Wednesday, May 04, 2005

why i love the nuclear regulatory commission

or how i learned that just because someone is a pain in the ass, it's not always a bad thing.

i have worked in the world of nuclear for my entire adult life, except for a short 1 year stint as a production manager for a small manufacturing company in the mid 90's. so i've had to live with the nuclear regulatory agency, the dept. of energy, the navy's Naval Reactors gestapo, the air force's nuclear surity group, all organizations designed to keep nuclear facilities on the straight and narrow.
there have been times when i railed against the seemingly arbitrary rulings, the constraints that no thinking, experienced operator or tech would take as "helpful". generally, these organizations make our job harder, less efficeint, more complex, and just all around more difficult.
having said that, i'd like to point out that in the entire history or u.s. nuclear operations, only two major accidents have occured. one was an army training facility SL1, and the other 3 mile island.
on a decending scale of severity, our WORST accident doesn't even break the top 10 according to one of the papers i've reviewed in the last couple of weeks. the number THREE worst nuclear accident was chernobyl. that's right, number 3. number 2 is Mayak. imagine, this facility has contaminated such a large area, and affected so many people, that is ranks above chyrnobl in nuclear accidents. one of these days i'll talk about the number 1 nuclear accident, also in the old soviet union, but i'll save that for another day.
Mayak utilized the natural resources available to perform the tasks given. among those tasks was fuel recovery from spent fuel assemblies, and radionuclide seperation and processing.
in the united states, the number of people who've received a lifetime dose of over 50 REM (it's just a number that i won't get into a detailed description of) is pretty low. i don't have specific numbers, but an educated guess would be less than a thousand, total, from the beginning of nuclear power and nuclear processing to now. suffice to say, a 50 rem dose in a short period of time would show minor blood changes in the recipient, with few if any long term affects that we know of. of course, there is always the chance of various cancers being triggered by the dose, but we don't have a "minimum" dose required to cause these problems. we know that there is always a potential for even the slightest dose to cause problems, since there is no "threshold". but for the most part, nuclear workers in this country are the healthiest workers in any industry, mainly because the requirements for physicals and a heavy emphasis on health helps keep us that way.
now imagine you are living downstream of the facility i mentioned above. the river that flows through the area has spread contamination to a huge region. the civilians, not the workers, the residents downstream have all received higher doses just from living next to the river than any nuclear worker in the u.s. has. we are talking doses so high that if i were to receive the equivalent, i would not be allowed to work in a nuke facility ever again. ever. and this is just the residents.
so when i snivel about the nrc, or regulators in general, just ignore it. my sniveling is reflexive. in truth, i'm glad they are such a pain in the keister.

note: the link to the mayak site is also one of the great "anti-nuclear" sites around. but the difference with bellona is, they actually do the science, they analyze, they report. they don't preach, and they also utilize common sense. hey, without organizations like them, the requirements would be less stringent. i can do without the mindless natterings of greenpeace or the abalone allience, but i respect the work and works done by bellona. these folks have a serious and real problem, and are trying to do something about it. they literally have their lives staked to the outcomes and fixes to many of the problems they report on, as opposed to the cause d'jour celebrity and airhead groups in this country.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pray tell, what was the number 1 worst nuclear accident to date, then.

5/4/05, 7:31 PM  
Blogger bothenook said...

another russian processing plant that has virtually killed and poisoned one of the largest fresh water bodies in the world.

5/4/05, 9:43 PM  
Blogger bothenook said...

the smaller of the two lakes has a surface radiation reading of about 500 mrem/hr. the banks are around 5 to 50 mrem/hr. considering the legal exposure limit in the u.s. is 5000 mrem per year for a radiation worker, or 500 mrem/yr for non-radiation workers, you can imagine the doses the folks in the vicinity of these lakes have received over the years.

5/4/05, 9:45 PM  
Blogger WillyShake said...

Bo, I've posted this comment on my own blog, but it suits this discussion as well, so please forgive my repetition:

Bo--no need to apologize for such an outstanding commentary. Thank you for this very fair and frank contribution on an issue that is in much need of such--nuke power has accumulated so much crud (if you'll excuse the pun) of political demigogery from both sides that it's in need of more reasoned study and debate.

The picture you paint of the present civilian industry tempts me to use a perhaps awkward metaphor: a race against time. That is to say, I race between those parties of various political stripes who will have the industry run as it should be--with proper, timely, and rigorous oversight--and those who will either (a.) disband it altogether or (b.) do things on the sly with a wink & a nod until the next major accident occurs.

I pray that, for the sake of our nation's energy future, reason prevails and neither the Capitalist bottom-line nor the Leftist mythology.

5/5/05, 7:35 AM  

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