Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Amazing Conversation

My post on the Piping Diagrams elicited two very interesting replies, one from Commissioner O'Brien, and one from Don Kreis of Vermont Law School.

I am cutting and pasting their comments below.

However, something even more amazing has happened. In a world (Vermont) where people shout and throw manure, Professor Kreis and I are having a very civilized conversation about Vermont Yankee. We are discussing who said what to whom. We are having this discussion in a very positive manner. This is a conversation I want to publish on my blog! Alas, it is getting awfully I will link to it, instead.

Read and join the conversation at Vermont Digger or add a comment on this blog. Thank you to Don Kreis and the people at Vermont Digger for this opportunity.


IMPORTANT UPDATE: The link to the conversation at Vermont Digger no longer works, and the conversation has been removed from the site. An earlier post by Donald Kreis remains on the site.


The comments from my earlier post, below.

Don Kreis said...

Thanks for the invitation to leap into the dialogue. If I am understanding our respective comments correctly, we are a couple of Tufte fans who aren't in fundamental disagreement here. Diagrams and technical reports would have been a good focus at the September 11, 2008 meeting, which instead was organized around a .ppt presentation that was unhelpful for precisely the same reason that the Boeing .ppt show was unhelpful during that final flight of the Shuttle Columbia.

Obviously, the 9/11/08 PowerPoint didn't have the devastating consequences the Boeing/NASA one did. I never suggested otherwise. Your real beef, I think, is with Tufte -- he could have chosen other, less high-stakes examples of bad PowerPoint slides. The world is awash in them.

MAY 9, 2010 8:08 PM
David O'Brien, Commissioner said...
Meredith, with all due respect I have to disagree with your characterization of the Department having egg on our face with respect to the now famous underground pipes. When others are looking at this issue they are missing a critical piece that is not in the VY investigation or recorded even in our emails. It is the repeated claims by VY persons at the many meetings we had together with the consulatants and the oversight panel where VY was questioned on their claim that they did not have any underground buried pipes. It was this repeated asseration by VY that we trusted that they were giving us an accurate answer.

There are so many people saying why not just look at the drawings. Well, first, they probably have no idea how many drawings there are for this plant and the drawings alone do not identify pipes carrying radionuclides. After discovering that the company's own affidavit by a Mr. Rademacher could not be relied upon, Bruce Hinckley, our consultant that assisted us with the NSA audit, had to have contractors go over the drawings and other information to identify the pipes that do carry radionulclides and it took about 5 weeks and cost about a 150K. People forget that the legislation had us on a very tight schedule where we had less than 4 months to complete a massive inspection. We had to get the scope of the inspection agreed upon with the POP so we could get started before the clock ran out. We did not have reason to believe that VY was not providing accurate information with regard to the pipes and therefore had no reason to second guess them by spending more time and money to verify their statement upfront.

In summary:

1. First, the question isn’t just about whether there were underground pipes at VY. Of course, there are underground pipes at VY. We all knew there were underground pipes at VY, but what we were told is that there were no underground piping systems carrying radionuclides. So we could have been aware of numerous drawings showing underground pipes and that would not have alarmed us or clued us in that there are underground pipes carrying radionuclides.

2. Second, as a long time regulator, we have to trust a utility to provide us with accurate information. Our entire system of regulation is based upon that basic premise. If that was not true, the DPS and every other PUC in the country would have to be at least twice as large. Once a utility shows it cannot be trusted to give accurate information, then we have to go over everything with a fine toothed comb. We said we would verify the piping affidavits that Entergy gave us because we no longer trusted them to give us correct information. Hence the extra 5 weeks and 150K worth of verification.

MAY 10, 2010 8:35 AM
Meredith Angwin said...
First, I would like to thank Donald Kreis and Commissioner O'Brien for their thoughtful responses to my blog.

Donald, just a note that it is not possible for me be annoyed at Tufte. I have admired him since I first saw his first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. And he can use whatever examples he chooses.

My issue was different. The Report of the Investigation clearly states that Entergy gave P and ID diagrams and tables of piping to the NSA team in meetings on September 9 and 11, 2008. As I understand it, the NSA team received this piping information in both hard copy and electronic form. (This is not in the report, it is something I heard through the grapevine. Maybe NSA actually only received paper copies, I don't know for sure.)

You concentrate on the Powerpoint presentation, and ignore the backup data which Entergy gave to the NSA participants. In my post, I cited the pages for my sources of data exchange. Perhaps you can read pages 19 through 23 of the text (25 through 30 of the pdf) and tell me why you think the Powerpoint was the only significant information-exchange method?

Commissioner O'Brien, I want to thank you for your response, which was full of new information (or at least, new to me). I didn't understand the legislative requirement to complete the massive inspection in four months. I had no idea of the constraints under which the Department was operating. From an outsiders point of view, the whole thing has basically gone on forever, with dockets, VSNAP meetings, NSA panels, POP panels, etc. When you are working inside the project, though, life looks different. The Department was clearly put in a position of Never Time to Do It Right, Always Time to Do It Over. Six weeks and 150K to do it over! Thank you for explaining the situation.

Thank you both for your comments.


Anonymous said...

On the subject of piping..underground piping varies from plant to plant dependant on the AE and original plant specs.Oyster Creek has what are underground pipes leaking low level radioactive water (ie.condensate storage lines buried in the earth.).Whereas VY has all of its radioactive fluid lines in a pipe tunnel/trench with few exceptions(ie.chem waste drain line and radwaste discharge to river line (not in vy is a "o"liquid release plant!)
I think the State of VT should look at all Nuclear Stations in all States and you will see that VY is a better built plant and why many are confused about what is an underground pipe???

Meredith Angwin said...

Yes, I agree. It is a well-built plant, and some perspective around here would be welcome.

I can't do better than Rod Adams did in his post about the extent of the tritium leak.