
    Can you provide me any source which answers this allegation that the Mark III is insufficiently engineered/built?

    1. One more thing – with regards to the Mark III, there is also a claim that the containment cannot hold enough internal pressure – that a hydrogen explosion could happen within the containment during a meltdown scenario, and the pressure of the explosion could breach the containment, because the containment is only designed (so the claim goes) to contain about 15 PSI.

    2. Nataional Academies Study: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11263 (can be read on-line free)
      Four organizations comprise the Academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. Known collectively as the National Academies, our organization produces groundbreaking reports that have helped shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine.

    3. @Jeff – those are legitimate questions, but I did provide a link to a pretty accessible source of information about containment structures. I also pointed out that the buildings are designed and erected in compliance with an ASME code. They are also part of an extremely intrusive federal licensing process by one of the most respected nuclear regulatory bodies on the planet.
      In opposition you have the written words of a man who was 55 years old and already serving in a position of high responsibility when he and his wife were arrested. It is also worth thinking about the circumstances of the arrest and the accusations of hypocrisy by the young lady who informed the police about the activities.
      The details matter. This is not the story of a “youthful indiscretion.”

    4. Jeff, when reading the National Academies report, I suggest that you keep in mind the following from the “Note to Readers” found on page 1 of the report:
      “The committee focused its discussions about terrorist attacks on the concept of maximum credible scenarios. These are defined by the committee to be physically realistic classes of attacks that, if carried out successfully, would produce the most serious potential consequences within that class. In a practical sense they can be said to bound the consequences for a given type of attack. Such scenarios could in some cases be very difficult to carry out because they require a high level of skill and knowledge or luck on the part of the attackers, It was nevertheless useful to analyze these scenarios because they provide decision makers with a better understanding of the full range of potential consequences from terrorist attacks.
      The committee uses the term potential consequences advisedly. It is important to recognize that a terrorist attack on a spent fuel storage facility would not necessarily result in the release of any radioactivity to the environment. The consequences of such an attack would depend not only on the nature of the attack itself, but also on the construction of the spent fuel storage facility; its location relative to surrounding features that might shield it from the attack; and the ability of the guards and operators at the facility to respond to the attack and/or mitigate its consequences. Facility-specific analyses are required to determine the potential vulnerability of a given facility to a given type of terrorist attack.

      As far as the Alvarez story is concerned, there are three points to take away from the article:
      1. He was a political appointee, not someone who was hired because of merit, ability, or expertise.
      2. He was arrested for breaking the law. While the details of the arrest are hilarious, they are relatively unimportant in assessing what kind of “expert” Alvarez is.
      3. After the arrest, he was fired from his politically appointed job. Obviously, he was not doing a spectacular job.

    5. I would be hesitant to discount someone entirely because of his encounters with the law; whether or not an argument a person makes is or is not valid does not depend on the law-abiding-ness, the mental state, or the reputation of the person saying it.
      Still that the individual in question’s personal history contains this shocking anecdote – operating a marijuana grow operation while serving in a sensitive Federal politically-appointed position after – as Rod mentioned – taking an oath to uphold the law – shows that the individual in question may possess certain personal judgment deficiencies that are in need of focused corrective action and may result in their body of work deserving more scrutiny than is ordinarily warranted.
      But that does not invalidate their argument.

      1. @Dave – I completely disagree. This was not some kind of accidental “encounter with the law” like someone getting into a misunderstanding or scuffle on the street. The episode clearly demonstrates a lack of personal integrity and accountability. The circumstances described require a steady, continuous decision process to purposely lie to people and to hold oneself above the law.
        The whole system of academic investigation and integrity demands honesty. When researchers find real world information that violates their hypothesis, they cannot “fudge” the numbers to make them fit preconceived notions. They cannot decide that they want the world to be a certain way, even if it is not.
        Our free society works when people can legitimately trust each other. When individuals demonstrate that they are not trustworthy, they should no longer be trusted unless they work really hard to regain that trust.
        An argument that is based on “believe me” and not all those thousands of other highly trained, educated, legally responsible people who design, build, license and operate nuclear plants is completely illegitimate when provided by a man who has a public record of lying to his employers, his colleagues and perhaps even his daughter.
        When I was on a boat, I had to bail out a shipmate who was arrested for pandering. I knew the man’s family quite well. I NEVER slept well when he was on watch after that. If a guy can lie to his wife, what makes me think he will tell me the truth when it might be an uncomfortable truth? Sorry if this sounds hopelessly idealistic, but you have to know that my attitude is not unique in the circles that I inhabit.

        1. You are right. Certainly, I agree there are communities where people are held or hold themselves to higher standards of conduct…and there are individuals who are held or hold themselves to higher standards of conduct…and I agree that Mr. Alvarez’s conduct calls his honesty into question, and when it comes to research, a high standard of honesty, indeed, absolute good faith is demanded from those who conduct it. I can see where you feel questions might be raised, especially when the individual whose honesty in question is trying to argue from authority – without facts to back him up.
          I admire hopeless idealism; I aspire to hold myself to a higher standard of conduct, and I greatly admire those who do hold themselves to a higher standard…but unfortunately, many parts of the remainder of our society do not hold themselves to those standards. Perhaps my expectations of others are set too low.

    6. What does call into question Alvarez et al’s argument regarding the dangers of spent fuel pools draining and all heck breaking loose:
      In the past, I’ve played around with a technical nuclear facility transient simulator called PCTRAN – for which demos are available online. One of the varieties of programs that PCTRAN has to offer is a spent fuel pool transient simulator.
      Something that I’ve noticed while playing with scenarios on PCTRAN involving SFPs losing cooling is how long it takes for things to go severely wrong even with very freshly removed, very active fuel, and how simple it is to correct a scenario that is very far gone – just spray water coolant, preferably mixed with borax – onto the fuel. (Of course, when the fuel is hot enough, there will be side effects from hitting it with water, but I haven’t seen this modeled in the simulator as of yet.) From what I understand – admittedly – very little – I don’t think that spraying water into a spent fuel pool is a highly difficult or technical operation.
      Is it credible that the staff of a nuclear power plant would not only allow a spent fuel pool to drain, but then – on top of that – be so isolated from the spent fuel pool – that they couldn’t hook up a fire hose and portable pump to spray water onto the fuel prior to the fuel heating up to the point of failure?
      I don’t think so. I therefore have to question how credible a SFP accident really is. Seen in isolation, it might appear to be a terrifying scenario. But then, when you realize that there’s a staff of several hundred on site, it appears far less credible.

  4. I feel it is important to address to substance of the spent fuel pools allegations also. Fortunately the NRC did that almost immediately: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/reducing-hazards-spent-fuel.html
    Basically Alvarez was making a lot of noise about nothing very much, wrongly using assumed limit figures from other studies and contriving situations that would not actually occur in real life. Unfortunately the National Accademies study was far too timid to dismiss what he said without making some spurious recommendations.

  5. I first met Alvarez in 1985 at congressional hearings on food irradiation, which he and his wife were opposing.
    Their group’s “expert,”who testified, was a radiophobic PhD (received in holistic something or other from a mail order pay-for-degree college). The Washington State apple growers were handing out irradiated apples, and it was amusing to see Alvarez recoil in horror from an offered apple as though he thought the “radiation” was still in it. Next time I saw him, music major Alvarez was a nuclear policy advisor at the DOE.

    1. Marge – do you have details of Alvarez’s scholarly pursuits. I am intrigued by the idea of a music major who claims to be a reactor expert. I wonder how he gained that expertise?
      In full disclosure, I earned my BS in English at the US Naval Academy before attending the Navy’s Nuclear Power School. After a few intensive years in engineering department jobs, I developed enough professional experience and passed enough oral examinations and intensive written tests to qualify and serve for three years as an Engineer Officer. For those who do not know what that means – I was the leader of the department and a key technical decision maker.
      Along the way, I also earned an MS in Systems Technology (Command, Control and Communications), which did not necessarily increase my nuclear knowledge but did expand my understanding of the behavior of complex systems and mathematical modeling.
      Perhaps Alvarez had similar experiences after studying music – I am curious.

      1. “I am intrigued by the idea of a music major who claims to be a reactor expert.”
        Heh … Are you familiar with Commissioner Magwood’s background?

  6. Anyone worried about the “strength” of the containment building should look at the many tests performed on these buildings.
    First, after construction completion, it is tested to 60 pounds pressure. Yes some leakage is allowed, but it is not very much, and consider the numerous penetrations in the building.
    Second, a 1/4 scale mockup was tested and only showed small cracks on the outside after exceeding 120 pounds pressure!
    TMI I & II were built before any concern of aircraft crashes whatsoever, and after concern was raised because of the proximity to the Harrisburg airport, a complete, through engineering study was performed of the capabilities of TMI-II to withstand an aircraft crash. The containment passed with no changes. However a Zig-Zag concrete entry-way was incorporated around the entrances to the control room. I do not recall of any other changes.
    Third, dig out the data on the TMI-II accident (it is on the internet). Look at the graphs of the “Hydrogen Burn” (Some call it explosion – it was not an explosion! It was like the “PUFF” when you have trouble lighting a gas water heater.). The containment pressure rapidly increases to the maximum pressure the chart recorder can indicate. It stays above this maximum indictable pressure for at least a minute, then rapidly decreases to normal pressure. If you take this chart and extend the pressure increase curve and pressure decrease curve upward to the point at which they would meet, it is well above 150 pounds! I don’t think it got that high, but it would not be very hard to prove that it exceeded 100 pounds and that building did not fail!
    Finally, the walls of the spent fuel pool are thicker than the average swimming pool. They are designed to contain enough water to maintain a minimum of 25 feet of water above the 12 feet of fuel. That is 37 feet of water and most are at least 40+ feet deep. Do the math, design a cheap, non nuclear qualified swimming pool that will hold 40 feet of water and is as large as an Olympic pool. I don’t think that anything short of a direct hit would damage it. Now look at a NRC Nuclear grade SFP. It will have walls 2 to 3 time thick, have re-bar, etc. And even if hit by a plane, there are NRC requirements for emergency procedures (reviewed by the NRC) that assure sufficient water is available to keep the SFP cool. After an event like that you can use any water available, it does not need to be primary grade water.

    1. Both containment and spent fuel pools also have another aspect of safety to consider. Even a damaged containment building will still be largely complete. Even a spent fuel pool with a hole will still hold water for a while.
      Some of the most doom-laden studies seem to assume that these structures will simply vanish. Not so – they are robust structures that will remain largely in good shape even after some nominal failure that breaches them at some point.
      So a broken containment building will still largely enclose the same contents it did before, still largely capture any releases, especially of heavier smoke-like particles. And a breached spent fuel pool will still have most of its structural integrity, contain most of its water for a significant period, and be amenable to repairs and refill.

    2. Rich – I would love to add the fact that the TMI-II containment took a 150 psi transient overpressure to relevant articles on Wikipedia. However, I haven’t been able to find that figure. Could you point me in the right direction?
      The only thing I’ve been able to find is Henrie and Postma’s “Lessons Learned from Hydrogen Generation and Burning During the TMl-2 Event”, (located at http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=6237032 ) which states the hydrogen burn produced a peak pressure of 28-30 psi (Henrie et al, p. 3-1 & 3-2), and would have produced a peak pressure of 34 psi if the burn took place spontaneously (ibid, p. 4-28).

  7. How come off-shore oil rigs, NG processing plants, NG storage sites, LNG tankers, NG pipelines, Liquid CO2 (CCS) pipelines and oil refineries don’t have any requirements to withstand aircraft impacts? And after the DeepWater Horizon catastrophe, any self-respecting Terrorist must be thinking how easy it would be to destroy a blowout preventer with a torpedo. No protection against that. Especially since Al Queda has stated that disruption of Oil & NG commerce is their #1 priority.

    1. You forgot ammonia. I live in a farming area. About 10 miles north of the city (population of city and metropolitan area is close to 1 million) is a Large ammonia processing plant (it is used for fertilizer) with 4 or five 1 million gallon tanks of ammonia sitting there, in the open. There are also many high pressure storage tanks filled with ammonia gas (these look like the typical large LPG tank that you see in the suburbs where there is no natural gas.) It would not take a large jetliner to destroy several tanks, just a good sized twin engine propeller plane. Since it is next to the river, much of the spoil would wash down river and that combined with the deaths caused by the ammonia gas in the immediate area would easily kill thousands. So why go after a heavily fortified nuclear power plant with something that any terrorist knows will not work?

  8. Informed perception of what is credible and what is not is seldon discussed. The perception of an engineer and that of an administrator are very likely to be influenced by their area of expertise. My experience has been that engineers tend to talk less and do more than blog on public forums. One reason for this is their view may run counter to a manager pushing another agenda. Trampled in the dust of the public herd an engineer may say, “That’s incredible !”

  9. A development in the Port Hope, Ontario visit of Caldicott. The Municipality of Port Hope may take legal action, not against her, but the group that brought her to speak. Caldicott

    1. @DV82XL – Thank you for the information on this suit. I will keep a lookout for more information and would welcome any updates that you discover on your side of the border. If you see any local TV video coverage that is available on line, please share the links.

Comments are closed.

Recent Comments from our Readers

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar

Similar Posts