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  1. It is not a positive thing for the overall economy to have more people employed per unit of energy produced. If that was true we should all be sitting on exercise bikes producing electricity. If anything nuclear has to move towards the Exxon numbers to become truly economic.

    I am working as a nuclear engineer myself but I still think it is absolutely ridiculous how many people it takes to run a nuclear power plant compared to an equal sized natural gas or hydro power plant. Number one priority with new designs should be to cut, cut and cut even more the number of staff needed to run the plant.

    1. @Johan

      I did not compare units of energy produced. I compared dollars of revenue produced. They are entirely different units of measure. At current prices, oil is being sold for about $18 per MMBTU in its crude oil form while refined, manufactured actinide fuel bundles sell for just 70 cents per MMBTU.

      Think about the implications of the monetary flows that result from that kind of imbalance.

      It is a GOOD thing to produce lots of high paying, career level jobs with top management earning a few times as much money per year as the average employee. It is gross to produce a tiny number of jobs with the oligarchy capturing thousands of times more money per year as the average employee.

    2. Also, looking at employment of the entire supply chain is key. For the nuclear energy produced by Exelon (EXC), the employees of Exelon and the people who maintain the grid infrastructure and operations are all relevant. For the oil and gas produced by Exxon, there are many people employed in the distribution chain that are not Exxon Mobil (XOM) employees.

      Comparing employees per kilowatt-hour for different utilities could be an interesting exercise. I don’t believe that nuclear plant staffs of the future should be too much smaller than Exelon’s, as I would suspect Exelon is likely the most efficient nuclear operator at present. Considering the required shift-work for operators, there are definite limits to how much an operating staff could be smartly reduced.

      1. Exelon might very well be the most efficient operator today. Admitably far superior to the utility I work at. But the designs aren’t neccesarily as optimized as any design can be.

        When talking about manpower I include the things like 5 levels of review for every report. Unnecessarily strict radiation guidelines that mean higher rotation of staff in hot zones and so on. Lots of wasted human effort for things that have negigble impact on safety.

        1. @Johan

          I agree that we need to reduce some of the specific overhead, but we should ready to reemploy those skilled and valuable people in jobs related to growing the use of nuclear technology before we start doing that.

          Halting “wasted human effort” by getting rid of jobs before there are new jobs has nothing to do with reducing waste; that process is all about increasing profits and upper management payouts. The people that were doing those “wasted human effort” jobs might well stop drawing a paycheck and instead invest their valuable time in the completely unproductive task of pounding the pavement looking for new work. Worse yet, some might get discouraged enough to start investing their valuable work hours into watching yet another football game or reality TV show.

          1. It is kind of a chicken and egg problem I guess. Gifted people tend to create jobs for themselves. I don’t think anyone from above needs to make sure there are jobs for a bunch of gifted engineers. Increasing profit from nuclear would benefit everyone.

            My hunch is though that if we where to cut the nuclear work force at a plant by half, by reducing inefficiencies, there would be twice as many job opportunities created by the increased market shares nuclear will take from other energy source.

          2. I agree with Johan here. We should be fighting to increase efficiency at a nuclear plant. I realize that this potentially means less jobs at each individual plant, but decreasing the price of nuclear power by doing this also means the potential for more nuclear plants – a consequence of reduced production costs.

            Decreasing the need for human capital to perform a task is how we have moved from 90%+ of the population needing to farm for their food to a strong division of labour society. Farming is now so efficient that humans can invest their abilities in producing other valuable items that benefit civilization. Innovation leading to cheaper costs through increased efficiency rarely turns out to be a net negative overall. The assembly line introduced by Ford Motor Company in 1913 was fought against by the workers when first proposed because it would decrease the amount of manpower needed to build an automobile. I don’t think anyone would argue that we should abolish the assembly line now.

            1. @Smilin Joe Fission

              I agree with Johan here. We should be fighting to increase efficiency at a nuclear plant. I realize that this potentially means less jobs at each individual plant, but decreasing the price of nuclear power by doing this also means the potential for more nuclear plants – a consequence of reduced production costs.

              Exelon, for example, has been working in this cost reduction direction for more than a decade. Its decision makers have not expressed any interest in deploying any of the savings towards building more nuclear plants since Corbin McNeill retired.

          3. Rod, if the redundant staffing was put to work doing something else, do you think that Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee would be in their current states?

            1. @EP

              Yes. I do not have access to the detailed financial analysis, but I don’t believe that the operating staff costs at Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee were the drivers of the decision. If you figure the cost per person at $120K per year, a staff of 600 people costs $72 million per year. I’d bet, however, that about half of that staff was involved in security related work.

    3. @Johan

      One beef I have with nuclear engineers is that they often are exceedingly vain in their belief that they can engineer systems to need fewer and fewer trained operators. Most of the NE’s I have met have little to no experience in operations or maintenance; some have never even seen the inside of a power plant. The situation is a bit like employing automotive engineers who never drive cars or a aircraft designers who have never flown a plane.

      The most flexible computers you can install in a power plant control system are human brains. By controlling their opposable thumbs, they can interpret indications and respond to events that designers never even considered as being possible.

      1. I don’t have very much operating experience no. But I don’t see any logical reason for why a gas or hydro power plant can be run with staff in multiples of dozens while a comparable reactor require multiples of hundreds. Hydro is a bit of a special case of course, but a gas plant must surely be on the same complexity level as a reactor.

        As far as driving, all big car manufacturers are working hard on getting rid of the need to drive manually And UAV seems to be the future of flight.

        The human part is important, I always remind myself of the skillfull fellow at Fukushima who happened to know where to connect a car battery to open a valve. That kind of skill is crucial and can not be automated. But that doesn’t necessarily require hundreds of people and nothing indicates that our current reactors are near to being optimal.

        I would guess a navy reactor has less people per installed watt than a commercial plant?

        Reducing number of skilled workers in energy enables them to apply their skills to other endeavors and society as a whole grows.

        1. I partially agree with Johan. It is not the required 24/7 operations and security staff numbers that are bloating the total numbers of the staff at nuclear power plant facilities. It is the overall support staff required to write procedures for, implement programs for, daily participate in, track, etc. the myriad of regulatory requirements they operate under (NRC, EPA, FEMA, etc.). Then add a whole additional layer of self inflicted requirements and programs by INPO, looked at by the Industry almost as regulatory requirements, and you have literally hundreds of folks just “pushing paper”. The industry has matured enough that it no longer needs INPO. However some may feel INPO has usurped enough inspection oversight that legally belongs with the NRC, so that INPO is still needed. A recent very minor event I looked at for a particular plant had a 71 page NRC Inspection Report (discussion) not including attachments, and additionally a 361 plus (I quit downloading) page document in the plant’s Corrective Action Program for dealing with this minor event. I strongly suspect this huge overhead of nothing but paper and the Programs that implement it, come right out of INPO Good Practice Programs. Just try to imagine the total organizational overhead required to implement such a system. At some point “Striving for Excellence” is way beyond the point of adding any actual value to the process, it is nothing but overhead.
          Also Johan, I have worked as an operator in both systems, both navy and commercial. A typical navy plant is about 5%, both equipment and geography of a typical commercial nuke, and pound for pound, a navy nuke has more operators per shift than a commercial nuke. But they also don’t have the NRC and INPO.

          1. @mjd

            At the risk of being accused of contradicting myself, I agree with you on the point of overlapping regulations and overreaction to corrective action programs. I have lived the dream with deep involvement in creating procedures and participating on a corrective action oversight group. It is an exceedingly costly way of doing business. On the other hand, there were some pretty good people involved in the programs that provided valuable inputs and obtained valuable training in return for steady paychecks. 🙂

        2. But Johan, you have to understand here, Rod is a real “people person” and Really Likes People. I guess you have to spend 6 months in a tube under the ocean. But I agree with you, why so many people working there? But then, I don’t like people.

          Too many people does happen in other industries too for example, retail. I worked in maintainence at a JCPenney store 10 years ago. There were only 4 of us to clean up a 2 level store. There were barely enough sales clerks. But there were many, many, junior managers, senior managers, support managers, managers in training, and all they would do is hang around the store manager (who was actually pretty obnoxious) and tell him how wonderful he was. Meanwhile, people would be looking around for a sales clerk. Of course, the customer pays for all these people and how they stayed in business this long I do not know but they are in trouble probably from too many people.

          1. @BobinPgh

            Of course, the customer pays for all these people and how they stayed in business this long I do not know but they are in trouble probably from too many people.

            The full context of your comment indicates that we are not so far off in our understanding of the situation. As you pointed out, there were people shortages in key roles – sales and maintenance. The problem you describe is not too many people, but not enough people who performed the tasks required to produce success.

            There probably are too many managers, security, licensing and QA people on the staffs at nuclear power plants. However, many of the discussions by design engineering types here talk more about reducing the number of operators, not the number of people in “supporting” roles. Knowledgable, hard-working, creative people make plants safer and more reliable, too many of the wrong kind of hangers-on just make them more expensive to operate and maintain.

            Good overall system design includes people as fundamental components of the design. It keeps them active and “in the loop”, but does not burden them with excessive complexity or by inaccessible component locations. Good system design does not bend over backward to make things “walk away safe”, but instead provides sufficient barriers and redundancy to enable active operational staff to reconfigure systems for protection and graceful shutdown. At best, the redundancy prevents damage to the plant, at worst, the layered barriers still prevent public harm.

          2. @Rod

            I didn’t mean that number of control room operators should be reduced. I don’t see it as an impossibility but neither is it a priority. I would start reducing on the side where I myself work along with other staff not crucial for operation. All the redundant analysis of what happens if someone sneezes in the containment during a LOCA etc. The 5 reviewers for every single report written. The middle managers that manage that mess.

            Something is awfully weird when dozens of people can run hundreds of MW of gas power while nuclear needs ten times larger staff (not even counting off site consultants etc).

            Some of those reductions would of course require a change on the regulatory side so it won’t happen.

      2. The most flexible computers you can install in a power plant control system are human brains. By controlling their opposable thumbs, they can interpret indications and respond to events that designers never even considered as being possible.

        Rod – Keep in mind that these “flexible computers” can also cause events that designers did not consider as being possible. At TMI-2, those pumps didn’t turn themselves off, and neither did the automatic safety systems at Chernobyl-4. Automation can be very useful for reducing the potential for human error.

        In a plant, the behavior of the physical components are governed by physical laws and can be understood — even if only empirically — according to those laws, which do not change. The hardest thing for a reactor designer to predict and control for is what the operators and staff will do.

        1. @Brian Mays

          According to the designers who programmed the simulators for the B&W 177, a leak in the steam space of the pressurizer always led to a lowering of pressurizer water level.

          mjd can verify this assertion.

          What does that say about the validity of the following statement?

          In a plant, the behavior of the physical components are governed by physical laws and can be understood — even if only empirically — according to those laws, which do not change. The hardest thing for a reactor designer to predict and control for is what the operators and staff will do.

          1. Rod – Well, first of all, keep in mind that the entire purpose of a simulator is to reduce human error.

            But anyway, according to what the guy who used to run the B&W simulator told me, the simulator was capable of simulating the conditions of the TMI accident. In fact, he said that, a little while after the accident, when the operators who were on duty at the time of the accident were in the simulator for training, he ran the TMI-2 accident scenario for them to see what they would do, and they made the exact same mistakes that they made during the accident. Human error struck again!

            I stand by my statement. It’s very difficult to predict, much less plan for, a scenario in which the human operators are doing everything they can to prevent additional coolant from reaching the primary loop, even as the core begins to be uncovered. If they had simply walked away when the accident first started, it is likely that the core would not have melted.

            1. @Brian Mays

              This conversation has reminded me that I have an item on my to do list regarding the publication of some background information about TMI obtained by talking with experienced operators.

              Keep in mind that simulator designers and operators are also human beings and, as Jimmy Buffett would say, are “flawed individuals.” They occasionally make errors, some of which propagate. As regular old human beings, they also have a tendency to defend their actions and a reluctance to admit mistakes.

  2. If nuclear is to remake our economy, it needs to be done organically. I am not confident that the approach advocated by @TheBTI is the appropriate one. Creating more opportunity for special interests, especially ones with such an energy dense technology, takes our current position with fossil and makes it worse.

    Here we need to address the fundamental cost drivers; NQA1, LNT, and the NRC regulatory warrant. These are the road blocks that stand in the way of nuclear deployment and drive our high construction costs and manning and O&M requirements.

    The object of policy should be to make energy accessible to more people and to reduce artificial barriers to market entry. In doing so we can create vast amount of wealth for the most people. Our political discourse does not allow for this alternative. One reason is that such an approach overturns the current political distribution of power and established interest groups.

    To link with the Democracy Now! piece, there is another perspective on the role of oil in our economy. Here is Ron Paul in 2006 talking about why not to invade Iran. We had echos of this this last summer regarding Syria. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-10-09/ron-paul-redux-end-dollar-hegemony

    If we are to have peace we need energy that is as freely available as possible.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Cal. Nuclear power is, for a lack of better words, being held hostage by aritifial barriers put in place by politicians. The federal government has slowly worked to massively disincentivize the proliferation of nuclear power through onerous material quality regulations, absurd radiation limits, and an overreaching (and highly politicized) industry regulatory body.

      This is just another symptom of a centralizing political power scheme that encourages the most corruptable among us to hold the positions that determine the fate of our industry.

      1. @Smilin Joe Fission

        The federal government has slowly worked to massively disincentivize the proliferation of nuclear power through onerous material quality regulations, absurd radiation limits, and an overreaching (and highly politicized) industry regulatory body.

        Who do you think bought and paid for the politicians who made the series of decisions that created that reality? I simply do not believe there is some kind of bureaucratic imperative to implement the kinds of targeted regulations that we have seen without the encouragement from interested parties that benefited from the regulations.

        1. I do not disagree with you at all. There are definitely 3rd parties influencing political decisions.

          I would like to move away from the federal government having so much power to allow such cronyism. Giving more regulatory authority to the states (and less to the Feds) could possibly help.

          1. There is a problem with deregulating is that the common law that existed, or was prevented from developing does not exist to support the market. Some things are patent and can be removed, but completely eliminating the government will take a great deal of time.

            I think the issue with policy is the direction that we go, toward more centralization or toward less. As we progress toward less centralization common law will develop around those areas that are less controlled, replacing past intervention.

            The states are a good place to start, because while industry is still more or less controlled, each state has the freedom to determine which policy is best. States with more successful policy have more influence at the Federal level. States are perhaps more prone to 3rd party influence, but here too the influence is more contained.

            I think once the dollar is weakened sufficiently there will be more incentive to move away from the status quo. That process will be painful. To some extent I think we are seeing that now. If we are to be competitive in the future, we need to eventually revisit our overall set of policy. Eventually always comes. I just hope the argument can be framed to enact more enlightened policy.

  3. “why I believe that nuclear energy advocates should develop a strong political alliance with coal miners ”

    The current cost of running a coal plant is actually higher than what it would cost per kwh to replace it with a public power nuke from TVA or Energy Northwest

    In fact the current Chinese cost to build a nuke is around 3 cents a kwh while the cost of coal imports – the new source of coal miners income – is 6 cents a kwh.

    Why on earth would coal miners be interested in an alliance with us and why on earth would we risk making ourselves even worse pariahs than we already are.

    1. @seth

      Who said anything about coal plants?

      Think broadly about the idea of locating coal to liquid technology right next to large coal deposits. Imagine shipping liquid fuel from Powder River Basin into lucrative existing markets for gasoline and diesel fuel instead of shipping hundreds of millions of tons of coal via rail.

      The current wholesale price of diesel fuel or gasoline is north of $20 per MMBTU. Power River Basin (or Illinois) coal sells for something closer to $2 per MMBTU at the mine. That is a large delta that provides plenty of room for creative reconstruction of several different markets.

      1. That is very similar to the recent delta between the Henry Hub and the price of LNG on the open seas, and why LNG export terminals are being built.

        It is almost an exact parallel, it will simply take people with big enough pockets and enough foresight to get it to happen. Perhaps the recent success of tests of TRISO fuel could help push along NGNP in that direction? Too bad I can’t tag Margaret on a comment here the way I could on Facebook.

      2. The carbon content of synthetic fuels made from coal is enormous.

        Far cheaper and far more environmentally friendly to locate an HTGR’s next to a cement plant and produce synfuels using Shell’s Qatar GTL process at less than $30/bbl.

        In fact using the existing farm ammonia network, propane equipped vehicles would work with a bit of tuning on HTGR produced NH3 – clean and green.

        China’s commercial first of a kind HTGR is under construction for 2017 service with 70% of its output devoted to synfuel production while America’s version is projected for 2030 service.

        1. @seth

          The carbon content of synthetic fuels made from coal is enormous.

          That statement may be true for traditional methods of producing liquid fuel from coal, but it’s not true when the heat required for the endothermic parts of the process is provided by nuclear energy. The process you’re talking about burns coal to produce heat, thus releasing CO2 in the process.

          1. Rod,
            Fischer-Tropsch also requires additional hydrogen which typically comes from the water shift reaction which also effectively burns feedstock to CO2.

            1. @Chris

              There are other hydrogen-rich molecules available. On usta-fish we produced both H2 and O2 from H2O. We discharged H2 as a waste product, but that does not have to be the case.

        2. Seth,

          Here is a paper I presented at Coal Gen last year. It goes through the process of using a lower temperature reactor to provide the heat for coal gasification.

          https://www.dropbox.com/s/oux8q1nmb209sh0/Securing%20Our%20Energy%20Supply%20with%20Coal%20and%20Small%20Modular%20Reactors.pdf

          It uses a the reactors only to provide heat for gasificaiton, because of the lower temp gasification a large amount of CH4 is produced. The methane is used for onsite electricity production (combined cycle plants). The balance of electrical power comes from heat rejection from the cycle.

          The reactor doesn’t need to be at gasification temperatures. It only needs to be close. This obviates the need for high temperature materials and uses a reactor that is close to commercialization.

        3. Seth,
          GTL plant is reforming natural gas, so I don’t get your reference to cement plants. CO2 is not a feedstock.

  4. At the risk of being redundant….

    I believe that nuclear energy advocates should develop a strong political alliance with coal miners to advance the cause of market freedom and broader democracy, while using our technology to add value to and reduce pollution from our partner’s fuel source.

    I don’t think that’s going to happen.  Uranium is cheaper than coal for electric generation, but petroleum remains cheaper than coal for producing mid-weight hydrocarbons (like gasoline and diesel fuel).  90% of US coal production is burned to make steam (mostly electric generation), and the cost of coal-to-liquids plants precludes any mass adoption which could absorb the coal displaced from the electric industry (the lone SNG plant in the USA being a cautionary tale).  The result:  contraction and unemployment.  Coal miners are probably not going to be convinced otherwise, especially after the loss of market share to natural gas.

    Nuclear power can drive cars much more directly, via batteries.  Instead of shifting the source of motor fuel, they get rid of it entirely.  I’m doing it now, averaging almost 140 MPG since March.  It’s great!

    If the environmentalists come around, I think the prospects are better.  There are ways to use nuclear power to make truly renewable fuels, and enough pushing of the examples of France and Ontario as de-carbonized electric grids (before it was cool!) might help convert a few to the cause.

    1. @EP

      Nuclear power can drive cars much more directly, via batteries. Instead of shifting the source of motor fuel, they get rid of it entirely. I’m doing it now, averaging almost 140 MPG since March. It’s great!

      Have you spent much time driving around the United States and the rest of the world? Have you noticed how large the installed base of petroleum fueled vehicles is?

      How will batteries provide powered flight?

      1. Have you spent much time driving around the United States and the rest of the world?

        Only from Michigan to the West coast a bunch of times, to Kitty Hawk once, and almost to the Gulf coast once.  I’ve spent a few days on the Trans-Can.  Road trips are my favorite vacation style.

        Have you noticed how large the installed base of petroleum fueled vehicles is?

        I’ve also noticed that they don’t last very long, and the government stats people say that roughly half a light-duty vehicle’s lifetime mileage is driven in the first six years.  If fuel prices went much higher, the retirement of the older fleet would be accelerated just as it was after the 70’s oil price shocks.

        How will batteries provide powered flight?

        Not too badly, actually; there’s actually been a flight done with batteries (lithium-ion, I assume).  (Changing the subject?)  The requirement for aviation fuel is small enough that it could be handled by LNG without making any big changes.  At least one company is trying to replace avgas with CNG.

        The point is that making a 50-year infrastructure investment to serve the needs of 15-year assets makes no sense.

        1. E-P,

          What type of car have you been driving recently to achieve your 140 mpg equivalent? A Volt?

          The point about a 50-year infrastructure investment for a 15-year asset is a rather good one. My thinking/hope is that some sort of through-the-road charging, in combination with smaller-capacity batteries may turn out to be the ultimate infrastructure for personal automobiles. Although, battery change out stations for EVs designed for quick change-outs could possibly turn out to be a better option. Either way, I want to drive a nuclear-powered car within the next 5-ish years.

          1. I’m driving a Ford Fusion Energi.  Its electric mileage is already 30% nuclear, and I’d love to see that go to 100%.

            I’m with you on through-the-road power; I like Hanazawa’s capacitively-coupled through-the-tire-belt scheme, because it looks like you could just roll out the plates under a layer of new asphalt at the rate of multiple lane-miles per day.

    2. EP

      Coal is being delivered to roughly 600 sites around the country that are located near plentiful water sources and population centers. Re-purposing those assets to produce synthetic fuels is doable and can allow existing electrical utilities to expand their markets into pipeline gas, and transportation fuels. If the oil majors are unwilling to move, and service a significantly underserved market, then they can either adapt or loose market share.

      Here is a paper I presented at Coal Gen last year:
      https://www.dropbox.com/s/oux8q1nmb209sh0/Securing%20Our%20Energy%20Supply%20with%20Coal%20and%20Small%20Modular%20Reactors.pdf

  5. The definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

    Spain is loosing the renewables battle. Germany is choking on coal to save face in the pursuit of renewables. Now France wants to imitate its neighbour to look groovy.

    What is wrong with the European Union that has decided 2 days ago not to allow subsidies for nuclear but keep the flow of funds going for wind and solar.

    We know Vermont is stupid. But a entire continent ?

    1. The continent hasn’t turned completely stupid. It is just that the EU leadership is pretty much completely disconnected from its constituents and the whole thing has turned into an anti democratic farce.

        1. That’s oversimplified. The members of European Parliament are elected. The European Commission is not elected, but the national governments have a lot of control on it actually. The end result is a mess, but a kind of mess where you need to convince a lot of people in a lot of countries with very different ideas before doing anything, so it’s hard to get approval on things that are really a complete non-sense.
          And at the moment, the politics in the US hardly look like a better mess.

  6. Cal wrote ” we need to address the fundamental cost drivers; NQA1, LNT, and the NRC regulatory warrant”. He’s right; we need to reduce the costs of nuclear power. I took my class to a hydro plant that generates 400 MW (peak), with a dozen employees. Vermont Yankee had 630 employees for 600 MW — about 1.4 cents/kWh just for salaries.

    I wonder how much is for security. The mPower design physically separates the nuclear steam supply (100 meters?) from the balance of plant, which does not have the same security requirements, in an attempt to lower labor costs.

  7. @Brian Mays
    October 10, 2013 at 10:36 PM said “But anyway, according to what the guy who used to run the B&W simulator told me, the simulator was capable of simulating the conditions of the TMI accident.”
    Brian, you flat don’t know what you are talking about. I lived through this history in real time, as I was the Shift Supervisor at the Davis Besse TMI precursor event 18 months earlier. I can probably tell you the name of “the guy”, but it is not important. Both the Kemeny Commission report and the Rogovin Commission report, in no uncertain terms, state absolutely the contrary about that vintage training simulator response to this event. Pressurizer level went the wrong way. Read the reports before you start voicing your “opinion”. In fact there is some lengthy discussion about a precursor event at a European reactor on a Westinghouse plant about 1971, in which it is clearly stated the W simulator also modeled the pressurizer level response backwards.
    I am the guy who actually sternly voiced an issue about this at B&W about a week or two after TMI. There was a big meeting in Lynchburg, attended by all the B&W key players and reps from all the B&W plants. The purpose of the meeting was for B&W to explain TMI, the best they could at the time, so we could go back and fill in our organizations. Towards the end of that meeting the B&W “infamous memo” guy stood up and said “I don’t understand why our operators are turning off HPI during SBLOCAs.” I tripped off the line, jumped up and screamed “Because you are training them to do it in your simulator not 50 feet from this room.” The memo guy turned red, looked at (name redacted), but was the simulator Training Manager and said “Is that right?” Then all the yabba, dabba, doo discussion started about the simulator being unable to simulate 2 phase flow and it crashed when the models aborted. But the bottom line of that discussion was, yes, we train to throttle back HPI to keep pressurizer level on scale during a SBLOCA and the simulator can’t model the correct pressurize level response. I can only tell you what I did 18 months before TMI, not their thoughts, but I didn’t “turn off” HPI, I continuously throttled it back as my pressurizer level correctly responded to the thermal hydraulic effects of the RCS falling to saturation. So I eventually ended up with no HPI flow. As everybody now knows, the actual level response to a hole in the steam space was exactly backwards to the way it was simulated on training simulators of that vintage. Because the event had never been analyzed.
    The bottom line out of that meeting, with respect to the B&W training simulator, was B&W went into overdrive changing the sim models, forcing the simulator to model the event correctly. And within a few weeks of that all 5 Davis Besse shifts were on charter plane flights to Lynchburg, for “retraining”. So ask “the guy” if he might be able to recall the correct version of the events with this little refresher. As far as the rumor about the TMI operators repeating the “error” in a later B&W training session, I also heard that rumor relayed in one of my later training sessions at B&W from (name redacted). I don’t quite know what to say to you about that Brian, other than “have you ever walked in those shoes?” I have, successfully, and sim sessions are designed to confuse on purpose. If you were conditioned 100 times to do it wrong, and one time to do it right, what would you do Brian? If you’re not sure I’ll give you a suggestion… keep your mouth shut with your opinions of the TMI Operators. They got thrown under the bus for an Industry failure. Mike Derivan.

  8. Brian Mays
    October 10, 2013 at 10:36 PM
    Said: “I stand by my statement. It’s very difficult to predict, much less plan for, a scenario in which the human operators are doing everything they can to prevent additional coolant from reaching the primary loop, even as the core begins to be uncovered. If they had simply walked away when the accident first started, it is likely that the core would not have melted.”

    Brian, I have seen you make that comment on other Atomic Insights threads before. And I know your mind is made up so you likely won’t want to be confused with the facts. And also the RELAP SBLOCA response model you obviously run in your head is telling you something the rest of the world is unaware of, but let me set the rest of the readers straight. A simple question: Is the RCS hole size afforded by a stuck open PORV large enough to remove all the post reactor trip decay heat from substantial power history, using HPI flow alone out the break? If it is not, how do you propose getting out of that box? There is only one way, the operators must, through operator actions, initiate additional heat removal from the RCS using the plant Feedwater and Steam systems. If they don’t the decay heat generation will add more energy to the RCS than is being removed by the HPI flow out the break. And the system will increase in pressure, maybe even up to the RCS code safety set points, causing occasional burp lifts, but at that increased RCS pressure the HPI flow will be substantially reduced, aggravating the lack of cooling problem. But you have ignorantly sent the operators home.

    Sorry about the bug in you head’s RELAP code, but here is something that doesn’t even require RELAP. Assume that hole size can in fact remove all the decay heat on HPI flow alone (it can’t). What exactly do you propose be done when the HPI injection water supply storage tank goes empty? Your entire core cooling injection water is now on the containment vessel floor. It is not leaking out of a ruptured containment, as in Fukushima. How do you get out of that box, Brian, when you sent all the operators home? Just how do you propose getting on containment sump recirc cooling when again you sent all the operators home? And for what it is worth, HPI pumps cannot even take a direct suction on a containment sump, so it is a lot more involved than that. I think you better get on the phone and call your operators back in; you are about to melt your core because you sent them home, and you just ran yourself out of HPI water. Until you have walked in the TMI operator’s shoes I respectively ask you to stop criticizing their actions. You flat out don’t have a clue about what you are saying. Mike Derivan.

    1. I really appreciate your two comments. I’m a BWR engineer who’s been starting operations training, and I fully agree, the operators at TMI were very smart people, and a lot of things played to cause the failues there.

      I also just want to mention that as someone who has exclusively worked at BWRs, when I first found out that the PORV in a B&W unit could not remove all the decay heat being generated, I was flabbergasted. I would have never expected that, and I think many others who have not operated a PWR wouldn’t have either.

      Anyways thanks for the good comments to read, it’s great to hear about the Davis Besse event from someone who was there.

    2. Wow, Mike, that’s an awful lot of huffin’ and puffn’ over a little bit of nothin’. Please don’t let your blood pressure get out of whack on my account.

      Much of the confusion has resulted from a lack of clarity on my part. I was making a quick, off-the-cuff comment and wasn’t careful to be precise in my choice of words. I never intended to imply that the TMI operators trained to the specific scenario of the TMI accident and then screwed it up. On the contrary, they were trained for another situation in which the pressurizer level behaves differently … or the simulator that they used was insufficient … or whatever … take your pick, since it doesn’t matter in hindsight. This problem with training at the time is well known and widely accepted, and I’m certainly not questioning it.

      My recounting of the simulator training story was not to imply that the operators trained to the TMI-accident event, or even that the simulator was capable of training the operators beforehand for the accident that ensued. This is not my information; I was simply passing on a story that I had been told. I have no personal experience (I was in grade school at the time) or anything else to back it up. It is possible that I misunderstood the anecdote (although it was simple enough that I doubt it) or that the person was relating something that was untrue (although I have no reason to doubt his credibility). Nevertheless, if true, it provides useful information.

      If you were conditioned 100 times to do it wrong, and one time to do it right, what would you do Brian?

      I can’t really say, because it is difficult to weigh the relative influences of 100 times in a routine simulator, and the one time in which I completely destroyed the core of a practically brand-new reactor. It’s like comparing hours and hours of time on a flight simulator with the one time I screwed up and crashed an airplane.

      And that’s the human-factor problem that I was trying to point out. We like to think that humans learn from their mistakes and are less likely to repeat the particularly bad ones. This anecdote demonstrates that this is not always the case.

      As a reactor designer, I know that, given the exact same physical conditions and the exact same initiating event, the plant is going to respond in the exact same way. The laws of nature determine that. The response of the human component, however, is not as predictable, even after having already experienced the event. Maybe the operators learned, and maybe they didn’t. How can I predict that?

      Finally, before you piss yourself too much in the excitement of talking about RELAP and LOCA, you should realize that I allowed myself the rhetorical privilege of indulging in a little bit of hyperbole. When I said, “simply walked away,” I meant that the operators’ actions did more harm than good. It was never intended to be taken literally. My point was simply to explain what is now common knowledge. As the Kemeny Report notes,

      “Other investigations have concluded that, while equipment failures initiated the event, the fundamental cause of the accident was ‘operator error.’ It is pointed out that if the operators (or those who supervised them) had kept the emergency cooling systems on through the early stages of the accident, Three Mile Island would have been limited to a relatively insignificant incident. While we agree that this statement is true, we also feel that it does not speak to the fundamental causes of the accident.”

      The report goes on to explain how insufficient training and human-factor problems were the real cause of why the accident was so severe. Nothing that I have written disagrees with that, and in fact, this is one of the points that I was trying to make.

  9. “I would like to move away from the federal government having so much power to allow such cronyism. Giving more regulatory authority to the states (and less to the Feds) could possibly help.”

    I think politicians at the state level will be cheaper to bribe than those in Washington.

  10. “Remember EU decision makers in Brussels are not elected.”

    Nor are those in China, but the attitude to nuclear is different.

    At least in the UK, all three main political parties support nuclear power as part of the mix.

    1. @ Don,

      Watch Germany’s contempt when the UK Will annonce the Hinckley nuclear plant approval this week.

      Then watch What they Will do in Brussels at the non élected EU Government.

  11. I like the idea of converting coal into liquid fuels, but I wonders how such a choice would stand together with (stumbling) GHG reduction policies. I’d prefer to see liquid fuels made from ocean sourced carbon. Apparently, that’s reasonably affordable. Ammonia could be a reasonably convenient engine fuel that doesn’t even need carbon.
    http://www.electrogenhydrofuels.com/news/News.html

  12. Rod,

    Your comment:

    Compared to oil and gas, successful use of nuclear energy rests more on cooperative, well-trained, independently thinking workers than on militarily enforced control over resources.

    My nuance:

    This month in Iraq, a thousand civilian lives were lost. Shiites versus Sunnites. Some say it is a religious war. It is not. It is the left overs from empires of the past trying to settle old scores. The Ottoman empire against the Persian forces of the past.

    When the US, as an empire, stepped into Iraq the first thing they did was not to help the civilian population. The first thing they did was to immediately stop the oil trading that took place in French based Francs into US dollars.

    Interesting first move don’t you say ?

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