Fail of the Week: A Candle Caused Browns Ferry Nuclear Incident

A colleague of mine used to say he juggled a lot of balls; steel balls, plastic balls, glass balls, and paper balls. The trick was not to drop the glass balls. How do you know which is which? For example, suppose you were tasked with making sure a nuclear power plant was safe. What would be important? A fail-safe way to drop the control rods into the pile, maybe? A thick containment wall? Two loops of cooling so that only the inner loop gets radioactive? I’m not a nuclear engineer, so I don’t know, but ensuring electricians at a nuclear plant aren’t using open flames wouldn’t be high on my list of concerns. You might think that’s really obvious, but it turns out if you look at history that was a glass ball that got dropped.

In the 1960s and 70s, there was a lot of optimism in the United States about nuclear power. Browns Ferry — a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nuclear plant — broke ground in 1966 on two plants. Unit 1 began operations in 1974, and Unit 2 the following year. By 1975, the two units were producing about 2,200 megawatts of electricity.

That same year, an electrical inspector and an electrician were checking for air leaks in the spreading room — a space where control cables split to go to the two different units from a single control room.  To find the air drafts they used a lit candle and would observe the flame as it was sucked in with the draft. In the process, they accidentally started a fire that nearly led to a massive nuclear disaster.

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Hackaday links: February 21 2010

Powerplant control room panoramas:

There are two power plants presented in 360 degree panoramas here. All those dials and switches just get us giddy. The one pictured above was built in 1918 and is still in operation. Not only are the control rooms here, but several other locations around the facility too.

Energy recycling prosthetic foot:

At first, we thought that this energy recycling prosthetic foot was going to be a power generating device to harvest some energy using our weight in the heel compression. Actually, it is showing off a fancy micro controller based system for reproducing our naturally springy step.

Translating in real time with google:

Google is working on a system to do real time translation of text on your phone. It is integrated into the “google goggles” software which allows you to search the internet using images from your phone. This is pretty cool, but with google translate and OCR being readily available for quite some time now, we have to wonder; why didn’t we think of that?

Exploded images of everyday objects:

[Adam Voorhes] has put together a small collection of exploded views of everyday objects. While they aren’t laid out great for reference, they look good and might make nice artwork in your workshop.