Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shoveling Neutrons

Here we are at Stump Water Nuclear Station, oh-dark-thirty, loading neutrons into the hi velocity slingshot, firing them into the core.

This is one of the most boring jobs in the world, half the time we are doing routine testing. The other half we are sitting around conducting a massive shoot-the-s**t about every subject under the sun. Very infrequently, something off normal (we don't have emergencies), will scare the begeesus out of all of us.

We produce something close to 1000 MW an hour. That requires controlling 13 million pounds per hour of water and maintaining level in an 18 ft diameter pipe, within a 42 inch band. We normally keep the fluctuations down to a couple of inches. Good trick don't you think? The proper operator action for a design basis accident, at 100 percent power with a 100 day power history, is verify automatic actions. The technology is good solid 1950's stuff, with some digital controls thrown in. If the tinfoil hat crowd starts to quiver about "terrorists will steal a fuel bundle and make a BOMB!", let 'em try. I'll make you a deal, get all the brainy "insurgents" to drop by and get their bundle, all at once, they're heavy. I'll get them a bundle out of the spent fuel pool, and there will immediately be a world wide shortage of brainy insurgents.

Oops, too late!

Trust me on this, you can't steal a fuel bundle. It would take our help and a rail car. Let's just say we would be quite reluctant.

We deal with one thousand pound steam, high voltage electricity, hi rad fields, maybe liquid nitrogen, liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, it's all good as long as it's where it belongs. If, on the other hand, its out roaming around, things get dicey. One of the things we, and all Nukes, are designed for is a loss of offsite power. We have standby generators and steam operated pumps, and lots of ways to get water in the core. We are designed for a lot of other things that are to long to go into here. Nuclear Safety isn't our problem, and personnel safety is up to the individual. If you are an operator, you have to be qualified to do Fire Fighting, Rescue, Hazmat, EMS, and if that isn't enough, operate a nuclear power plant.

Everyone I work with can lecture for hours and hours on things no one else either knows about or cares. That's just at the entry level. To be hired you have to pass a timed math and science test. You go immediately to class for five months. Two weeks of those are math and physics, pass those, or don't pass go , don't collect anything. Once you make it to shift you get four books of tasks to perform, simulate, or discuss. Each task is done twice, on separate days for different people. That can take nine months or so. If you are annoying it can take a couple of years. Then at the end a Senior Reactor Operator walks you around and plays "stump the chump", until he is too tired to make you look foolish anymore, or is satisfied you are only a danger to your self. Then you can actually perform the job. After a couple of years of jumping every time something goes thump in the plant, when you can actually tell what is about to bite you, you can be called an operator.

We are required to be letter perfect in every function, to follow procedure exactly, and at the same time, know when the procedure is wrong. Then you put the plant in a safe condition, and regroup. The second sentence is a contradiction of the first. Supposedly we are motivated independant thinkers (???), who only work from approved documents, while maintaining a questioning attitude, and a conservative mindset. Are you confused yet?

It only gets better.

When I first came here I was inquisitive and wanted to do "things". It was "fun".

I got over it.

Now, I can stand and watch something mechanical absolutely eat itself and keep my hands in my pockets.

"Yep, its gonna blow up, but it won't splatter this far. Stand right here, so I can get behind you, good."

It sort of works like Bomb Disposal, if you see me running for the door, keep up.

If I run into a building, go to the parking lot and wait for the "all clear".

It's probably nothing.

No comments: