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18 Comments

  1. A few days after the spill, I wrote a letter to the paper. All the facts weren’t in yet (long string drilling etc) but one fact was very clear. The “company man” on the rig over-rode the advice of the “mud man” to keep the mud and not switch to seawater too quickly. From my geothermal experience, I felt that over-ruling the mud man was criminal behavior. That guy KNOWS! Anyhow, the paper printed my letter, but took out the words about criminal behavior. Since I have a blog, I put the letter there, also., but also left out the stuff about criminal behavior. Not sure why, but I did.
    Yeah, those guys should be in jail. I wrote “criminal behavior” but then I backed off.

  2. ‘I cannot imagine how stupid the folks responsible for influencing and directly making the decisions on that drilling rig must feel as they watch tens of millions of dollars per day worth of oil spew out into uncontrolled areas. ‘
    Let’s hope there is some concern that those decisions also killed 11 people.
    There is a lack of trust in institutions generally these days. That ‘lack’ of trust has been earned by the leadership in many areas — political and business.

    1. @SteveK9 – you are right to remind me that some people paid with their lives as a result of the cost cutting pressure to hurry. I apologize to the victims and their families for not mentioning that additional result.

  3. I was standing outside an NRC meeting in Brattleboro recently. A bunch of the Usual Suspects were holding a sign, “Shut Yankee down now” and a young woman was arguing with them. She had worked the outage and was dressed in running clothes..honestly, the contrast between her youth and health and even hygiene versus the anti-s…it was a sight to see! She asked what they thought was wrong with Yankee, and fought with them when they answered “it’s falling apart”. Since they hadn’t been there and she had, there was little they could say. She was winning.
    So they switched to “cancer rates are soaring in Windham County due to that plant.” I couldn’t stand it, and asked rather loudly why they lied like that, why they just stood there and lied. They were taken aback. For once, the pro-nuke (me) was raging and accusing, and they were trying to seem reasonable (“look, we just have different data, that’s all, you look at your data and we look at ours”.)
    What is the lesson here? Do we have to carry data on every subject around with us? Do the anti-s care that the Vermont Dept of Health data completely contradicts their assertions? Would it matter if I had been able to pull out some study on the subject? How could I have done better?
    Answering accusations is harder than it looks, in my opinion.

      1. Thank you DV82XL and Dave! Dave, I have your address in my book now. Thank you!

  4. A reasonable, open-minded person looks at all the data, not just the particular studies that support his preconceived beliefs. When even the most anti of anti-nuke researchers says a study is “crap,” and more circumspect reviewers says it has “no statistical significance,” the reasonable open-minded person concludes there is biased manipulation happening.
    http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/seven-days/mi_8175/is_20040331/hot-zone-whats-claims-elevated/ai_n50471323/
    But this is a discussion that can only happen between parties who have at least enough mutual respect to hear each other out.

    1. Great review article. Thank you for pointing it out.
      I generally trust the Vermont Dept of Public Health data which has always said either “no” elevated rates” or “too small a sample” However, the anti-s will say that the Dept of Health is in Entergy’s pocket. If there’s a study they don’t like, the institution doing the study is always “corrupt.” James Moore of VPIRG yells “Junk Science” in meetings where Oak Ridge Associated Universities is named as doing a study. He has said that the very name of ORAU is part of a plan to mislead the people of Vermont that prestigious Oak Ridge Lab is doing the study. (Many of the people at ORAU work at Oak Ridge lab, of course, but are paid by ORAU to keep them out of the civil service system. Most Oak Ridge lab postdocs are paid by ORAU)
      I was the one showing disrespect at this encounter. But usually, the shoe is very much on the other foot.

  5. I read that loony Deepwater-is-an-arguement-against-nuclear-power story yesterday and tried to comment, but I needed access to mhy email account, which I don’t have here in hospital. I honestly think it’s a good sign. Someone somewhere in the upper stratosphere of BP has been checking the public opinion re fossil fuels and nuclear power, and has become so existentially panicked that he/she authorised that story be written by some hack, in spite of its complete absurdity. They simply aren’t able to come up with anything better, it’s probably going to cause more harm to them than good, but they felt they needed to do something… anything… to attempt to reverse this PR disaster and try to gain some ground against the nuclear resurgence.

    1. @Finrod – I agree with your hypothesis. (Aside – it is great to see that you now have access to a computer and are clearly thinking. I just recently heard about why you are writing from the hospital. My thoughts and prayers (yes, I do pray) are with you and your family. Get well soon, my friend.)

  6. The conclusion of the MSNBC article illustrates widespread fears about nuclear power plants:
    But for all the attractions of nuclear, there remains the looming question of what happens if things go wrong. Nuclear power suffers from what you can think of as a paradox of catastrophe: The worst-case scenario is so terrible that we are actually less able to quantify it and consider its ramifications than we are with other potential disasters. We implicitly recognize this in the laws governing the nuclear industry, which cap the industry

    1. @Laurence – what do you mean you cannot find any actual estimates of the number of illnesses and fatalities that would result from a realistic worst case scenario? The people doing the study were perfectly capable of performing mathematics, but they recognized that the uncertainties around zero were large enough so that the only real statement they could make was “few – if any“. The risk number turned out to be extremely low with an error band that recognized the uncertainty. If you took the upper end of that band and multiplied it times a very large population, the resulting number would not be zero, but if you took the low end of the band, the number would be negative, indicating a health benefit. It would be difficult to call either of those numbers a better guess than “few – if any“.

      1. Rod, what I mean is the white paper does not have risk numbers in its conclusions and does not show a quantified error band. It may not be a better guess than “few – if any” but it would be more meaningful and useful to many audiences. If a debate is related to statistics, the math needs to be shown.

  7. The more I learn about the warning signals ignored, the safety rules broken, and the advice not listened to in favor of cost-cutting and wanton greed, the more I realize that the conduct of BP enters into that rare area where the incident has become more than just a matter of negligence or gross negligence, but is in fact, wanton negligence – indeed, reckless disregard – for worker safety, public health, public safety, and the environment.
    And thus, the conduct of BP’s engineers becomes not just a civil matter, but is rather transformed into a criminal one. If this sort of reckless greed was encouraged by corporate headquarters (and if you look at BP’s absolutely dismal worker safety record at their Texas City refinery – one can begin to believe that there is some sort of systemic problem in that company and this rig disaster might not just be an isolated incident – go to the Chemical Safety Board’s website to learn more about that) then some CEO and associated vice-presidents deserve to be frog-marched into court, and if found guilty, an extended vacation at Club Fed would be in order.
    If BP were a Japanese firm, at least the CEO would have had the decency to fall on his sword or out a convenient window by now.

  8. I had mentioned that I believe that in circumstances such as deep water drilling, blowout preventers should be made in a manner that is fail-safe and requires constant command authorization to avoid closing of a well.
    In other words, the blowout preventer is closed by default and can only be kept open by a constant and uninterrupted application of an open state command or force. It would be setup such that stored pressure, weights or springs would slam it shut unless it constantly was receiving electricity to hold it open by an electromagnet or some other force to keep it open.
    The classic example of a device that works like this is the pullman air break. It does not need air pressure to be fully applied. It only needs air pressure to remain unapplied and as soon as pressure is not provided the beak closes.
    It was pointed out to me that oil wells are expensive and that such a system would likely result in the occasional failure that lead to an oil well being clamped off because the power source failed. That may be so, but that cost would be tiny compared to this.
    Furthermore, I want to point out that nuclear plants are built with this design philosophy all the time. They’re not built to SCRAM only if it looks like there’s probably a problem, but rather to do so if there’s any indication that there might be one. If a sensor returns a null reading, that probably just means a bad sensor, but it can still cause the plant to take evasive action, possibly even shutting down.
    Needless to say, this does cause many unnecessary shutdowns. The majority of unplanned outages turn out to be unnecessary. When this happens, millions of dollars are lost. Yet the nuclear industry accepts this as the cost of safety and in a business which such a deeply rooted culture of safety, paying a little extra to keep things safe is never a question.

  9. There are significant differences between the nuclear energy industry and the oil industry. One of the major ones is defense in depth. From what I can gather, the blow-out preventer is the only back-up. For a nuclear reactor, there is not just a single back-up mechanism, but multiple back-ups. And as drbuzz0 pointed out, those mechanism are design as much as possible to fail in a safe manner, i.e., they are actively prevented from shutting down the reactor. This is why we were able to have a worst-case accident (Three Mile Island) with negligible effect on public health.
    The other thing that has impressed me about the nuclear industry is the culture of operation excellence the developed after the Three Mile Island accident, which really started to bear fruit in the ’90. This culture took the availability of nuclear plants from the 60% to 70% level to the 90%+ level we see today. That culture of excellence improved BOTH safety and operational efficiency/profitability! Certainly BP would have been a more profitable company if they had a similar culture of excellence.

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