Nuclear Planet Engineers Want Us To Know They’re Not Homer Simpson

 

Michael Friedlander, a nuclear engineer, writes in today’s New York Times:

Contrary to the depiction of nuclear operators as bumbling slackers in “The Simpsons,” the typical employee is more like a cross between a jet pilot and a firefighter: highly trained to keep a technically complex system running, but also prepared to be the first and usually only line of defense in an emergency.

Training to be a senior reactor operator takes up to two years and involves demonstrating one’s ability to process complex, sometimes contradictory information rapidly and under intense pressure. The training regimen also grinds into us the overwhelming importance of staying put in an emergency situation, even at great risk to our own safety. There are simply too many contingencies and too many functions that require close observation for an emergency to be handled remotely.

And so while the world wondered why the workers at the Fukushima plant didn’t flee, my fellow nuclear operators and I weren’t surprised. One employee is reported to have received a significant dose of radiation while trying to vent pressure on one of the reactor’s containment vessels. There is no question that this act saved countless lives. But there is also no question that the operator acted knowing full well that he could suffer long-term injury from doing so.

And those unnamed engineers in Japan deserve the world’s respect for the job they’ve done over the past week, and for the job ahead.

 

FILED UNDER: Natural Disasters, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    And those unnamed engineers in Japan deserve the world’s respect for the job they’ve done over the past week, and for the job ahead.

    Word.

  2. Tlaloc says:

    And those unnamed engineers in Japan deserve the world’s respect for the job they’ve done over the past week, and for the job ahead.

    it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand you have people who are stepping up and risking their lives to fix things or contain the damage when the crap hits the rotor, but at the same time a lot of these people are the same ones who put the crap and the rotor in close proximity.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    ….but at the same time a lot of these people are the same ones who put the crap and the rotor in close proximity.

    Given the age of the plants, I highly doubt this.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    Let me explain the above thinking, the construction for the plant started in 1967, 44 years ago this July. Chances are the location was picked probably more than 1 year prior to that. So a conservative estimate is 45 years ago when the really important decision making was made. Even a 75 year old nuclear plant engineer today would have been 30 back then and probably not working for the the plant in a capacity to make the decisions as to where the plant should be located.

    Blaming the current engineers putting it all on the line right now would be like blaming President Carter for Pearl Harbor.

  5. jd says:

    Nuclear Planet?

  6. Tlaloc says:

    Given the age of the plants, I highly doubt this.

    You’re taking it too literally. I don’t mean just the people who actually constructed the plants, I mean everyone who enables them by working for them. Every engineer who worked for the plants contributed in a small way to this. Every safety inspector, every proponent of nuclear power as a safer energy source, every lobbyist, every pro-nuke politician. A subset of those people are also the people trying to keep the catastrophe from being worse, and it’s admirable for that subset to try to make amends, but let’s not forget that that’s what they are ultimately doing.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    You’re taking it too literally. I don’t mean just the people who actually constructed the plants, I mean everyone who enables them by working for them. Every engineer who worked for the plants contributed in a small way to this. Every safety inspector, every proponent of nuclear power as a safer energy source, every lobbyist, every pro-nuke politician. A subset of those people are also the people trying to keep the catastrophe from being worse, and it’s admirable for that subset to try to make amends, but let’s not forget that that’s what they are ultimately doing.

    Even you then Tlaloc because I’m pretty sure you help support a nuke plant somewhere when you pay your electric bill.