Did Sabotage Start TMI accident? – Part 2
The first installment of this series, titled Sabotage may have started Three Mile Island accident, describes how a number of individually improbable equipment conditions came together at 4:00 am on March 28, 1979, one year — to the minute — after the start of commercial operation at Three Mile Island (TMI) unit 2. It also described how the NRC’s Rogovin Special Inquiry Group considered, but dismissed, the possibility of sabotage.
This topic has been discussed previously on Atomic Insights in the July 27, 2013 thread titled Was Three Mile Island an accident?. That initial discussion was based on a video clip in which Galen Winsor made a couple of thought-provoking statements about the event.
Winsor’s commentary was marred by the fact that he expanded his skepticism about the official interpretation to a completely unsupportable claim that the plant was not actually damaged and could have been restarted. There are too many eyewitnesses and videos that document the core conditions and the difficulty associated with devising tools to chip pieces out one by one to accept that wild claim.
Many who watched that video dismissed the whole notion based on the fact that part of the statement was obviously wrong. That is a perfectly understandable response when someone says something so wild that it destroys their credibility. However, there was enough confirmation of the possibility of malfeasance in the comment thread from some very credible people to stoke my interest.
Ever since that inconclusive discussion, I have been keeping my eyes and ears open for more clues that would either confirm or deny the possibility of sabotage.
About six months ago, I had a conversation with one of my colleagues at B&W. In 1979, he was working as a senior reactor operator at a plant that was the same design as TMI unit 2. He told me a story about being visited in the summer of 1979 at his facility by “several fit guys with short hair and JC Penney suits” who he assumed were from the FBI or another federal agency. Those investigators asked him questions about his plant’s secondary system, focusing on feedwater valves and valve position indications.
The line of questioning led him to believe that the investigators were trying to find out if anyone could have purposefully closed the EFW-12 valves without anyone noticing. He told me that he showed them at least one way to create exactly the conditions they were asking about. He also told me that the condition could have gone undetected for days at a time if the person took just a couple of actions that could be deduced by anyone with a reasonable level of system knowledge.
Later, I came across the following quote in F. William Engdahl’s A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order
On August 3, 1979 in its official report on the event, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission posed sabotage or criminal negligence as one of six possible causes for the Three-Mile Island event. But even after eliminating the other five possible causes, the government refused even to consider the possibility of sabotage seriously.
(Engdahl, F. William, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order ProgressivePress.com 2012 Pg 210)
Aside: I found that one before I went to the web to look up the full version of the Rogovin Special Inquiry Group Report. End Aside.
Rogovin was not the only group tasked with investigating TMI. The Kemeny Commission, was a Presidentially appointed group that was charged with investigating the event, the licensees, the suppliers and the NRC. The Kemeny Commission report makes no mention of the possibility of sabotage. In fact, it avoids any discussion at all about the events that initiated the accident, it only mentions them as follows:
- The accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) occurred as a result of a series of human, institutional, and mechanical failures.
- Equipment failures initiated the events of March 28 and contributed to the failure of operating personnel (operators, engineers, and supervisors) to recognize the actual conditions of the plant.
It is worth taking a little diversion to learn more about the Kemeny Commission and why it showed little interest in the initial cause of the accident or in pursuing any suggestion that it might have been a result of sabotage.
In brief article published in the March 2004 issue of Nuclear News titled Memories of the Kemeny Commission, Ronald Eytchison provides important information about the makeup of the Commission and the perspective through which it investigated the accident. Incredible as it may sound, Eytchison wrote that President Carter did not pick any members with relevant nuclear engineering or plant operating experience. In fact, the initial Kemeny Commission did not include a single member with any nuclear training at all.
Eytchison attributes that odd personnel choice to a desire on the part of President Carter and the appointed leaders of his commission to avoid any hint of industry involvement in the investigation. They asserted that industry participation would taint the results and reduce their credibility. That attitude provides a hint about the widespread lack of trust in the nuclear industry, despite its impressive safety record before the event occurred.
About two weeks after the President selected the commission members, Dr. Kemeny realized that an accident at a nuclear plant could not be adequately investigated by a group made up of “lawyers, public affairs specialists, and NASA engineers.”
Kemeny turned to the Navy nuclear power program to obtain someone with credible operating experience who was not associated with the nuclear industry. Eytchison, then a Navy captain who was just finishing a three year tour as the senior member of the Atlantic Fleet Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board — sometimes called the NPEB, but also known to Navy operators as the ORSE (Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam) board — was ordered to join the group. After realizing the enormity of the task he had been asked to undertake, Eytchison requested assistance from others with operating experience. Dr. Kemeny “responded with a powerful, Hungarian-accented, ‘No!'”
After realizing that he would not get any experienced help and also knowing that the commission report had to be completed in within a strict, 6-month time frame, CAPT Eytchison pared down his area of interest to focus on personnel and training. Exposing his Navy nuclear prejudices, Eytchison was pretty sure at the start of his investigation that the commercial nuclear industry had weaknesses in “operator selection, training, qualification, and licensing”.
Aside: I make that statement after serving as a nuclear-trained Naval officer for nearly 30 years. That experience gave me personal insights regarding the assumptions that many in the program make about programs that are not the Navy nuclear power program. End Aside.
Eytchison decided early in his involvement that he would be providing corrective recommendations.
The Kemeny Commission’s nearly complete lack of an operational perspective is important. An operator or two would have been curious about why the event started in the first place. They would naturally want to identify specific actions that would minimize the possibility of that same sequence of events happening again.
It is also important to understand that the Kemeny Commission saw its primary task as something more than a specific incident investigation. The President had promised the public that his Commission “will make recommendations to enable us to prevent any future nuclear accidents.”
Aside: That statement, by itself, demonstrates the nuclear exceptionalism endemic in the Carter Administration. Can you imagine a President tasking a commission to investigate something like the Deepwater Horizon with making recommendations that would “prevent any future” oil well disaster? End Aside.
Reading through the Kemeny Commission report, it seems as if there was a general agreement that a nuclear plant accident was inevitable and that it did not matter how this particular one started.
That same feeling pervades numerous contemporary articles, books and commentaries. It seems like “everyone” expected something to happen; they were primed by the well-publicized “reactor safety” and Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) controversies. Frequent coverage of antinuclear protests and public hearings with skeptical questions about safety also indicate that there were plenty of people who were itching to be able to say “we told you so.”
TMI Event Sequence Similar To Early Event In The China Syndrome
Though I’ve been a nuke for many decades, I have avoided watching The China Syndrome. I never came across it on television at a convenient time and I did not want to buy or rent it because that would put money into the pockets of antinuclear activists. I know that’s a pretty immature attitude, but at least I admit it.
A couple of days ago, I overcame my reluctance in the name of research and purchased my own copy of The China Syndrome. I watched it immediately. I’ve seen short scenes from the movie hundreds of times, but never watched the whole movie from start to finish. The experience was eerie, especially so soon after having spent so much time delving into the details of the TMI accident.
There are an uncanny number of congruences between the movie and the actual event. It is not enough for people to remember that The China Syndrome was a thriller that includes a scene about a “nuclear accident” and that its theater opening preceded a nuclear accident by just a couple of weeks.
In case you have not seen the movie or saw it long enough ago that you have forgotten the details, let me explain why watching it provided the final motivation to create this serial story.
Early in The China Syndrome, the characters played by Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas witness an event from the control room observation area at a 4 year-old, single unit, inland sited, 800 MWe nuclear power plant whose characteristics roughly match those of Rancho Seco, a sister plant of TMI unit 2.
The movie event — which the Douglas character insists on calling an accident, even though there was no core damage — is described as a turbine trip with a loss of feed water. The first indication in the control room is a shuddering floor that makes the water cooler and a cup of coffee shake. The horn blares frequently enough to distract the shift supervisor, and nearly every light on the expansive monitoring panels flashes, demanding attention.
During the event, there is a stuck open relief valve, a pressurizer level indication that pegs high, operator worries about going solid, operators that stop High Pressure Injection during the casualty, and a need to manipulate stop valves for the relief valves.
In other words, with all of the possible nuclear plant events that the writers could have picked, the fictional event was virtually identical, in initial stages, to the real event.
There’s one more bit of foreshadowing. In a later scene, while having a “scientist” explain the control room activities that Douglas had captured on film — without permission, by the way — the scientist provides a dire warning that the event could have “contaminated an area the size of Pennsylvania.” That same scene included a nuclear engineer named Greg Minor; that is the name of one of the GE Three antinuclear activist whistleblowers.
MBH Technical Associates, the consulting firm founded by “The GE Three” of Gregory Minor, Richard Hubbard and Dale Bridenbaugh, served as technical consultants for The China Syndrome. They did a credible job; the set included an almost perfect replica of a nuclear power plant control room, the turbine and auxiliary building scenes were frighteningly accurate, and the operators used realistic terminology.
At this point, the questions that come to mind are: Did life imitate art? Did someone decide that the best way to predict the future was to invent it? Did a disgruntled employee watch the movie and recognize an opportunity to get his concerns noticed? Did a New Jersey mobster decide to issue a warning about moving a plant out of his influence area?
There’s at least one more installment remaining.
I’m deviating just a bit from your topic to ask a question that will be greeted with derision.
Can TMI-2 be rebuilt and restarted?
Browns Ferry was shut down due to the fire about the same time. It has been restarted. Link says vessel is good.
Vessel isn’t old. Steam generator is gone. There is 1% of fuel left somewhere. Is it in piping? Can it be removed? The secondary piping was not stated to be contaminated. Ergonomic retrofits would be needed. Lots of modifications due to TMI, Fukushima, Browns Ferry, 9-11 etc neede Some passive failure features would be needed. Big cooling tank probably needed The control system would need to be replaced as it would be antiquated. Lots of electronics changes since the 8 track days.
By the way, I think it was the grassy knoll guy doing this one too.
There are other plants in better shape to restore than the old TMI unit 2.
I have some candidates that have nothing to do with “grassy knolls”. They will be described in later installments. It looks like there will be at least a couple more.
The reactor pressure vessel housed a temperature transient to thousands of degrees and left corium fused to the lower head. I think most of the corium was machined away by remote boring tools. Even if the wall thickness wasn’t reduced, there is no way to verify that the material strength and fracture toughness are up to the original requirements.
Radiation & contamination levels on the primary side would make the rebuilding the primary systems cost-prohibitive. Secondary side would also require rebuilding from scratch. The operating license is terminated, so NRC would require the rebuilt plant to meet the current requirements, which can also add a lot of additional retrofits. Then there’s the public perception aspect. In my opinion, building a new plant from scratch would be cheaper and easier.
Brown’s Ferry never gave up their operating license, so didn’t have to do as many retrofits (relatively speaking) in order to restart.
Thanks for the response.
“Reading through the Kemeny Commission report, it seems as if there was a general agreement that a nuclear plant accident was inevitable and that it did not matter how this particular one started.”
A lot of things had to line up wrong for the accident to occur. I wonder if anyone has tried to apply statistical probabilities to the TMI accident occurrence as they do today. An extremely low probability would lend credence to the sabotage idea.
Eino, you have made a very good point. And it is something I have been saying all along. If one would assume the lesson from my ’77 event at Davis Besse had in fact been passed along to other PWR NPPS at the time, a few simple procedure changes and literally a 10 minute training “talk through” would have prevented TMI. It really is that simple to understand how the whole PWR Industry “assumed” response for Pressurizer steam space leak was wrong (it’s not just a PORV issue at all).
Given that might have happened, everything would have chugged along samo… in the same dysfunctional way. Until the next painful event forced a change to maybe just one small problem area. TMI sure gave the most bang for the buck, as changes to at least 5 general areas were forced at the same time. But a painful event was in fact going to happen. I also see that a lot of hysterical overreaction changes from TMI hurt the nuke industry here in the US. mjd
Maybe it was sabotage. I’m not an operator, and I really can’t judge the arguments here very well.
Frankly, I hope it was not sabotage. Under the assumption that it was “operator error,” great improvements were made in operator training and in power plant simulators. I like to think that improvement effort was effective in making nuclear operations safer and better.
If the problem was sabotage however…the cure is ???what??
The cure is finding the saboteurs and punishing them so that they can never commit the crime again. But just as we can expect no such thing as 100% safety, so too is there no such thing as 100% security. Nevertheless, fitness for duty and security improvements over the years appear effective in preventing sabotage recurrence.
The perpetrators (if any) are looking at 20 years – if the statute of limitations has not expired: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/2284
Apparently it has: “Prosecution for most other federal crimes must begin within five years of the commitment of the offense”.
Sleuthing further, it appears that “42 U.S.C. 2284 (sabotage of nuclear facilities or fuel)”, page 26, under the category “Terrorism-Related Offenses Resulting in or Involving the Risk of Death or Serious Injury” has no time limitation.
Now the question would be, can that statute be invoked retroactive to 1979?
I await the third installment with great anticipation. I want to know the motive. There is too much planning between movie and reality for this to be the work of even multiple disgruntled employees. Keep on reporting, Rid.
PS, I note the complete nuclear incompetency of President Carter, exceeded only by the hubris of the current godless anti-nuclear Narcissist President.
Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Paul. How can Barack HUSSEIN Obama be “Godless” when he’s also a practicing secret Muslim working on imposing SHARIA on the Republic? Could you enlighten us? Is “Caliph HUSSEIN”:
1. a secret TAKFIRI MUSLIM?
2. or a GODLESS HEATHEN ?
Personally I’m leaning to #1 due his delivery of the last State of the Union in Arabic. (Compare to Cheney’s delivery of the same in German.). But I could be wrong! Please enlighten us!
Obama is no more Muslim than Christian. He uses whatever religious terminology he needs at the spur of the moment to deceive and advance his own narcissist self. His only god is his ego.
PS I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Muslim friends with whom I have worked in the nuclear industry. I disagree with their Koran and theology, but I have never met a Muslim whom I could not call friend. I love their conservative moral principles. Sadly I cannot say the same of many so-called Christians. One other thing, I hate Jihadism and Islamic militant extremism. That’s a horse of a different color.
With all this talk of “narcissism”, you sound more like a psychologist than an engineer. On what evidence or professional opinion do you base your assertion that Obama is a narcissist, and what authority do you hold to make those sort of judgements?
“PS, I note the complete nuclear incompetency of President Carter, exceeded only by the hubris of the current godless anti-nuclear Narcissist President”
Egads, now we get this partisan stupidity into the mix here? Anyone ignorant enough to still be buying into this left versus right horseshit that is used to divide us can’t possibly be bright enough contribute anything to a debate about energy issues. Isn’t there a Fox News or Rachel Maddow blog you can post this stuff at? Surely your ovine bleating will be far more at home there.
Rod, I don’t get the motive. What is it? Why sabotage TMI into a meltdown?
Gee, maybe its part and parcel with this “media conspiracy”, you claim is working to take down the nuclear energy industry at the behest of big oil?
BTW, did you catch the article about Fukushima radiation in the Los Angeles Times this week? Dang, so much for THAT conspiracy, eh?
“BTW, did you catch the article about Fukushima radiation in the Los Angeles Times this week? Dang, so much for THAT conspiracy, eh?”
I don’t follow Fukushima, and especially don’t follow anything regarding radiation from there. It’s over as an issue, no matter the bleating coming from antis and conspiracy nutters.
I will not speak of this topic again in this thread:
The most anti-nuclear, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, egotistical, incompetent man to yet sit in the Oval Office.
Everything he has done has opposed nuclear energy. And that is the least of his idiocy.
Anti-nuclear?! Oh no! I’m sure that I once heard President Obama say, “If you like your nuclear reactor, you can keep it. Period.” 😉
Well … maybe there was something in there about “if it is safe.”
Dave – Well, since you asked … Before 2008, Barack H. Obama was known mostly for writing a couple of books about … himself.
That was his one and only major accomplishment before entering the Oval Office.
“I don’t follow Fukushima, and especially don’t follow anything regarding radiation from there. It’s over as an issue, no matter the bleating coming from antis and conspiracy nutters”
The article was a repudiation of the sensationalized tripe and rumor that alleges the western United States coastline is being “poisoned” by Fukushima radiation. For someone so opposed to “conspracy nutters”, you might wanna get off the “conspiracy nutter” bus you seem to be riding on.
Basically, the article buttressed the assertions that Rod makes here almost daily. And in yet another article, today, another mainstream media entity, the “Bakersfield Californian”, ran a rather straightforward piece of some length about a study being launched to research Fukushima’s radiation effect on west coast kelp, and any resultant effect on oceanic flora and fauna. Remarkably, the article was rather stoic in nature, devoid of any detectable “anti” bias. Golly, those “conspiracy nutters” in our media must be slippin’, eh?
Um….uh…speaking about those conspiracy….well…”nutters”. I hope they don’t get ahold of Rod’s promised trilogy about this…..uuuuhhhh….”conspiracy” that resulted in the TMI “non-accident”. They might hit Rod up for unpaid dues. After all, its an exclusive club they belong to.
I think that it really doesn’t matter much whether, according to the right wing spin of the day, that Obama is a Godless Heathen Atheistic Narcissist, or a Secret Takfiri Muslim Caliph-in-Waiting.
He’s just the President, responsible for carrying into effect the Constitution and the Law of the Land, and nearly all y’all don’t like him.
This includes many on here who might imply or claim otherwise.
I can’t blame them, since they care so much for nuclear energy. From the early 70s onward, antinuclearism became part of the New Left’s agenda. Obama’s on the center-left so you guys don’t like him by association. He also isn’t as interested in what nuclear professionals care about, which hurts him with you guys.
BTW, Paul. I see your link to “American Thinker” gifts us, after a short search, with a blog post about global warming being “pseudo science”.
Uh huh. Well, pffft, there goes one of the major rationales for nuclear energy utilization, eh?
You know, Paul, “thinking” is a mental process. Having your skull cavity filled up with partisan non-sense, then spitting it out, ad nauseum, hardly qualifies as a stellar example of that process.
American “thinker”, indeed. Keep up the good work, comrad.
“I love their conservative moral principles”
Like, hiding their womenfolk’s faces? Multiple wives and concubines? Perhaps its the clitorectomies that jive with your moral compass?
Look, these are extremes. I posted extremes on purpose. You seem to think “Muslim” is an all inclusive and singular description of a religious dogma or theology. You should know better. There are as many “muslim” sects, offshoots, and ideologies as there are Christian sects,offshoots, and ideologies. Some admirable, (depending on your “moral principles”), some not so.
You should probably discover there’s more than one channel on your TV. It’d do ya good.
Here’s the endearingly named “PissedOffAmerican”: “Anyone ignorant enough to still be buying into this left versus right horse[hockey] that is used to divide us can’t possibly be bright enough contribute anything to a debate about energy issues.”
And “You know, Paul, ‘thinking’ is a mental process. Having your skull cavity filled up with partisan non-sense, then spitting it out, ad nauseum [sic], hardly qualifies as a stellar example of that process.”
“Shut up!” he explained.
Rod, not Rid. I hate this keypad.
Dammit Adams – you are sucking me in!
Now I’m thinking, “what if the Emergency FW valves had no been closed for a week, as assumed – what if they had been closed at 0355?”
PS What if the govt KNEW it was sabotage and concealed its findings deliberately to prevent hysteria? I do not attribute any kind of fore thought to incompetent Carter, but it is a thought………
On my sub we were so happy when Reagan defeated that idiot.
I tried to post this in the other thread but at the time a turbin trip or complete loss of feed water did not result in an automatic anticipatory trip. Instead the reactor would trip on high pressure unless the operators were able to use aggressive pzr sprays and start afw. A loss of feed water without a reactor trip means a lot of heat/energy that needs to be rejected. In today’s world the rps will cause an anticipatory reactor trip upon turbine trip or loss of feed water meaning only decay heat needs to be rejected which is less of a challenge to the RCS.
*i invite the more knowledgeable participants to correct any errors I may have made in my above description.
Sean, mjd here, we’ve talked before, you are absolutely correct and in fact we used to do that at Davis Besse. Our bug-a-boo was a back fitted Steam/Feed Rupture Control System that had so many design problems that it constantly tripped spuriously. When that happened it stopped MFW and MS flow and started AFW. If were were at low enough power (had to be close to the design capacity of AFW), we could “save it” from reactor trip.
We used an unwritten “skill of the craft” procedure; successfully several times. Whether that was a good idea or not depends on someone’s point of view about what challenges the “whole” to the point of most risk. It was perfectly fine with me, it was not “unallowed” by procedure, I did it several times, my crew training was my responsibility. But my job was not regulating on what risk is acceptable, that’s the NRC’s job. So I won’t second guess their call. My belief is there is not a more stable safe machine than a nuke reactor running and supplying its own auxiliaries, like nuke navy vessels. If I was “The Man” I would work toward making that more likely, not less likely. And more reactor trips doesn’t accomplish what I see as the best strategy.
I have to say MJD I completely agree. If the Fukushima units hadn’t tripped and been allowed to supply at low power their own safety related equipment either steam driven pumps or a dedicated safety bus with all of the switch gear protected in water tight rooms in the reactor building we may have never even heard about this plant.
I have read that the biggest challenges to the rcs are from reactor trips where you have rapid pressure changes and the potential for cooling too quickly and adding a lot of thermal stress. I would also imagine that when the rcs volume shrinks after a trip that the introduction of cooler safety injection water into a hot vessel and onto hot fuel assemblies probably provides a lot of stress to those barriers.
Of note to the whole discussion is that tmi II had a known tendency to activate the PORV on feed water transients which were common as opposed to unit one which did not routinely activate the PORV. In fact they added the poorly designed position indicator because they activated the PORV so often. Originally there was no such indicator at tmi II.
With regards to Fukushima,
The AC/DC distribution system (Switchgear, Breakers, MCCs, batteries) were all flooded as well as the emergency generators.
Even if you had a power source (like a portable generator) or even if the main generator was still available, with no distribution system, you have no way to power cooling equipment. The failures at Fukushima would still have occurred.
Furthermore, even assuming that the AC/DC distribution systems did not flood, the tsunami destroyed the raw-water pumps responsible for plant and condenser cooling. Without those, you couldn’t maintain the condenser, which would lead to a group -1 isolation (MSIV closure), reactor trip, and again, loss of BOP systems.
So with regards to RCS trips. In a BWR, on a trip you will see water level drop about 30-50 inches in a few seconds. You get a sudden pressure drop of about 100 PSIG, which affects your level instruments and you get the shrink effect due to the void collapse. You also get a recirc pump runback, which affects the pressures your level instruments see. So part of it is indication changes and part of it is actual level shrink. Immediately post scram, the operators need to verify feedwater is functioning, and that it is responding correctly. My plant’s old feedwater system used to wind up from the level shrink, occasionally tripping feedpumps off on low suction, but usually overfilling to level 8 and causing all sorts of other stuff. So operators manually would get the system down to decay heat levels. Again this is BWR talk.
You’re right the loss of ultimate heat sink is impossible to overcome in that scenario. In a typical Station Blackout with an intact heat sink and condenser the ability to stay pressurized and use steam driven pumps (RCIC and suppression pool cooling mode of RHR) could keep core cooling indefinitely as long as you can generate steam and provide a heat sink. Now the current designs make this impossible as the service water pumps that feed the condenser need outside power but providing a steam driven back up to the service water pumps would solve that problem.
I’m not saying that this type of scenario would be allowed or possible today I just never “got” the idea that an operating power producing plant shuts down because of a LOOP or station blackout.
The shut down is due to the load reject usually. The generator cannot handle that type of load reject, and most condensers are not sized to handle a 100% reject. Now it is possible to not have a scram in that situation. For example, CANDU plants can runback to 50% and supply house loads. A BWR could be designed to do this too (GE actually made it an option. My BWR’s purchase spec has an option for “Island mode” and ReVABS – A function which allows BWRs to survive load rejects without scram —-side note: these functions also apply penalties to thermal limits which reduce maximum cycle output and i know one German plant who says the success rate of avoiding the load reject scram is 50% at best).
In station blackout you don’t have the suppression pool cooling function. By definition, SBO means you’ve lost all decay heat removal sources. This is why RCIC/HPCI/HPCS are allowed to be credited for station blackout coping. RHR is not allowed to be credited. Although, if you can feed and bleed the suppression pool, you can extend RCIC/HPCI operation for quite a while, several days for RCIC (RCIC can run until you are below around 45 PSIG or suppression pool temps are at boiling for too long).
The French reactor have the “Island mode” and EDF usually tries to switch to it everytime they have a scram.
But in my understanding, it happens quite frequently that they fail to get to “Island mode” properly, so it’s not a really reliable saveguard.
Also I’d like to comment that many people underestimate the security measure that are already in place in many location. For exemple I recently learned that in 2009, the Cruas plant had what could have became a very serious incident.
Hum I forgot to compete my sentence, before sending. So what happened in 2009 at Cruas is not fully described here :
Actually Cruas had lost *all* external cooling water. But they are enough reservoir with reserve water inside the perimeter of the plant to cool for a hundred hours, even if all external cooling is lost. In this case, they were able to clean the water supply, and have it working normally again after 5 hours.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise but TMI 2 was originally slated to be Oyster Creek unit 2 in New Jersey. A lot of design changes had to be made to relocate the plant to TMI. Hence the different AE, the different control room layout, differences in equipment vendors etc… I’m on the edge of my seat to find out if a disgruntled mobster who lost out on the construction money wanted to teach GPU a lesson.
It’s too bad that GPU got crucified in the media. What I have read/heard is that they were actually a pretty good utility.
In the previous thread someone asked about why the operators didn’t notice the discharge to the pzr drain tank. By the time they looked at the level instrument the rupture disk had already blown so it showed a low level (the instrumentation was installed on a back cabinet) also the porv was known to leak so the temps they saw on the pzr drain line were not out of the ordinary to them.
That valve failed on the SU valve testing when starting up unit One and TMI-I stole the valve that would have been there, the one that was to be installed in TMI-II. After the valve from TMI-I was rebuilt and tested, it went into TMI-II
Some questions for the B&W/TMI experts that are commenting here, if you could kindly assist in my understanding of the event:
The linked TMI commentary says, “he finally moved the paper tag and saw the red lights, indicating that emergency feedwater valves 12A and 12B were closed, blocking the flow.” At TMI, red indicated CLOSED valves?
Were these valves MOVs or AOVs? Was there a log reading for verifying their position? Considered Safety-Related or Tech Spec? Handwheels for local operation?
I suppose these answers may be buried in the transcripts, but I have never seen them. Thanks in advance.
I’ve been to plants that use a green light control board.
What happens, is after they get the plant to a steady state condition, they change the light bulb sockets so that green means normal and red means abnormal. So, for a standby pump, green means not running, red means running. but for a main pump, green means running and red means not running.
This is the most confusing thing in the world, and is a big reason why I didn’t want to become an operator at Dresden Station, who uses a green board system.
These are some of the human factors issued that were considered as contributing to the event. I believe that proper shift hangovers and verifying valve lineups etc… became standard practice in response to the tmi event.
“On my sub we were so happy when Reagan defeated that idiot”
Having worked with Carter a couple of times On Habitat For Humanity projects, I can assure you the man is no “idiot”, no matter what mindless political biases are sloshing around in your brain bucket to prompt you to form such an opinion.
It always amazes me to observe the depth of idiocy it requires to form a rabidly partisan mindset. For someone with such great skill at earning the title, I’m suprised you are so unskilled at knowing who to attach it to.
There was also a rather lengthy delay fro TMI-II while the Main Steam Safeties Valves were replaced. All MSSVs were replaced with ones with a completely different design. I forget if we got ones intended for another plant or not.
An unplanned trip, 4/24/78 caused the plug and one or two, expansion joints to be expelled from the MSS Valves. Boiled down to improper design, The manufacture just scaled up a valve that worked great on several 600? MW fossil plants. The plug, about the sixe of a truck piston, landed half-way through the roof of the Startup Trailer. Seems the velocity and dynamics were not quite taken into account. They were a T type valve, mounted on the MS lines and then two ports off of one plug. I would have to read the report to give more specifics/accuracy, if I can still find it.
“That was his one and only major accomplishment before entering the Oval Office”
Wrong. Another “major accomplishment” of his was the con-job he pulled that got him into the Oval Office.
Its a special kind of con-job. Right, left. or in the middle, if you ain’t a lying scumbag, you have no hope of soiling the carpets in the Oval Office, and getting your thieving mitts on the treasure that special interests have deposited in the desk drawers of the Executive Office.
The only difference is the subject matter of the lies. In the end, both sides can be counted on to do what they said they wouldn’t, and not to do what they said they would. Its how its done in DC. Ain’t you learned that yet?
Yes. Through Gerrymandering, Politicians pick their voters as much as the voters pick the politicians. Politicians then must pander to their base, rather than advance moderate common sense policies.
The constitution, by overlooking Gerrymandering, sewed the seeds of the republic’s decline.
At least his campaign slogan wasn’t a lie… “Change you can believe in”. So far it’s dead on to what I believed in. There wouldn’t be any change… and there hasn’t been any. The real problem is not enough folks understand SPLENGLISH. Simply Politicians Lying English.
I first watched the China Syndrome as a child. I was about 10-11. this was in the mid 90s). My dad explained to me what was going on in the movie. That movie and my dad talking to me about nuclear power didn’t seem like much at the time, but a decade later I realized that movie was big part of what spurred my interest in nuclear power and led me to become a nuclear engineer.
That said. I watched China Syndrome for the first time as an adult, and nuclear engineer, a few months ago. I had the exact same eerie feeling. Too much shit lined up. Even HPCI being tagged out (similar to EFW/Aux Feed being isolated) happened. I hate conspiracy theories, but there are so many similarities its hard to dismiss this one without a lot of evidence. It’s a shame we may never know if there were undisclosed things. The aux feed valves being isolated erroneously just blows my mind, and the fact that they couldn’t diagnose that in a few hours is even worse.
Anyways……….just thought I’d add a little bit. Seeing your article gives me that eerie feeling again.
I am surprised that amidst the partisan discussions that there hasn’t been any guessing at who may have been the saboteur. This thing has the makings of a mystery novel. It would have to have been an inside job unless security was much more lax in those days.
The main reason that the media hasn’t, for once!, hopped on a TMI sabotage/conspiracy theory is because proof of such would badly short-circuit the Greens’s contention that nuclear plants aren’t designed well and are inherently unsafe but rather must be provoked by mega nature or malice to do something royally bad. Exposing a (green-motivated likely) TMI saboter would smear and discredit all anti-nuke eco-groups and media in the eye of the public but good.
How can we be sure that a future nuclear power plant operator is not a deep-cover saboteur? The complex, multi-layered, redundant LWR cooling systems provide opportunities for mischief.
Systems based on intrinsic physical properties will be more immune to deliberate damage. One example, tested in Germany and China, is the helium-cooled pebble bed reactor. Loss of cooling (and/or load) was demonstrated. Temperatures rose high enough that Doppler broadening of U-238 absorbed neutrons to quench the chain reaction. The TRISO fuel (3 ceramic layers of sand-sized particles) remained intact, containing fission products. Rod Adam’s own venture used this. Demos with the liquid sodium fast breeder reactor were also successful, [though LMFBRs have other vulnerabilities]. The molten salt reactors and aqueous homogeneous reactors also exhibited safety exceeding that of LWRs. ORNL director Alvin Weinberg was fired for criticizing LWR safety a few years before TMI happened.
I would slightly modify your description of the high temperature reactor. Helium is not the only gas that would work. There are several options for a gas cooled reactor that provide the same safety characteristics as helium provides – all you need is a gas that has no real effect on reactivity when it is in the core.
An N2 or CO2 cooled reactor would work just as well as one cooled by helium in terms of response to a loss of cooling flow or a loss of pressure.
Adams Engines were N2 cooled, not helium cooled.
Can you provide a diagram to go along with your explanation in Part I?
Did you follow the link to the PHD Online course? That included several diagrams, but the detail is a little lacking.
Wikipedia has a simplified diagram. There’s got to be P&IDs on the web somewhere too.
Do you know what year that Galen Windsor video was from?
While his claims of only minor fuel damage and of being able to restart the reactor from the control room seem completely outlandish today, years after the damaged fuel has all been removed from the reactor vessel; if he was making those statements prior to the vessel head being removed (just barely after my own birth), the statements would be considerably more easily forgiven.
Head removed in July 1984, per this video (posted by Rod):
Back in the 80s after the TMI accident there was an article in our paper that went over how the plant could be placed back into operation by 1989. But this was early afterwards, and before it was known how badly the core was damaged.
Perhaps the movie script took account of the Davis-Besse close call. You pointed out that the movie’s nuclear consultants were competent.
All this brings up something I heard about. There would have been not nearly so much damage had the operator had not turned off the extra water going into the reactor. Also, some engineers from B and W tried to call the control room but there was a busy signal/no answer. Could this had all been prevented if someone had only answered the phone? Now, since most people don’t answer their phones anymore, can something like TMI happen again?
Stuff like this wont happen today because the operator training is extremely rigorous, and an engineer is required on shift at all times now for accident response.
During transients engineers get kicked out of the control room. I’ve seen 2 scrams in person and 1 significant feedwater transient and I usually just hike out for 15-20 minutes.
hiddencamper January 20, 2014 at 12:19 AM
“Stuff like this wont happen today because the operator training is extremely rigorous, and an engineer is required on shift at all times now for accident response.”
Do you have any information to actually back this up? This is an opinion, most likely drawn from reading constant press releases. Operator training today is a disaster, caused by INPO. It hasn’t reared its ugly head, yet, because INPO maintenance improvements make the plants run so well that the operators hardly ever get challenged anymore. But all the constant warnings are there, you just have to be looking for them. It’s beyond the scope of this thread to provide documented details, but that conversation needs to be heard, and the sooner the better. Running on luck is a recipe for disaster. As for “engineer in the control room … for accident response”, do you have any proof this has actually added anything but overhead? This is the result of Kemeny and Rogovin predetermined bias that HS grads are not smart enough to be left alone in control rooms. Leading to the belief that an engineer could have prevented TMI meltdown. I had 2 staff engineers arrive in my control room within 3 minutes of the TMI precursor initiating event at Davis Besse, both SRO licensed. One with an MS engineering degree, and he never.spoke.one.word.during.the.entire.event. The other one I assigned to take over Reactor Operator duties on the Make-up Pump panel because we needed extra hands. Neither supplied me any technical help to help me solve the puzzle This is the single worst insult ever given to competent HS grad operators everywhere. And it is well past the time someone spoke the “truth to power” on this issue. mjd.
Here, here. There is a lot to be said for having people who have a solid general education instead of the tunnel vision that one gets as specialization increases.
As I often tell people, I am not an “engineer”. I have a BS in English. The Navy (and a large corporation who shall remain nameless in this comment) let me serve in a billet with “Engineer” as the title because I demonstrated the requisite level of knowledge.
Thanks for speaking up here Rod, I suspected you would. We both understand a “team” is needed, and that team can be made up of folks with various educational backgrounds. With the proper training that team can function just fine running a nuke plant, without a required college educated person with a degree in one “assumed” discipline. The core of one navy plant shift is ~10 extremely competent HS grads and normally a college educated supervisor; the EOOW. But several shifts are out there with a HS grad EOOW. Somebody needs to try to tell that guy he can’t do his job because he doesn’t have an engineering degree. He won’t even have to respond, his team will eat them alive! mjd.
Didn’t mean to push any buttons. The STA position has evolved quite a bit and typically the sta in my plant takes an almost independent role, he will validate The SRO decisions and will also help ensure proper board operation of the ROs. This is very useful in simulator and the sta (shift technical advisor – engineer on shift) is often the one to identify why/how we got where we did, while the crew is focused on direct response. Most of our STAs are SRO licensed. I’ve found it useful.
As for training I think I need to use my words a bit better. Operator fundamentals is a current industry issue (INPO ier 11-02 I believe) and I’ve personally seen poor fundamentals on shift. I know an SRO who said the reactor was subcritical during heatup because they had to down range IRMs once, that’s really disgusting. But at the same time when it comes to things like water level indications, casualty ops, the programs I’ve observed and been a part of are very rigorous and EOPs much improved from their 1970-80s incarnations. My opinion of course.
Nobody could answer the phone. The reason that the phone calls didn’t go through was because all of the phone lines in the region were tied up with people (understandably panicked by the news stories about the event) trying to call their relatives and friends.
Not sure when that phone call was attempted, however, there was nothing B&W could have provided after the operators turned the RCP’s back on at 2 hr 54 min (or about 7:00 am) to prevent/mitigate the accident. The worst of the damage was done by then.
What intrigues me most about this series is the suggestion that the possibility of sabotage was identified but not subsequently investigated.
Concerning motive: everyone has a motive to damage the nuclear industry. Eveybody but the consumer. Nuclear power is a threat to all other energy suppliers and plausibly also to a significant part of the industrial base that supplies products and services for warfighting – much of which takes place in support of the fossil fuel sector.
Nuclear power is also a threat to the anti-human environmentalist movement, which views nuclear power as a ‘risk’ in the sense that it could provide unlimited power to humanity. In the anti-human environmental philosophy, anything that empowers humanity is a threat, because in their philosophy the only safe human is a human that is powerless.
Finally, nuclear power is a threat to the financial sector, which thrives on volatility above all else. If nuclear power would make energy costs low and predictable it would all but eliminate the possibility to profit from volatility in the energy sector. A stable, predictable energy economy is every trader’s worst nightmare.
I’ll post a video here I found on you tube of a simulator exercise at a Westinghouse ice condenser plant in the valley (hint hint) of a large RCS break and safety injection. Just show those of us who haven’t been there what it is like in the control room when these events happen. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=swr74_CDyLk
I want to share a few memories back then that seem appropriate. First, President carter literally ordered the tech team creating his TMI Press statement to conclude it was a “near meltdown”. On the other hand, what little data was available at the time concerning core temperature at TMI-2 indicated severe core damage and probable corium formation. To my mind, Carter clearly wanted the truth from being told. Why? That’s anyone’s guess. I spent a few days with Dr. Levanthal of Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in 1986 and became privy to what happened at Chernobyl. We reminisced about TMI, and he was of the same opinion as I – Carter wanted the truth literally covered up. Second, I saw The China Syndrome a few times, and every time they put the “reactor” on the screen, it was a main feed pump. Saw one just like it at Davis-Besse during an outage in 1982. My “guide” said, “And here’s the China Syndrome reactor” when we approached a feed pump.
Are you saying that you think Carter wanted to make the accident look worse than it was or that he wanted to make it seem as if there was less damage than actually existed?
In the past few weeks I have learned that some people believe that a “meltdown” happens when essentially everything turns to a molten mess than cannot be stopped – which is pure, unadulterated fantasy. Decay is just not that powerful and fission at elevated temperatures with the kind of power level that approximates operating power is impossible in anything but a carefully arranged core configuration.
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