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Drop & Run - A GDST to discuss radiological oopsie-doodles

zagdrobzagdrob Registered User regular
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An interesting tangent in the Elon Musk thread about ethics in engineering and Therac-25 malfunctions spun off into a discussion of orphan source incidents and accidents.

Since pople seem to be eager to discuss this topic I figured I'd create this thread to discuss those incidents and other similar accidents involving radioactive substances, nuclear power, and so-on.

Just a note - some of the stories and descriptions of what radiation does to humans can be pretty horrific, so if in doubt spoiler.

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    GilgaronGilgaron Registered User regular
    I was trying to remember one that wasn't too long ago and didn't even find it because the list is surprisingly long!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_radiation_accidents

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    zagdrobzagdrob Registered User regular
    There are a ton of incidents that are all interesting and horrifying in their own way, two that stood out to me are:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kramatorsk_radiological_accident where a lost radioactive capsule was mixed in with construction materials in an apartment building and killed at least four residents.

    Also a fairly mundane incident was the Lia radiological accident, but this quote is just a major grimace.
    The lumberjacks were scavenging the forest for firewood, when they came across two metal cylinders melting snow within a one meter radius laying in the road. They picked up these objects to use as personal heaters, sleeping with their backs to them.

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    GilgaronGilgaron Registered User regular
    zagdrob wrote: »
    There are a ton of incidents that are all interesting and horrifying in their own way, two that stood out to me are:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kramatorsk_radiological_accident where a lost radioactive capsule was mixed in with construction materials in an apartment building and killed at least four residents.

    Also a fairly mundane incident was the Lia radiological accident, but this quote is just a major grimace.
    The lumberjacks were scavenging the forest for firewood, when they came across two metal cylinders melting snow within a one meter radius laying in the road. They picked up these objects to use as personal heaters, sleeping with their backs to them.

    That's like something out of Roadside Picnic

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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    One of my favorite channels is Plainly Difficult, who goes over a lot of these incidents in about a 10-20 minute timeframe. I've learned FAR more than I'd like about how dangerous the world is thanks to him.

    https://www.youtube.com/@PlainlyDifficult

    He has playlists categorized by the type of "Oh Shit" it is, and there is one for sources in the wild:



    He's also how I learned of the Bhopal Gas Disaster.. which is so horrifying that I would learn about such a thing from a youtube video and not as part of world history like Chernobyl is...

    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    I highly recommend both

    Atomic Accidents

    The author is a former nuclear engineer, so it definitely has a bias but it goes through a slew of accidents that part you've probably never heard of. Really its a fucking miracle civilization made it through the 50s and 60s. He does a pretty good job explaining a lot of the arcana around nuclear-reactions as well. For as "run away death machine" as these reactors are, actually making one work is pretty fucking hard.

    My personal favorite anecdote.

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    The reactors Britain was using were basically giant blocks of graphite with holes drilled through them, through there holes little capsule containing the uranium would be inserted. Britain was trying to develop its first H bomb, and in order to make one you need tritium. One way to get tritium is to bombard lithium. So the capsule design was changed to include enriched uranium and magnesium and lithium.

    The temperature got too high, so some of the magnesium started burning, the plant responded to the increase in core temperature by speeding up the fans to cool the core.

    End results was a draft fed graphite-uranium-lithium-magnesium fire.



    Command and Control

    https://www.amazon.com/Atomic-Accidents-Meltdowns-Disasters-Mountains/dp/1605986801

    Covers the Strategic Air Command and the US 'control' of nuclear weapons during the cold war.

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    Phoenix-DPhoenix-D Registered User regular
    Windscale is...something else. Yes, let's have an open-cycle air cooled reactor. Nothing could possssibly go wrong.

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    tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    Also I shared this back in the Chernobyl(TV Show) thread, and while technically not a radiological whoopsie, it's just too great to note share.



    DailyKos has a great write up I'm editing out all the public service commission stuff just to keep it shorter, but read the whole thing https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/2/4/1477515/-The-Crystal-River-Nuclear-Power-Plant-How-Progress-Energy-Broke-its-Own-Nuke

    Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant: How to DIY and save negative 2.5 billion dollars.
    The Crystal River Unit 3, located in rural Citrus County FL near the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the last nuclear power stations to be built in the United States, being completed in 1976. The 860 MW pressurized-water reactor was the only nuclear-powered plant at what would over the years become a 5-unit power station, one of the largest in the US. (The other four units were all coal-fired.)

    But by 2009, Crystal River Unit 3, like all the other nuclear plants in the US, had been in service for over 30 years, and was reaching the end of its designed lifespan. To keep the aging nukes running, electric companies across the US had begun upgrading some of the equipment to give them another 20 years or so of useful life.

    In September 2009, Unit 3 was scheduled for a routine shut-down to have its nuclear fuel replaced, and Progress Energy had already decided to use the opportunity to replace the 30-year old steam generators with new ones, which would increase the lifespan of the plant and also expand its electricity output by about 20%. Since the generators were located inside the thick cement containment building that surrounded the nuclear reactor (which was designed to prevent radioactive contamination if there were an accident) and were too big to fit through the existing door, the procedure for replacing them involved cutting a large hole, some 30x20 feet, through the thick wall[42" of concrete], and using the hole to gain access. While this might sound drastic, it had already been done several dozen times before in the US and was a rather routine task. It was expected that the work would be finished and the plant would be up and running again by December.

    ...

    By the time Progress Energy decided to upgrade its nuke, the same operation had already been done 34 times in other plants in the US, and in 13 of those cases, it had been necessary to cut through the containment building to replace the generators. All of those jobs had been carried out by one of just two companies, Bechtel Corporation or SGT. They all went without a hitch.

    At the time it first decided to replace the generators, back in 2004, Progress Energy approached SGT to do the work. The job would cost a total of $230 million, of which about $81 million would go for SGT's management fees. But then, someone in Progress Energy's upper-level management had what they apparently thought was a great idea--if they bypassed SGT entirely, managed the project themselves, and hired Bechtel solely to do the actual construction work, they could save the company somewhere between $15 and $30 million.

    The idea drew immediate criticism within the company. An internal memo pointed out that "large scale engineering and construction management is not our core business", and others argued that the company's inexperience in overseeing this type of project could very likely cause lots of delays that would ultimately swamp out any savings.

    Nevertheless, Progress Energy decided to go ahead with the “DIY” management plan. It hired Bechtel to do the actual work of replacing the generators, and another company called Mac & Mac Hydrodemolition (which had never worked on a nuclear plant) to cut the actual hole through the wall. To do all the preliminary planning, Progress hired an engineering company called Sargent and Lundy, which had also never worked on a nuclear power plant before. These all agreed to work directly under Progress’s own management.

    During the planning, Progress continuously pushed Sargent and Lundy to do things on the cheap. Nuclear containment buildings are built from cement which is reinforced by a number of tightened steel bands, called "tendons". The Crystal River plant had 426 tendons. In the process of cutting through the wall, a number of these tendons had to be loosened (called "de-tensioning"). When Sargent and Lundy submitted its plans for the project, they called for a total of 97 of the tendons to be loosened. Progress Energy management in turn complained that "de-tensioning the tendons is a very expensive and time-consuming effort," and asked S&L to reduce the "excessive" number. The next proposal was for 74 tendons to be loosened--about the same number as had been done in all the other plants that had undergone the procedure. It still wasn't enough to satisfy Progress. Company execs told Sargent and Lundy to "put their thinking caps on" and find "an alternative method. . . that would result in a lot less tendons being de-tensioned". S&L returned with a proposal to loosen just 65 tendons--lower than any of the other projects. Progress Energy, delighted with the cost savings, accepted the plan.

    But in September 2009, when the actual work began, it quickly became apparent that there were additional unusual things being proposed, apparently to save time and costs. In order to keep the tension evenly distributed around the containment building, it was necessary to loosen the tendons in a staggered pattern. Progress Energy management, however, was ordering the Bechtel workers to de-tension the tendons sequentially, right next to each other. The normal procedure was also to loosen all the necessary tendons before attempting to cut the actual hole through the wall; Mac and Mac was being ordered to begin cutting the hole after only 27 tendons had been loosened. A number of the Bechtel supervisors had worked on the projects at the other nuclear plants, and they were concerned at these departures from standard operating procedure. "I have never heard of it being done like this before," noted one foreman in a memo to his boss, "and I just want to express my concerns to you one last time.'' Bechtel's project supervisor asked in an email, "Why are we doing tendons different here than all other jobs?" Progress Energy responded with a bland, "I am satisfied the Sargent & Lundy approach is technically correct and will withstand scrutiny."

    The cutting process began in October 2009. Within an hour, cracks appeared in the wall of the containment building. Soon "large chunks" were popping loose and falling out.[From what I heard from someone who was there, there was over a foot of misalliagnment in sections, where the concrete on 1 side of the cut was a foot "higher" than the opposite side] The work was halted. The company’s efforts to save itself $15 million had resulted in the destruction of a $2.5 billion building.

    [So they actually made several efforts to repair the cracks, but none of the attempts to repair it wound up working. The final estimate for replacing the entire containment vessel was north of 1b dollars, they decided to just take the write-down instead]

    ....

    Decommissioning the Crystal River nuke is currently expected to cost about $1.2 billion, and take about sixty years.
    The silo in the middle front is the containment vessel.
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    electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Crystal River thank fuck jesus christ. I read this story years ago, and I have constantly wanted to use it as a case-in-fucking-point of how you can be an idiot trying to save money and prompt lose it. For some reason it's just about impossible to find with vague search terms on Google.

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