Sabotage at TMI – Part 3
There is a good reason why life often imitates art in the form of fictional stories; good creative writing teachers emphasize the importance of research and a firm understanding of reality. Writers are taught — or learn on their own — that people prefer reading stories that are believable. Even fantasy or science fiction follows that general guidance. Authors take the time to provide enough details about the imagined technology and science of the created world so that the actions of the characters make sense within the constraints of the time and place the author has created.
Creative writers, especially those who spin mystery stories, also learn the importance of perspective or “point of view”. The lens of knowledge, experience, and task assignment through which one views any event, series of events, individual technology or even entire industries play a crucial role in the way stories are told or opinions are developed.
Events often look very different depending on who tells the story; that is why investigators need to interview so many different witnesses in order to gain a real understanding of how something happened.
During the nearly 35 years since March 28, 1979, one reason that almost no one has heard of the possibility that a saboteur chose to insert a specific series of faults at a specific time is because the published reports came from groups that were filled with people tasked to investigate an industrial plant death that came from either natural causes or suicide. None of the well known published reports came from a group tasked to consider all possible causes of industrial plant death, including murder.
Any aficionado of crime dramas knows that murderers generally get away with their crime if no one thinks to ask “homicide” to get involved in the investigation. Clues can disappear — or be “disappeared” by the criminal — if the crime scene investigators are not quickly called in.
Mystery story fans also know that there might be a star investigator who is able to piece together a series of random clues to figure out “whodunit”, but that investigator is generally a lot more effective when she has access to a team full of people with wide ranging specialities, including specific technical expertise relevant to the subject crime scene.
While most good writers work hard to get out of the way of their story — and I will take that tack after a brief detour — it is important for me to share information about my professional background so that you can understand a little more about the lens through which I have been putting together the various pieces of this puzzle. For good reasons, I’ll refrain from introducing any of the individuals that have been helping me develop a new understanding of the story, though some of them have made their contribution public in the comment sections of various posts on Atomic Insights.
In my younger days, I spent a little more than 6 years operating nuclear submarine steam propulsion plants with pressurized water reactors. That experience is fading into the distant past, but other people who have “been there and done that” know the clarity with which certain portions of such a formative experience can be recalled.
Though there are differences between the scale of submarine propulsion plants and the commercial reactor at TMI, the basic operational principles and many of the components are similar.
I was not just an operator with a particular technical specialty; during my first submarine assignment I served in a series of jobs, including Electrical Officer, Main Propulsion Assistant, and Chemistry and Radiological Controls officer. During my second assignment, which lasted for 40 months and included six patrols, three Operational Reactor Safeguards Exams (ORSEs) and one Extended Refit Period, I was the Engineer Officer.
There are few jobs in the entire nuclear enterprise that expose people to the number of plant maneuvers and transients that are observed by a submarine Engineer Officer preparing his crew to undergo an ORSE. On the USS Von Steuben, a missile submarine, the primary focus for the Engineering Department for three months was preparing for the ORSE.
I’m pretty sure that this was a general rule and is probably still in force today, but all four of the Commanding Officers that I served with during my submarine days required that the Engineer Officer be in the Maneuvering Room (the submarine version of the control room) throughout every casualty drill.
On boomers (missile carrying submarines) we usually could focus on ORSE preparations for an entire patrol; drill periods might have been despised by the crew, but they were a major time investment at least three days per week. The CO also strongly encouraged his Engineer to make his way to Maneuvering during any actual event, planned or unplanned.
At the time I served as Engineer, the Navy nuclear program was still operating under the Rickover-influenced policy of avoiding simulators. We trained people using operating power plants in as realistic a manner as possible.
Aside: The “no simulator” policy has changed with the introduction of the Fleet Interactive Display Equipment (FIDE) program. However, notice that the name of the program does not actually admit that it is a program designed to provide highly realistic control room simulators. Someone once told me that “the powers that be” chose that name in hopes that Rickover wouldn’t find out they were buying simulators and come back from the dead to haunt them. I think that person was spinning a tall tale. End Aside.
Another policy that was consistent among all of my COs was that the Engineer was responsible for writing or approving all drill scenarios, including creatively figuring out which parts needed to be simulated and which could be safely done with actual equipment and instruments. There’s probably fewer than two thousand people who have created more scenarios and actually inserted them into a plant.
For better or worse, I also carry the experience of investigating a few “incidents” and writing up the incident reports. Though the Navy nuclear power program has never had an event that could be classified as an “accident” — defined as something bad enough to actually cause core damage and a significant release of radioactive material — it has had its share of learning opportunities. After all, the Navy has operated a couple of hundred complex propulsion plants with tens of thousands of people during a period of 55 years. We’re good, but not perfect.
One constant in all of those investigations was a desire to find out the exact cause of the specific event so that we could take action to minimize the possibility of that event happening again. From what I have discovered about the Rogovin and Kemeny commissions, no one really cared exactly what happened; they were all operating under the assumption that an accident was “inevitable” and that major systematic changes were the only way to prevent something else from happening.
Some of the primary investigators harbored major personal doubts about the very existence of a nuclear energy industry.
That was never part of my mindset when investigating an incident. While my experience taught me that nuclear energy is almost magical, there is no reason to question its fundamental existence. We were also taught that it was a demanding technology, but that we were getting pretty good at using its capabilities but could always get better.
During most of my dozen or so assignments in the Navy, I worked closely with the same kind of people who operate and maintain commercial nuclear power plants. Unlike many officers, I grew up in a working-class family and really enjoyed getting to know most of the people I worked with on a first name basis. I have a pretty good idea what makes them tick and how many different ways they tick.
Perhaps that helps you understand the new set of eyes that have been looking at this particular cold case. Now that the file has been reopened, self-assigned investigators can begin asking the standard mystery questions, creating the evidence board, and evaluating potential suspects. As a reminder for those who are not well versed in the art, the standard mystery question is “Who has the motive, means, and opportunity to perpetrate the crime?”
Most of the suspects in any mystery fall off of the list because they lack one or more of the three primary attributes, but most investigators build their initial list by looking first at motive.
In ways not dissimilar from Murder on the Orient Express, the TMI sabotage suspect list gets surprisingly large once the investigator understands more about the people who disliked the victim virulently enough to commit a crime and be willing to risk going to jail if the crime was discovered.
In cold case investigations, it’s also important to take advantage of the perspective given by the passage of time. In this case, the distant perspective allows the realization that the targeted victim was not necessarily a single nuclear power plant, but the entire nuclear power industry.
As is often said by nuclear industry leaders today, “an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.” The industry might not have recognized that truism at the time of TMI, but there were plenty of people who were already thinking with that perspective by March 1979.
By 1979, the worldwide antinuclear movement had been building strength for almost two decades. It grew out of some almost religiously passionate movements to stop the expansion of nuclear weapons and to halt the war in Vietnam. There were many in the movement who felt that stopping the growth of nuclear energy was important enough to become a crusade and to risk arrest and jail time.
To illustrate the truth of that statement, here is a quote from a page titled The Anti-Nuclear Direct Action Movement – Bay Area Radical History Project found with a search on “antinuclear direct action”.
In the wake of the Viet Nam War a mass grassroots anti-nuclear power and weapons movement rose up across the United States. Drawing on ecology, feminism, Civil Rights and anarchist organizing, people pioneered new practices and theories of social change organizing in the US: horizontal decentralized network organizing; affinity groups, clusters and spokescouncils; consensus decision-making and feminist process; skills trainings and shared leadership; jail solidarity and mass nonviolent direct action.
Richard Nixon had pledged to build 1000 nuclear power plants in the US by the year 2000. Massive grassroots organizing and mass direct action stopped the industry and kept nearly 880 US reactors unbuilt. Today, just over a hundred operate. No US reactor ordered since 1974 has been completed. Calling to “DECENTRALIZE POWER” the movement popularized ideas and practices of renewable, not-for-profit, locally controlled energy.
That page includes a list of valuable historical references. It’s worth a visit to The Abalone Alliance Story. The first few paragraphs on that page show the passion with which the antinuclear movement was actively attacking the industry.
The Abalone Alliance was started in May of 1977 when over 70 activists came together to setup the statewide Alliance. Within a year, the group had consensed (sic) on the wording of a Declaration of Nuclear Resistance. Its first action at Diablo Canyon took place on August 6th 1977 where 47 people were arrested at the gates. The following year, the number of those arrested jumped to 487 people.
The local affiliate of the Abalone Alliance was preparing to hold anti-nuclear rally in early April of 1979 when the Three Mile Island meltdown took place the just over a week before hand. Over 25,000 people showed up for the rally in San Francisco, helping to set off a huge response that culminated in the June 29th rally at SLO where nearly 50,000 people attended a rally and concert with then Governor Jerry Brown coming out publicly against nuclear power. Many AA activists were highly opposed to Brown’s “Grandstanding” at the rally.
The Alliance made a strategic decision not to hold another action at Diablo Canyon until the NRC granted PG&E a license, which hurt the movement energy. But even so, after the NRC illegally gave PG&E a license, the Alliance held what is to this day the largest act of civil disobedience in US history where nearly 1,900 arrests took place over a 20 day blockade at Diablo Canyon. Just as the blockade was coming to an end, a newly hired 25 year old engineer discovered that PG&E had built the seismic supports for the reactors backwards, resulting in a huge national scandal, that forced the NRC to pull the operating licenses.
So, tack a few photos of the antinuclear movement that predate TMI onto the bulletin board and move on to find other names or groups to add to the suspect list.
The following quote comes from a daily stock column. This particular issue, dated Saturday, March 31, 1979, was headlined “Nuclear Stocks Plunge: Accident Called Coal-Stock Aid”. It was written by Alexander R. Hammer and published in the market section of the New York Times.
Stocks of companies in the nuclear power field plunged sharply yesterday in heavy trading as the general market posted a moderate decline.
The selling pressure in the nuclear issues resulted from word of the release of more radiation yesterday from the leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa. that occurred Wednesday. Among the issues hard-hit was J. Ray McDermott, which fell 1 7/8 to 19 1/8. the issue was the third-most-heavily traded. The company’s Babcock & Wilcox unit built the Three Mile Island plant.
Another big loser among companies that produce fuel and machinery for nuclear plants was Westinghouse Electric. It was the most actively traded stock on a turnover of 1.18 million shares and dropped 1 3/4 to 18 5/8. The biggest loser was Kerr-McGee,down 4 1/8 to 51 in heavy trading. Combustion Engineering lost 1 7/8 to 38 1/8.
General Public Utilities, the holding company that owns the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, was off 5/8 to 16 1/4 before the company requested a trading halt pending clarification of the situation at the plant. The stock did not reopen for trading. On Thursday the issue eased 5/8 point.
Mr. Shimmerlick [Warren Shimmerlick, energy specialist of L. F. Rothschild Unterberg Towbin] added that the accident at Three Mile Island, regardless of how serious it might prove, “seriously hurts the prospects for growth in the nuclear industry.”
Those stock market moves in response to a well-publicized event at a nuclear power plant were predictable given the coverage that had been given to the antinuclear movement and to the efforts of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists to highlight questions about nuclear reactor safety. Wall Street is populated by often amoral traders that make their living capitalizing on stock movements, both up and down.
Fortunes are always available to those who can place well timed bets on the “short” side of a trade, but short-selling can be a risky and costly strategy for a trader that just has a general sense that something bad will happen sometime in the future. Performing forensic accounting more than 30 years after an event is impossible, but that does not remove the possibility that a short seller decided to make a timely bet and then take action to ensure that it would be successful.
Short sellers were not the only people with a financial motive for sabotaging the growth of the nuclear energy industry. Starting in 1970, less than 30 years after the basic physical process of the fission chain reaction was discovered, nuclear power plants started producing enough electricity to begin taking market share away from coal, oil and natural gas.
The people whose capital was invested in equipment, property, and technology whose value depends on profits from the sale and use of combustible fuels had many reasons to see nuclear energy as a formidable rival and even an existential threat to their continued business. The fossil fuel energy business is, after all, highly leveraged and depends on continued sales at sufficiently high prices to provide the ability to pay back long term loans.
Here is a quote from a July 6, 1971 New York Times article titled Nation’s Energy Crisis: It Won’t Go Away Soon. That article was the first installment of a three part, front page series that ran on July 6, 7, and 8 in 1971.
Americans are demanding more and more energy — more petroleum to turn the wheels of transportation, more oil, natural gas and coal to fire the boilers of electric utilities, more fuels and electricity for heat in the winter, air-conditioning in the summer and the year round operations of industry. In the last 15 years, total consumption doubled, in the next 15 years, it is expected to double again.
But Americans are also demanding a quality environment. Appalled at ugly strip mines, oil slicks from tanker spills and leaky offshore wells, denuded corridors of land for transmission lines, sulphur oxides and fly ash from power plants and the specter, real or imagined, of radioactive perils from nuclear centers, they are resisting the construction of precisely those new facilities that are essential to the production of more power.
In the last few years, moreover, numerous technical breakdowns at power plants and miscalculations by both utilities managers and Federal officials have, under the most charitable interpretation, made an inevitable crisis worse.
Now, when thoughtful people close to the issue talk about solutions, they almost unanimously fall back on nuclear energy as the only satisfactory way to accommodate society’s needs and keep the traditional energy distribution system intact.
Going back to that March 31, 1979 daily stock market report, the accident at TMI was a gift to fossil fuel rivals. It resulted in a significant “uptick” in the perceived future profitability of the coal industry in general and specific companies in particular.
Coal Seen as Beneficiary
Warren Shimmerlik, energy specialist of L. F. Rothschild Unterberg Towbin, commented that nuclear-related stocks might remain under pressure for some time. He said that the real beneficiaries would be the coal stocks, “since coal doesn’t compete as much with oil as it does with nuclear energy in the electric power industry.”
Gains by Coal Issues
The coal issues did well. Eastern Gas and Fuel was up 1 1/2 to 19 1/4, while Pittston added 1 to 22 1/2. In the over-the-counter market, Westmoreland climbed 3 to 33 bid.
That result is important enough and predictable enough to add fossil fuel interests — which is admittedly a very large pool of people — to the suspect list.
As described in the Mike Gray and Ira Rosen’s book titled The Warning the plant that eventually became Three Mile Island Unit 2 was originally ordered to be Oyster Creek Unit 2. General Public Utilities (GPU) decided to relocate the project to Pennsylvania in order to avoid a threatened shakedown from a New Jersey crime boss.
When the company Neely worked for, Jersey Central Power and Light, announced plans to build Oyster Creek Unit Two, the mob must have thought it was Christmas in July. One of the boys went to the president of the company and told him he would guarantee industrial peace for the duration in exchange for 1 percent of the construction price. Since the second nuclear plant at Oyster Creek is expected to run $700,000,000, this guy would pocket $7 million.
Working at a killing pace over the next ninety days, the combined engineering staffs of these several corporations manage to completely rewrite the entire design study for the plant. On March 10, 1969, a company courier arrives in Washington with an amendment to the GPU petition for license. Included is a complete revision of the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report, a five-volume study running more than a thousand pages. The amendment requests that Jersey Central Power and Light be allowed to transfer ownership of the plant to Metropolitan Edison of Pennsylvania and that the plant be relocated from Oyster Creek in New Jersey to Three Mile Island on the Susquehanna south of Harrisburg.
Somehow, the people that made that decision neglected to take into account just how close Pennsylvania is to New Jersey. The two sites are only 3 hours apart by car. Add organized crime to the list of groups that have a motive to issue a warning by taking down a nuclear power plant.
Despite some natural reluctance, we must add independently-motivated, disgruntled worker(s) to the suspect list. No large industrial enterprise is universally populated with people that love their jobs, their managers and their employers. There are always people who are unhappy, feel abused, or are disappointed with their prospects for promotion or continued employment. The origin of the concept of sabotage, after all, can be traced to the actions of disgruntled employees who actively destroy capital equipment at their place of employment.
Even in highly controlled and normally positive environments, like arms manufacturers during a world war or shipyards serving naval vessels, there is a history of actions taken by individuals or small groups to disrupt production. For example, it was not long ago that a disgruntled shipyard worker started a fire that ended up with the Navy deciding to decommission the USS Miami because the cost of repairing the fire damage could not be justified.
At the time that the TMI accident occurred, the nuclear industry was still growing fast, needed to hire many new people, and did not have the kind of security checks or fitness for duty evaluations that are common today. The specific equipment malfunctions that caused TMI could be inserted from spaces that were not well controlled and were often devoid of any people. Even janitors and low skill maintenance workers had access.
Once again, a Sabotage at TMI installment is getting so long that it is time to wrap it up, but there is one more set of motivated suspects who need to be considered.
Here is an image from a daily stock market analysis column published by the New York Times on March 30, 1979.
Here is the text from that image, which was reporting on market behavior on March 29, 1979, the day after the accident started at TMI:
Most stocks had small price changes. Among the exceptions was Columbia Pictures Industries, which gained 2 to 24. The company attributed the recent interest in the stock to its recently released movie “The China Syndrome,” which is about the containment of an accident at a nuclear power plant.
The stock of Columbia Pictures began advancing after the picture opened on March 16, but yesterday’s upswing came after news Wednesday of a leak at a nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, PA. General Public Utilities, which owns the Harrisburg nuclear plant, dropped 5/8 to 16 3/4.
The March 31, 1979 stock market report mentioned above includes a follow-up report.
However, one stock rose in response to the nuclear accident. Columbia Pictures tacked on 7/8 to 24 3/4 after gaining 2 points on Thursday. On March 16 the company released a film, “The China Syndrome,” about a fictional accident at a nuclear power facility.
Analysts said investors apparently were buying the stock in the belief that the Three Mile Island accident and the huge publicity resulting from it would spur interest in the movie.
There was little or no mention of the words “The China Syndrome” in the New York Times during the period from March 1, 1979 – March 28, 1979, even though that period includes the movie’s theater opening. Until the accident at TMI, the $6 million investment made in the big Hollywood names and the expansive, technically correct set seems to have been greeted with a yawn from the viewing public.
The accident provided a huge boost to the film’s promotion efforts. As noted in a previous installment, the specific event depicted in the movie was nearly identical to the one that happened. There were hundreds to thousands of people associated with the film who had a general idea about the possible impact of a loss of feed water on a pressurized water reactor. Some of them had a strong financial or political motive for wanting to make life imitate art.
It was not just about selling tickets to see a movie; the people involved in creating and distributing The China Syndrome wanted people to see their work and get motivated to take action to join the fight against the nuclear energy industry.
I hope you are enjoying this series. There are still many aspects to cover, so I am not sure how many installments remain. Please tell your friends about this experimental use of an energy blog to recreate the old-fashioned serial mystery story.
Send this the New York Times & Wash Post just to see their answer! They wouldn’t want to investigate TMI sabotage because if it happened it’d imply nuclear reactors are inherently safe and it takes deliberate malice and catastrophes to make one go bad! What would that do the credibility of anti-nuclear groups who say all reactors are accidents waiting to happen then?
It would be taken as proof that nuclear reactors can’t be safeguarded, not that they’re inherently safe. It would be seen as another black mark against it: accidents waiting to happen and open to sabotage too!
Good. Most of the so-called proponents of nuclear energy would be thrilled to import nuclear reactors from russia and china and elsewhere. Now that comes not even at a price thanks to BLACKMAIL. EXTORTION…made possible by the electronic control systems.
Not that the local spooks (nsa, etc) are any better, you know, them disguised as representatives looting the crap out of the taxpayer but….
I don’t know exactly why Rod Adams thinks there is any good PR for the nuclear “industry” in this tho.
You say “good”. What is good here in your eyes? I don’t get that.
I don’t think Rod is researching and writing about this issue for any kind of PR, but because it’s an important question that should be clear, not shrouded in mystery. Being a proponent doesn’t mean you’re only looking dewy-eyed at the benefits and ignoring the rest.
I would have hoped by now that you would realize that I am not interested in “good PR for the nuclear industry.”
Nuclear fission is an amazing, miraculous gift to humanity. So far, the “industry” has not done great job in harnessing and deploying that technology for the benefit of mankind. Some people tell me that is because a “for profit” corporation is not interested in anything but money. Perhaps that is why I left corporate employment. Money is only a tool that can be used to help accomplish more important objectives.
Truth matters and is worth pursuing, even if the answer scares a few people.
“Nuclear fission is an amazing, miraculous gift to humanity.”
IMO, nuclear fission isn’t miraculous or amazing, it’s just physics. It has lots of stuff going for it snd it has some areas of concern. It attracts many skilled and “excellent” people who do a marvelous job making it work, work well, work cheaply, and work compliantly with regulations. And, compared to those means of thermal generation which have come before it, it is superior, as it burns a fuel with the least cost out there, and continues to d so for up to 24 months straight, due to the continuously “excelkent” work of plant maintenance and operators.
Nuclear energy ain’t beautiful or a gift, it’s a way to make energy, which in turn makes money, and in so doing, serves the greater good by helping to make clean energy cheap.
You are free to have your own opinions.
IMO, nuclear fission isn’t miraculous or amazing, it’s just physics.
IMHO – physics that packs as much energy into a 9 gram pellet as is carried in a heavy duty pickup truck load of coal is freaking amazing. The fact that human technology can also enable a 20 x improvement in that ratio and another factor of 5 by consuming the “tailings” left over from making the pellets in the first plant starts boardering on pure magic given by a benevolent creator.
Remember, I am a humanities major with an interest in art and poetry. Don’t try to tie me down to the dismal science of economics.
Rod, good response that money is a tool and only the truth matters. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have said the same thing and would therefore be in violent agreement with you.
And good response to Dave about not being tied down to economics – a completely amoral view of society. Nuclear energy is miraculous physics and a gift from our all beneficent Creator. What we do with any such gift determines whether we are men and women created in His Image, equal to each other in dignity but different in function, or mindless hedonistic animals. Having been a nuclear professional for 38 years, I prefer to be a member of the former.
Mitch, did it ever occur to you that Kemeny and Rogovin had a similar pre-investigation mindset that accidents at ’70s generation reactors were as inevitable as accidents at any big industrial complexes, and they didn’t want to deal with it? There were hundreds of billions of dollars involved. That inevitability (speculation) has been discussed enough to have consumed a measurable amount of the Amazon Rain Forest making paper. My issue at the time, still is today, and will continue to be until until it is acknowledged by history, is that three real people, the Primary Control Room Operators at TMI2, got thrown under the bus rather than anyone admit the root cause of the TMI2 accident. mjd.
The mindset that Kemeny and Rogovin could have been avoiding because they did not want to deal with it is that big industrial complexes CAN be brought to their knees by the actions of a small group of suitably motivated and informed individuals. In some cases the “group” can be as small as a single person.
Understanding the vulnerability can lead to an understanding of the way to deal with it, but that method is often completely foreign to people who are born into the groupthink of the elites who see themselves as uniquely privileged and qualified to lead comfortable lives.
There are well understood methods of dealing with operating complex, capable, but vulnerable machinery reliably. The US military has figured out one of the ways – spend money on people, respect them, train them, build them into a team, hold each individual — especially the leaders — accountable, etc.
Part of the method includes a reasonable pay scale where the people at the very top are still in the same stratosphere as the people at the very bottom. With the still grating exception of the head football coaches at the service academies, the highest paid employees of the Army, Air Force, and Navy earn no more than about 10 times as much as an entry level soldier, sailor or airman.
By the way, ownership is something different than being an employee. I do not begrudge people like Steve, Larry, Bill, Sergey, or even Warren for their enormous income; but none of them got rich from inheritance or drawing large salaries from companies that someone else created.
A fascinating series, Rod — will be interesting to see where it goes. One place I’d like to go is how TMI influenced commercial reactor design — what was ongoing at the time, and what has currently evolved as Gen III and III+. Prof Cohen made some mention in chapter 10 of The Nuclear Energy Option nearly a quarter-century ago, but further details and updates describing designs as they are now implemented might be of benefit.
One problem we face is the “And don’t say they can’t blow. That’s what they said about Chernobyl and Fukushima!!!”, and I’d like to be able to point to a simple, concise explanation of the differences. Prof Cohen’s chapter is a good start, but is getting a bit dated.
(As far as RBMK-1000 is concerned, it might be easier just to list the similarities: “Well, they both burn uranium…” )
And thanks for the Atoms for Calilfornia link — a bureaucrat ‘s perspective is a welcome addition.
Germany eyes swift cuts in subsidies for renewable energy
“Are you listening California? Germany can’t afford it either!”
“Germany’s new energy minister has outlined cuts in subsidies to producers of renewable energy as the country wrestles with soaring costs from its nuclear power exit,” said AFP on Sunday.
“Subsidies for new producers of wind energy would be reduced while those for biogas would practically disappear.
“Producers would also gradually be forced to sell green energy competitively on the market from next year rather than enjoying priority treatment with guaranteed prices.
(“sell green energy competitively on the market” will mean the end of it all including wind. It will NEVER be competitive!)
Generous state incentives for solar, wind and biogas have driven up prices, now among Europe’s highest.
And if Germany (with its huge trade surplus) cannot afford renewables, who can?
Two things that to this day have not been corrected about the TMI-II accident:
1. The radiation levels inside containment were not as high as reported. Yes, they are giving you the readings taken off of the instrument recorders and computer data points but they are not correct. I have no idea what the actual levels were but they were much less. They used the Area Monitors in containment for these readings. These were Victoreen area monitors. They looked sort of like two top hats, brim-brim-to-brim, about 8 inches in diameter with a photo scintillation detector inside of the lower part, then about 3 inches of lead wrapped around that tube and at the end of it. Sort of like a lead pig used for transporting small sources. The Lead provided a reduction of about ten to twenty in the level to give the instrument the needed range. The electronics was in the top half and also had lead shielding. [It has been 40 years, may be upside down on that arrangement.] They were water resistant, not water proof, meaning that they would work with water spraying on them. They had to withstand the building spray. However, they were NOT air tight and were designed to “breath” but keep the spray out. If air tight they would have imploded on an accident or during the building pressure tests. As any reactor operator knows the reactor will give off Xenon gas. During the accident this gas permeated the building and permeated the detectors. The Xenon gas (and any other radioactive gas resulting from the incident, as I recall this accident could have created several other “gasses” I welcome any correction.) was between the photo scintillation tube and the lead shielding. The detector was not designed for this type of operation; therefore it gave a false reading MUCH higher than the actual level in containment. With the gas that close, and surrounding the tube, the scintillation crystal would have light up like a bulb, IMO) Only a test could determine what the true radiation level was.
2. The “hydrogen bubble” should have been a non issue and was immensely overblown and overhyped. It made GOOD press though. For three days we took readings, increased pressure, decreased pressure, performed Pi X Vi = Pf X Vf calculations to determine the volume of Hydrogen. The initial data was also sent the NRC @ King of Prussia, PA. Several hours later we would get a fax back indicating that it was much bigger that we had calculated and do it again. We were getting readings that the NRC did not like the hour before President Carter got off the helicopter, and he was warned to not go there it was ready to blow up at any minute. First; everyone knows a tank of pure Hydrogen does not blow up. Second; it is the oxidation of zirconium by water that releases the hydrogen gas. The oxygen in the water oxidizes the zirconium and is not (or very little is) released thus the gas is very close to, if not, 100% hydrogen. Which does not ignite, burn, explode, or whatever. Third, and the most important if it was somehow a flammable mixture, is the NRC “scientist/engineer” used the conversion factor for english to metric backwards, providing a quantity of H2 that was more than a factor of 10 to large. (An NRC resident engineer that had been hired from a contractor working at TMI-II that knew me told me this about 5 years after the accident. Al-in-all there was NO H2 Bubble problem. Period. (geez, I hate to even use that emphasis any more.)
Rich, good comment about the H2 bubble, but why be shy with the names? Give credit where credit is due as it has all been said before. Roger Mattson (with a little help from Hendrie) made the single most damaging “operator error” ever, which permanently damaged the public acceptance of nuke power in the USA; forever. While Mattson and Vic Stello were arguing about it (Stello didn’t believe it) in a hanger in a local airport, Harold Denton went on live TV and said something like “At this time we (NRC) can’t eliminate the possibility of H2 explosion…” Walter Cronkite grabbed it on the night news and it terrorized the nation. By the time Stello (not Mattson) found Mattson’s math error I guess the story no longer had legs. But hey, I was an Operator by trade and 80% was always passing for me, so I’ll cut Mattson some slack. But it does mean I’ll probably get one out of five things I do wrong. So I usually check my “math” two or three times before I open my mouth. And I was never shy about asking for a sanity check. mjd
Rod, have you considered turning all of this into a full blown novel? Real or not, it makes for a heck of an interesting read.
The idea is intriguing. It certainly makes sense to my (admittedly untrained) mind.
P.S. if you do turn this into a novel, I expect to see sly little nods to certain commenters and perhaps a mention in the preface!
The 1970’s was a particularly active period for terrorism. I was in primary and secondary school throughout this period, but have vivid memories of the Black September Oganization, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Bader Meinhof Gang, the Red Brigade and literally dozens of groups with any or all of the following in their name: popular, front, liberation, Palestine, people’s, army, organization (you get the picture). It was also a particularly tense period of the Cold War, with the USSR exploiting the left wing sympathies of many labor unions throughout the world (although not having lived in the USA until the 2000’s I couldn’t comment on Soviet influence in US labor unions).
I tend to be wary of claims of conspiracy theories, but I do not believe that there is a suggestion of a conspiracy here. I think that an organized crime figure would certainly have enough disregard for public safety to try a piece of vengeance (and the mob were/are certainly connected with labor unions). I also agree that a disgruntled employee could have caused a problem (which may have got much bigger than planned).
I think that the biggest problem was the lack of an independent wide ranging investigation into the accident was and is a problem. It is not too late for an investigation by interested persons, I have seen some of these performed – I was recently intrigued by a documentary on the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which concluded that unusual meteorological conditions caused major players to misread the situation.
An independent inquiry should investigate all hypotheses of how an accident occurred, and seek evidence to refute those hypotheses. In any industrial accident, sabotage or other criminal activity should always be included as a hypothesis to be refuted – by evidence not conjecture.
Hours after the ammo-nitrate explosion AZF fertilizer factory in Toulouse, France, 21 September 2001, the prosecutor said that it was NOT a terrorist attack, although he had no idea what happened.
Few journalists questioned his statement. One journalist who mentioned a possible Islamic attack was threatened by law on hate speech.
@Matthew in NYC
I realize the hazards of believing in wild conspiracy theories. On the other hand, there are times when small groups of people get together and plan a criminal activity, sometimes for what they believe are well motivated, high-moral-ground, reasons.
An intriguing book titled “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI” has just been released documenting just such a conspiracy from the 1970s whose perpetrators have just recently come forward.
Here is the first paragraph of the Amazon blurb about the book:
Rich, I remember the reports saying the radiation levels inside the containment building were like a million chest x-rays at once. But I guess with no one in there, it really doesn’t matter. Also, I would think with the all the steam in there the building would have turned into a giant pressure cooker and would have Kentucky-fried anyone who was in there. People who lived nearby reported a metallic odor the day of the accident. Would that have been zirconium particles in the air, before the containment would have been closed off?
I’m pretty sure that the metallic odor was a figment of their imagination.
I think it was actually a metallic taste, but whatever…
In the unlikely event that TMI is proven to be the result of sabotage, I predict that the person responsible will turn out to be a knowledgeable employee who was outraged by the movie and determined to prove that it cannot happen in the real world.
Did you read and understand the whole list of potential suspects? Do you actually believe that your suggested perpetrator is the most motivated of the lot?
“Do you actually believe that your suggested perpetrator is the most motivated of the lot?”
I do not think that Rod, but motivation is only one third of the equation. Risk and opportunity are the other two thirds.
A well respected employee who spends a lot of time in the plant would have unlimited opportunity and very small risk of being detected.
Also, I believe the number of employees in contempt of the movie that week far exceeded the number of anti nuclear or anti GPU employees.
Also, a perpetrator determined to cause serious damage to the plant would have chosen a scenario with a higher probability of success. Before TMI, nobody would predict that a small leak would go uncorrected long enough to result in a partial meltdown. On the other hand, a person looking for a way to make the movie look unrealistic might well choose this scenario.
So, in the unlikely event that TMI is proven to be the result of sabotage, I think my profile is most likely.
Rod which of your suspects do you believe has the highest ratio of motivation/(risk x opportunity)?
Rod which of your suspects do you believe has the highest ratio of motivation/(risk x opportunity)?
Great question. You’ll need to keep reading future installments. No spoilers.
Rod. Upon further review, I believe the correct ratio is (motivation x opportunity)/risk.
Looking forward to the next installment.
Funny, you started this series right when I got to the section on TMI in Gwyneth Cravens’ “The Power to Save the World.” The paragraph that stands out:
Again, this paragraph isn’t looking at the root cause, but the reaction to it. Adding this to your theory shows that it could be likely that someone was sending a message and for whatever reason the operators on duty took the exact wrong course of action leading to the catastrophe. If the operators would have followed the correct procedures, a “terrorist plot” as the root cause might have turned out very different… Increased employee psychological testing and background checks, for example. Instead there was a freeze of an entire industry. I don’t think that the terrorists who perpetuated 9/11 had any idea that the buildings would collapse the way they did (which happened because of the open design and very long spans of steel, not because of detcord or other screwball conspiracy theories). When the buildings came down the reaction necessarily stepped up.
I’m not going to compare TMI to the JFK assassination or 9/11, other than there are a lot of questions that never got sufficiently answered. It seems to me that there is a parallel in that “blue ribbon commissions” tend to gloss over a lot of facts that don’t fit their agenda.
I’ll warn you. Your comment will probably draw the ire of mjd – as long as he has not gotten tired of correcting the bad gouge about the way that B&W reactors responded to a loss of feed (at least in the unmodified designs circa late 1970s) that has been permeating the industry ever since September 1977.
TMI operators did what they were trained to do, given the indications that they saw at the time they saw them. The procedural training they used to respond to the indications they saw at 4:00 am on Mar 28, 1979 was not just out of books, but also reinforced – strongly – in the simulator training that they all had to pass before getting licensed.
Ire is up, but we have a plan; more suspense… mjd.
mjd note to myself: Oh yah, now I remember why I was so mad after my DB NPP event. That book quote is absolutely correct, so what on earth were they thinking when they trained us to do it that way? I remember the answer to that too… they weren’t thinking, but if they could find three guys to throw under the bus… they’d never have to answer that question. Pretty sly! mjd.
It has been a long time since I read through the TMI sequence of events, so… That quote from Craven’s book (“…shut off the water..”) — is it talking about the reactor coolant pumps, the safety injection pumps, or the aux feedwater?
The AFW was off to begin with, so I don’t think that’s “the water” we’re talking about.
I seem to remember the operators shut off the RCPs because they believed the RCS to be in a 2-phase condition, and they shut off the SI because pressurizer level was high and rising. Is that correct?
I’m just quoting the book, not writing it. Please direct any complaints to the book’s author, not the commenter.
With all due respect, I think that you have done more than quote someone else’s work. You have passed judgement on the operators.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the below quote is in your words, not those of Ms. Cravens.
PS – Ms. Cravens is a friend of mine. We speak fairly often, including a lengthy recent conversation during which we chatted about the Sabotage at TMI series.
To Eric_G, below at January 21, 2014 at 2:16 PM
Just to be clear, I am not criticizing you at all. And your big point was only indirectly related to the book quote. My saying just above, that the book quote is correct is not sarcasm, the book quote is quit correct. I can even take an absolutely literal interpretation of “a group of nuclear engineers” and infer the book is not talking about the Control Room operators, because they are not/were not nuclear engineers. But the simple fact is quite a large group (whole PWR industry) had the understanding of the event wrong, they trained the trainers (non-engineers), who trained us Operators. Never read the book, don’t care to, so I don’t know the author’s bottom line. But I take no issue with anything you said in your post. I think you simply said there is something to consider if a known wrong action is taken; I agree. mjd.
In addition to the “NEVER GO SOLID” training drilled into our brains at B&W, one thing @mjd may not be aware of is that although TMI-II is essentially identical to TMI-I, Ranch Seco and Davis Bessie, the NRC forced MetEd to decrease the operating margin – for “safety.” I forget the logic to their argument but it was their belief that they (B&W) did not properly account for “instrument accuracy.” I think it was the wording of the analysis in the PSAR (Preliminary Safety Analysis Report.) To my knowledge, the NRC did not make the others change their set points even though Rancho Seco had the exact same power and used the set points (S/P) TMI-II should have. It was obvious that the original set points were correct, but an engineering analysis (after fuel was loaded) would take over a year, cost several hundred $K in engineering alone and a one year (+) delay. So, they did what the NRC said, with plans to fix it later. This raised the low pressure S/Ps by ~100 pounds (from 1500 to 1600 (?)) and lowered the high pressure trip S/Ps by 100 pounds. This basically caused the HPSI to initiate on EVERY reactor trip above about 50%. The Turbine trip, without Rx Trip, did not usually cause this. Since the HPSI pumps were initiated by the Engineered Safety Features System, the valves were open for Boron injection, and thus the RCS was filled with boron. The first time this happened it took two-three weeks to get the RCS back in chemistry “Specs.” The operators quickly developed a habit of shutting off the makeup pumps (HPSI) if they thought they “knew” the cause of the trip and that they would be recovering from it. Something they did quite frequently during the power ascension testing. – Another unintended consequence of the NRC trying to make things safer. This was NEVER to my knowledge considered or evaluated or even thought about in being a contributor to the difference in the TMI accident and the Davis Bessie accident. I believe the Rogovn and Kemeny commission blew it. I tried to get it factored into the accident models GPU was making, but how do you model unknown/unanticipated operator actions? (TMI also had to get “Medicinal” grade boron (eye wash grade) so that the occasional pumping of several hundred gallons of boron into the RCS did not cause chemistry headaches. There was some really bad stuff in the commercial grade boron.)
Quite a bit of the perceived “increased” level in the OTSG is actually “steam.” The SU FW is sprayed around the top of the tubes and flashes into steam when it hits the tubes, well before it can actually raise the physical level. Ther will be a increase in indicated level because the water at the bottom is carrying the steam above the water. The SG level instrument is measuring the 30-60 inchers of colder (heavier) water near the bottom, the 20 feet of saturated steam and water in large droplets not yet converted into steam in the area below the FW nozzles. Like a fan lifting up balls. Then the weight of the dryer, superheated steam, in the 15 feet or so above the nozzles is also adding to the indicated level (up to the upper tap on the level instrument.) Loop SG do not have as much of this effect as they rarely, physically, uncover the tubes. If you look at the accident recordings of TMI SG, you will see that the level indicated that it was never below 15 inches. Well 15 inches is the weight of the steam that would have been in the SG (Measured in inches of water) at that time. (It has been 40+ years since I calculated or even thought of these numbers/values, so they may be slightly different.)
Another problem in the accident causing confusion for the operators was the flashing of the water into steam in the “condensate” pot and even a large portion of the instrument level tube for the upper tap of the Pressurizer level instrument. When the pressure in the Pressurizer is below the saturation point then the water in the condensate pot is above the saturation point, and it boils – or “flashes” and changes level. Without this water, the level instrument was giving false readings. TMI-II was built at the time of the transition away from Asbestos insulation. TMI-II had lots of “reflective” insulation (and less asbestoses – it is bad for you, you know) and we had lots of problems on TMI-II with condensate pots flashing that we did not have at TMI-I [Steam generator, feedwater heaters, etc.]. Again, these problems were not considered in the various studies or TMI action plans written by the NRC. More regulations that cause more unintended consequences. They came up with requirements for an “actual” water level gauge/instrument for the Pressurizer – a vessel with water in the liquid phase, liquid with saturated water vapor in transport to the surface, saturated water vapor, saturated water vapor with liquid water drops returning to the bottom, and at the top dry (approaching superheated) water vapor. All of the Mechanical Engineers with experience in multi-phase water analysis probably know of some I missed and know that it is an almost impossible problem to solve. To this date, I am convinced all of the instruments installed to meet this requirement are SWAG’s that give some highly probable, expected level, but not ACTUAL. The level only has two concerns, don’t uncover the heaters, and don’t let it overfill. A licensed operator may have other concerns that I am not aware of.
The criminal isn’t necessarily the _most_ motivated. He just has to be one of the motivated.
I think in S S Van Dine’s detective novels, the perpetrator is shown to be the only motivated one out of the suspects, which is a different thing.
I think the reference to shutting off the water was regarding the securing of HPSI. The RCPs would have been damaged if they were left operating with a two phase (liquid and steam) flow.
FWIW the operators did the best they could with the training and procedures they had. I also think MetEd did the best they could in building the plant responding to the event and trying to keep the public informed. I feel the NRC dropped the ball.
@Rich Lentz January 21, 2014 at 3:33 PM
DB wasn’t identical to anyone, we were raised loop 177FA, and our Mwt rating was 2772. The biggest difference was we didn’t have the high head HPI pumps either. We had 2 – 1700PSI shutoff head HPI pumps and 2 very high head low capacity (~150GPM) MU pumps. Get that? We couldn’t even pump HPI in at NOPT, so why were the scaring us with solid by HPI and PTS? Besides, I was on shift at 2 plants intentionally taken solid, S1C at power, and Davis Besse at HSB, both a piece of cake. As for what do I need as an Operator for PZR Lvl, hey, GDC-13 works for me, just make sure it gives me inventory for all anticipated conditions as required!
Your “strange level” stuff is interesting. I knew about the steam column weight showing a level when there was no water pool. But just a week ago it dawned on me that the Pzr QT is in the same shield wall hole as the Pzr. Our report says the QT rupture disk hole sprayed the 20 minute PORV discharge on SG2 enough to take a 10′ X 20′ section of mirror off the lower SG shell. So I been wondering, did it also boil the Pzr ref leg down? If so might account for the eternity I thought it took to get Pzr off the high peg after we closed the PORV block & pumped HPI. Then again, we were voided a lot, and I didn’t yet have that “been there, done that” to relate to. mjd.
Thanks mjd and Rich for your continued postings here. I don’t know much about the B&W plants, and I wasn’t working in the 1970s so your posts are very interesting.
Continuation of mjd @ January 21, 2014 at 4:46 PM
Rich, I just remember some additional differences about DB that were so strange only you will appreciate them. In the original paperwork specs between B&W and DB a typo was made. B&W read we we going to operate at a steam header pressure of 885PSIG (everybody else was 885PSIA). As you know the SG P establishes the starting heat sink temp for lots of Safety Analysis, so B&W reran the whole affected Safety Analysis for DB. When the error was discovered (by DB I think), DB said no we want to run at 885PSIA like everybody else. B&W said, not on our nickle, we have to redo your Safety Analysis because of your error. DB said OK, we’ll run at 885PSIG. That meant we ran at 582F T-ave, everybody else was 579F T-ave. When we Operators went to the Sim for training we would just dial the Sim Rx Demand pot to 582F, probably haired up all the ICS cal integrals!
The other big diff was related to your SG level instrument error discussion. As you know all the other plants ran with SG Low Level Limit of 24″, using the NNI S/U level instrument string (non SR, inst error not as big a concern). We installed that SFRCS system using SR new level strings for inputs. The actual water pool level was critical to the Safety Analysis, by the time all the instrument error possibilities were applied to those strings, there was about no operating margin left between those low level trip setpoints and the operating LLL point of 24″. No problem, we raised LLL to 30″, but of course that changed about everything else. We had to run with the low power T-ave ramp at 0-25%, vice 0-15% like every one else. Can’t remember how we handled that on the SIM. The other point I made about Low Loop/Raised Loop plant is significant, and may directly affect Rods discussion about “if the 12s had been open”. The raised loop SGs are so high compared to the core level, that the AFW level control points are a world apart, for example low loop needs 10′ of SG water to natural circ, raised loop needs 40″; so this is one heck of a lot of cold water that has to be added to low loop SG by AFW when it gets demanded by auto. Also a lot of the discussion in the “Michelson Report” is about J-leg and loop seal effects in the B&W 205FA plant. I never could relate to those since I never saw the isometric of the 205FA plant.
I assume that TMI and DB are different with regard to Low Loop/Raised Loop. Which is which?
I’m assuming you are just asking for the benefit of other readers training (wink, wink). If the nat circ cold leg head must be about equal between the 2 designs to make it flow (drive), and one design SG needs 10′ of water on 2ndary side to develop that head, and the the other plant only needs 40″ of water to develop that same head, obviously the SG with only 40″ is physically a lot higher in the system relative to rx core el. DB had the 40″ level and raised loop SGs. Thus when we auto’d AFW we only put in 40″ of AFW, TMI with way lower SGs (low loop) would have to put in one heck of a lot more cold AFW (RCPs off case). I don’t remember TMI level for RCPs on, but if similar concept, a TMI normal AFW actuation might just put a lot more cold water in than DB. (affects our side discussion, RELAP it) mjd.
MJD, what would be the effect of adding more cold water to the s/g’s? More heat transfer from the primary side and greater loss of pressure?
sean, it has to do with a side discussion rod and i had off blog. rod’s point was more cold water early, either primary or secondary side, increases the margin (time) to core uncovery, thus more time to prevent it. his point was any cold water put in, either RCS or SG will result in lower T-ave. lower T-ave means when RCS P falls to P-Sat (for that cooler T-ave) from leak out the hole, system will stabilize at lower P, thus a slower leak rate, more time to core uncovery. he is correct in theory, up to a certain hole size. at a “big enough” hole size it alone controls the speed of P drop, such that it’s quick enough to not affect be affected by cold water additions IN THE TIME FRAME SAT CONDITIONS ARE REACHED, THUS THE OPERATORS TURNED OFF HPI BASED ON SAT/PRESSURIZER LEVEL RESPONSE. it has to with his idea if the 12s were open from start at TMI it would have delayed core uncovery. i claim no, the PORV hole size is too big, so it controls the speed to P-Sat and HPI off (given the operators would respond identical to what they/we did). DB had 0 decay ht and 1 good SG, TMI had 100EFPD and no SG. time to P-Sat not much different, I had HPI off ~ 2 min quicker. PORV hole is too big.
The only thing you missed was my contention that a colder primary would result in a lower indicated pressurizer level. The decision to turn off HPI was driven by the idea that the pressurizer was full and in danger of going solid. If the level indication was lower due to lower Tave, there would have been a longer run time of HPI before any motivation to throttle or turn it off.
To resolve, we will have to run the scenario – I am at the limit of my ability to predict with “arrow analysis” until I start putting numbers on the trends.
BTW – Just had an interesting conversation with some people who might be able to help.
Not sure how long it will take before we can get the numbers, but I’m not going to stop trying.
What would have happened if the reactor vessel “went solid”? Isn’t the core in a solidly with water vessel anyway with no air inside at all? You have to wonder if maybe “going solid” would have made the accident not as bad as it was.
In a PWR there is a steam space in the top of the pressurizer which is a tank connected to one of hot (right?) legs. This steam bubble provides a “cushion” for changes in RCA volume and pressure. Operators use electric heaters to expand the steam bubble and raise the RCS pressure or cold water sprays to shrink the steam bubble and lower RCS pressure. If the system becomes “solid” and liquid water fills that space then there is no “cushion” and the main pressure control mechanism is lost.
BobinPgh: You don’t have to wonder too, hard. It would not have been an accident at all. It would have been what the industry refers to as an event. The whole basis for the safety of NPPs during plants upsets or “accidents” is dependent on the Operators doing what the are trained to do, using the Emergency Procedures they have available at the time of the event. This is no different than the expected emergency response by any organization to any anticipated upset condition in any postulated situation. This is also why all emergency response organizations have practice sessions or “drills.” The problem at TMI resulted from the fact that four “precursor” situations occurred, back to 1971, where information became known that the basis for the Operator training and EOPs for this type of event were wrong. But that info never made it into the TMI Control Room. mjd
So are you saying that “going solid” would not be so bad? I guess I am trying to understand what the hazard is. Do these operators ever ask “why”? Would the pressure become incredibly high if the system was “solid”. Which I put in quotation marks because water is a liquid.
“The 1970′s was a particularly active period for terrorism. I was in primary and secondary school throughout this period, but have vivid memories of the Black September Oganization, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Bader Meinhof Gang, the Red Brigade and literally dozens of groups with any or all of the following in their name: popular, front, liberation,”
Yeh – I remember those times. I was very young but can understand being enamored with the idea of hurting the “establishment.” The young don’t see things through the lens of time. The young are easily indoctrinated. Who remembers Abby Hoffman & Jerry Rubin today? They were heroes of the time.
Remember the music? This was soon after the Vietnam War. The young of the country had been indoctrinated with radicalism. Woodstock was a kind of radical event. I remember listening to the music and hearing, “New York Throughway is closed man!” There was pride in being able to interrupt the infrastructure. A statement of power was being made against the powers that be. Everyone was a rebel! Long hair! Shabby clothes and moving to a commune. This appealed to the romanticism of youth.
Crosby Stills & Nash – 4 dead in Ohio while ignoring all those who were dying in the jungle. Spitting on those veterans when they returned home, calling them baby killers.
Spoiled rich kids who saw the world from a perverted perspective. They blew up buildings in Madison Wisconsin and occupied other buildings elsewhere.
Patty Hearst was kidnapped by one of these groups and became brainwashed to be one of them.
I can see how some people could have been brainwashed by the times and sabotaged TMI.
What would you think of the hypothesis that Chernobyl was sabotaged by a Soviet regime desperate to scare Western Europe off nuclear energy, so that it could export more oil and gas to them instead?
The “safety test” that led up to the explosion was IIRC carried out by electrical engineers with no knowledge of nuclear reactor physics — perhaps their Communist boss gave them orders which (unaware to them) would lead to the explosion of the reactor?
The “safety test” was not led by the plant operators or even the electrical engineers who were interested in the results of the test. It was led by a political officer who supposedly was charged with getting the test done and he pressed forward even after the operators expressed uncertainty.
Most people profess a belief that the event was just an example of the kind of decision making that comes in an autocratic society, but I think your hypothesis for the motivation of the political officer might be more reasonable considering the situation. It becomes even more interesting when one recognizes just how important the sale of oil and gas has been to the accumulation of wealth and power in Russia in the last 25 years.
If the normal reactor operators (who presumably would know the dangers inherent in Anatoly Dyatlov’s orders) rather than the electric engineers were at the controls of Chernobyl reactor 4, then that would be an argument against the sabotage hypothesis?
Who in 1986 would be willing to die a horrible death from radiation poisoning, for the sake of saving the Communist regime?
The reactor operators were newbies to nuclear power; they had recently transitioned from a fossil fuel plant. They did not know much about what would happen when operating outside of the normal procedures, they were simply uncomfortable with doing so. An American, particularly an American trained in the Rickover system of maintaining a questioning attitude, might not have followed orders, but it is difficult to imagine a Soviet operator resisting orders from the political officer.
Besides, why is a death from radiation poisoning so much more horrible than a death from something like a fire or grenade shrapnel? There have been plenty of examples of lower level workers following orders to go into harm’s way. In this case, the operators were probably quite unsure that there was any real danger; I presume that Soviet propaganda had made it clear that nuclear reactors were safe machines where safety systems would prevent any real hazard.
Of course, when the safety systems are purposely turned off…
Ah, so it wasn’t just the engineers who designed the test, but the power plant operators themselves, who were unfamiliar with nuclear reactors (and therefore presumably with the RBMK’s particular hazards). So perhaps they could have obeyed orders from their commissar without realizing that those orders would blow up the reactor.
It reminds me somewhat of the 9/11 attacks, where 11 of the terrorists involved (the “muscle” hijackers, hired to subdue the passengers) didn’t even know that it was a suicide mission, to the extent that their preparations indicated that they expected to wind up in prison for their actions! Only the lead terrorists who had done flight training were aware of the true nature of the hijacking.
As for your second paragraph, I wasn’t picturing reactor operators to be men who’d be trained in life-threatening actions in the manner of military personnel, or even police officers or firefighters…
As for your second paragraph, I wasn’t picturing reactor operators to be men who’d be trained in life-threatening actions in the manner of military personnel, or even police officers or firefighters…
I cannot speak for Soviet operators, but a large portion of the nuclear power plant operators I know have been trained as you describe.
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