Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reactor Design

Robert Reich via Economist's View:
Can we please agree that in the real world corporations exist for one purpose, and one purpose only — to make as much money as possible, which means cutting costs as much as possible?
The New York Times reports that G.E. marketed the Mark 1 boiling water reactors, used in TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as cheaper to build than other reactors because they used a comparatively smaller and less expensive containment structure.
Yet American safety officials have long thought the smaller design more vulnerable to explosion and rupture in emergencies than competing designs. (By the way, the same design is used in 23 American nuclear reactors at 16 plants.)
In the mid-1980s, Harold Denton, then an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident. A follow-up report from a study group convened by the Commission concluded that “Mark 1 failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely."
That is interesting.  It is another example of how we have a hard time estimating what might actually happen when designing for worst case scenarios.  He goes on to criticize BP and Halliburton on the oil spill, and Massie Energy for their mine explosion.  These stories, the Hyatt walkway collapse, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, the Quebec Bridge failure and other mistakes or disasters are good to review to help avoid the same mistakes and remind designers that they are human.  His point is money causes people to cut corners.  I would say a lot of human factors figure in too, including hubris, laziness, sickness and carelessness.

No comments:

Post a Comment