---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 1998 14:36:20 -0500
Reply-To: Electronic Democracy in Nova Scotia <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Subject: Chernobyling

Originally To: comp.software.year-2000  newsgroup

Driving home one recent night I heard a CBC radio program on Three Mile
Island. I was surprised to learn how out-of-control the plant was. Personne˙
who retrieved test samples and worked to control the reactor spent hours in
showers scrubbing their skin raw even though they wore state-of-the-art
protective suits. A meltdown can occur around 5000 degrees. Three Mile
Island passed 4000 degrees before it was brought down. It was disturbing to
hear that the same problem had occurred shortly before at another American
reactor but management types had suppressed information about the occurrenc˙
and how to avoid it at other sites.

Before hearing the program I thought that the worse the year 2000 mess migh˙
bring could be a bit worse than what folks had suffered between 1929 and
1950. I read about power problems but most mentioned shutdowns and
blackouts. The radio program made me think hard about nuclear reactors.

I searched the Internet for how nuclear reactors and nuclear workers might
behave in the year 2000. I found lots of information on reactor problems;
waste and unplanned environmental releases that remain dangerous
for thousands of years,  terrorist threats, weaknesses, disasters and near
disasters, cancer increases, etc.  The Virtual Nuclear Tourist site even
told me that 'Chernobyl was not a meltdown in the traditional sense..'
Perhaps we should call it Chernobyling. Comp.software.year-2000 e-mails
turned up on the issue.  However, I found few solid answers to my questions
on what might happen in the year 2000 at hundreds of nuclear reactors
around the world.

Rick Cowles, wrote to comp.software.year-2000  in October 97:
[The folks running the Y2K effort at this particular nuke facility are in a
stage 5  panic.  They haven't even finished inventorying their software yet˙
Risk assessment?  Ha!  Embedded controls?  Ha! I laugh in your general
direction.  They don't  have an inkling of a clue (that's the pre-clueless
stage) as to how to approach the embedded controls issue. They can get
absolutely no upper level management support or funding.]

Rick's words ring true. Nuclear workers and managers are probably much like
ordinary human beings. A Statistics Canada survey released Dec. 97 found
that 9% of Canadian companies had formal plans, 36% had 'informal plans',
46% knew about the problem but had done nothing, and 9% were ignorant of th˙
problem. If about 10% of the world has taken the problem seriously, the sam˙
probably applies to nuclear reactor staffing, management and officials.
Rick's friends would probably fit into the 'informal plans' group. Should w˙
have a high level of confidence in their systems when the clock rolls aroun˙
to 2000? Considering that some of the 9% with formal plans will fail…

Many comp.software.year-2000 e-mails argued that nuclear reactor designs
have a kind of built in graceful degradation. Most e-mails avoided details.
moose outside a Canadian reactor might be a lovely picture but it does not
mean that the moose is safe. We should try not to be as dumb as a moose
about technologies that can kill millions of us as well as moose, birds,
pets, etc.

Daniel P. B. Smith wrote about graceful nuclear degradation. He came closer
to giving details than most and he even wrote with grace.
    [ Speaking as a pinko left-wing peace creep, member of the Union of
Concerned Scientists, etc:  I hope and believe that nuclear power plants
ultimately rely for their safety on nice, big, simple low-tech things like
big heavy containnment buildings.
   Nuclear power plants are supposed not to irradiate state-sized chunks
of real estate merely because the pipe burst and the control rod stuck and
the pump failed. Now, maybe they won't act exactly the way they're supposed
to. But I do tend to credit those that think that the most likely scenario
is that if the nuclear plants have Y2K problems they'll shut down, more or
less safely. And it may then be days/months/years/eternity before they ever
generate any more power.']

I would love to have faith in Daniel’s arguments but I have doubts. I dou˙
an intelligent and well-trained auditor would accept these arguments as
proof of safety, let alone a scientist. Chernobyl was not supposed to sprea˙
highly toxic radioactivity over the 100,000 square kilometers that surround
it but it did. Russians were not supposed to eat radioactive food, but they
are eating radioactive food. Fins were not supposed to dispose of
radioactive reindeer, Brits were not supposed to dispose of radioactive
sheep, but they have had to because of Chernobyl which is miles away. (I
believe the sheep and reindeer had less radioactivity than the food the
Russians are eating but when you contaminate the area that feeds your
people, you have limited choices.) Three Mile Island was not supposed to
heat to over 4/5th of it's meltdown temperature but it did. Technically
speaking this could have been worse than Chernobyl, I suppose.

These ‘accidents’ happened without y2k computer problems. Scientist
don’t seem to have built y2k into their risk projections for nuclear so
risk analysis is meaningless. One risk book predicted a slim chance of
one major accident at an American reactor in the next 100 years. Y2k was
not mentioned. Y2k drives the needle off the dial. What chance do we have
when hundreds of nuclear reactors around the world hit thousands of
computer problems at the same time?

Last week Ol'Timer wrote to the newsgroup last week :
[NRC says no new nuclear plants built in over 20 years. 90% of sensors are
analog, not digital. Very little reliance on digital technology for core
reaction (Fission -> heat water -> steam -> electricity). The "ON/OFF"
switch is not digital.
   There is a risk of digitial Y2K problem in peripheral systems such as
security, surveillence, testing, event reporting, etc. They claim to be
taking appropriate measures.
   This is good news.
   For more info, see ITAA's Year 2000 Outlook, Jan 23, 1998, Vol. 3,No. 3
   (I am on e-mail list. I do not have an URL)]

Ol'Timer used a funny non-traceable e-mail address that would be perfect
for a nuclear industry PR type but that's OK. Any dialogue or information
could help. Thanks. I wanted to take this e-mail at face value and be
reassured. Looking closer, I wondered what Ol'Timer was really saying. Are
heat and pressure sensors not generally analog devices? Computer chips
don't work at thousands of degrees. They are not likely to be embedded in
heat sensors. Are analog sensors read manually at reactors? Is the data
then used to control manual devices? Are fuel rods and reaction control
substances inserted and extracted by hand? I doubt it. What reactor has an
"ON/OFF" switch? Don’t the number of fuel rods inserted, how far they are
inserted and the amount of graphite or heavy water in the reactor control
the reactions? Don’t elevator computers make up way less than 1% of the
elevator system? If you’re stuck on the 54th floor because of y2k code in
the computer chip, it's still a significant exposure. ‘Year 2000 Outlook˙
doesn’t make a hit on this report using Altavista so it’s either not on˙
web, not indexed to Altavista, or under a different title.

Roger Barnett or Elizabeth Veitch wrote (I had trouble figuring out the
>Our nearest nuclear is Hartlepool - I've been told the keywords
>here are "Ferranti Argus" and "assembler", but that is just hearsay.

Dave Eastabrook replied:
|Been there.  That's one of the few stations I had to do a couple of
|days serious work as opposed to educating users in TSO or VM when
|they were converting off VSPC in 1989.  As always with the CEGB
|(now National Power etc), very pleasant, helpful and capable people.
|As I recall, I wrote about 3 Assembler programs and the JCL for a
|mini-suite to accomplish the task, as with MVS you always have an
|assembler, whereas they might not have Fortran or Cobol etc. later on.

Rick, Roger, Elizabeth, Dave, even Homer Simpson, indicate that nuclear
reactors are computerized. I can't imagine that the worldwide nuclear
industry conspired to place redundant and unnecessary computers in their
plants. I'm cynical but not that cynical. The 360 type machines that run
MVS and JCL were state of the art in 1964. Maintaining an unnecessarily
JCL based machine with assembler programs at a nuclear plant would
be a cruel and unusual practical joke.

I expect that computers at nuclear plants have significant roles. The year
2000 problems probably increase the risk of this dangerous technology
enormously. Considering the lack of time remaining, it is probably the
most serious threat that we face today. Rick indicates that managers and
officials are not taking this seriously. Human actions and reactions figure˙
into Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. How will nuclear plant operators reac˙
if y2k bugs give them false information? What happens if programs that
control the movement of fuel rods or control substances don’t work? What
are the odds that all operators in the decaying former Soviet Union will be
Vodka free on New Years eve of the millenium? (Before you answer,
remember that our highly trained Canadian operators have been found
drinking and doing drugs on the job.) What exactly will happen in the
hundreds of nuclear plants in all of these countries? (Argentina, Australia˙
Austria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic,
Canada, China, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Democratic People's Republic of
Korea, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary,
Iceland, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Republic of
Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Monaco, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway,
Pakistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland,
Thailand, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic)

I believe, the U.S. alone has 108 nuclear reactors (maybe 108 sites with
multiple reactors) mostly in the northeast quarter of the country - the
former Soviet Union has about 100 sites with an average of three reactors
per site - Canada has 11 reactors, mostly in Ontario, one in New Brunswick
and one or two in Quebec. I don't have a clue on numbers in the rest of the
world. I'm not an expert. I have just been looking at the situation

If these technologies are safe, then we should all know the details. If you
know any specifics that we can count on for safety, then please let us know˙
Doing whatever we can to stop widespread poisoning of our planet should
be more important than accumulating a few dollars or being a hero with
someone's fixed asset system. If a reactor within hundreds of miles of you
starts Chernobyling you won't be able to hide under your Whole Earth
Catalog. If several of the suckers start spewing radioactive material in
different parts of the world then God help us all.

David Woodill
Orillia,  Ontario

Reply via email to