An interesting parallel -- a tale of two industries

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From FuturePundit:
Oil Industry Macondo Response Lesson For Nukes
In response to the BP Macondo Deepwater Horizon oil well blow-out and resulting 87 days of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico 2 consortiums of oil companies and formed 2 companies to develop devices that can be brought on after a blow-out to cap a run-away well within a couple of weeks of a blow-out. 10 major oil companies (e.g. Exxon and COP) that account for 70% of the oil pumped in the Gulf put up $1 billion to fund the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) to create what are called capping stacks. Some of these stacks are ready for deployment.

A separate group of oil companies founded Helix Well Containment Group which has developed their own capping stacks. The first Helix design works to 5600 feet, which is deeper than the 5000 feet water depth of the Macondo well. The next Helix capping stack due this summer will be good to 10000 feet. Many of proposed new drilling sites are at 10,000 feet and deeper. MWCC is on a similar path to develop greater well capping capability.

The MWCC interim well containment system is ready for deployment with the capacity to contain up to 60,000 barrels per day of fluid in up to 8,000 feet of water. Work is also under way on the expanded system for delivery in 2012 to handle up to 100,000 barrels per day of fluid in up to 10,000 feet of water.

To my mind this aspect of the oil industry's response to this disaster (develop much better tools for handling worst case scenarios) illustrates what the nuclear power industry needs to do: develop a set of portable capabilities that can be rapidly deployed to any nuclear reactor site to rapidly recover from major systems failures. These capabilities are not a substitute for improvements that reduce the odds of such failures. But industries such as nuclear power and oil extraction should admit their best laid plans (which are often not laid out all that well in the first place) can fail and fail very badly.

I would like to see the nuclear power industry explain how they can develop a number of capabilities including:
  • Portable reactor cooling systems for cooling system failures.
  • Reactor wall patching systems for cases when a reactor breach occurs.
  • Portable shielded reactor control centers for when normal control centers become damaged or their radiation levels go too high.
Everything that went wrong at Fukushima should be dealt with by consortia of nuclear power industry companies by developing technologies that can substitute rapidly for damaged systems and do more rapid repair of reactor sites.
Makes perfect sense. One big problem (and something I am very hacked about) is that each reactor is unique to the site. There is no common standard for pipe sizes, pump locations or size. Each core has common features but their implementation is different. What makes the Navy's nuclear program so fault-free is that there are only a few basic designs in operation. You need more power? Put in a second core. If the bearing on a pump fails, start monitoring the same pumps on the other ships and if there is a weakness in design, replace all the pumps with a stronger design. It would be awesome if the nuclear industry standardized some of these things or at least have adapters available at each site.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on April 21, 2011 11:39 AM.

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