A Crawler, But Not Creepy

E-mail Stephanie vL Henkel

The Vermont Yankee nuclear generating plant and its younger (but hardly juvenile) cousin, Seabrook, have New Hampshire in an east-west sandwich. A thin sandwich. So when some "unusual event" or "incident" happens I'd like to know that something with sensor intelligence has prowled through these plants and filed a reliable safety report.

Today, I'd care to draw your attention to an article, "Testing for Materials Aging in Nuclear Power Generators," by Kirby Woods. The technology has implications and applications far beyond the plant in which it was successfully demonstrated.

Many parts of our U.S. infrastructure are growing frail with age and greater than anticipated use. President Eisenhower could never have envisioned a five-car family that's always on the roam. Next time you cross a bridge or a culvert, wouldn't it be reassuring to believe that it will hold you? And whoever's behind you? We've been furrowing our brows a bit at such concerns since our recent floods up here.

Please read the Woods article. You'll come away understanding some nifty—but hardly trivial—technology. Maybe you'll see a way to put it to work for you too.

From a Reader
Becky Holdford, Failure Analyst at Texas Instruments, responded to my previous blog entry from a fresh viewpoint. In that blog I had written about the deaths of five miners in eastern Kentucky. Gas sensors might have saved them, but there weren't any in that mine.

She wrote: "When will people realize that safety is actually cost-effective? The benefits to the workers are obvious. The equipment and workplace benefit by being properly maintained and not being destroyed in accidents. The company's image will benefit by being known as a company where the workers come home with as many body parts as they left with, not to mention their lives. The company image will also benefit by not having its name in the news for the latest disaster or lawsuit. Their liability insurance will go down, worker's compensation claims will go down. I realize Harlan County, Kentucky, is not the job capital of the nation but people shouldn't have to pay for their jobs with their lives."

And a reader who asks that his name not be used has commented on Ms. Holdford's rhetorical question, "When will people realize that safety is actually cost-effective?"

He wrote: "I'd like to see some numbers on that! Maybe it's true for some industries but not true for others. Coal companies have been around for a long time. Might they not have long ago run the numbers and determined that their financial self-interest is best served by NOT investing further in safety? My assumption is that corporations aren't stupid where maximizing profit is concerned. That's a good thing most of the time, but not so good if you're a worker in a dangerous job without employment alternatives."