I was going to title this post “The Energy behind the Energy” in honor of all the smart men and women that put their life and their energy into making sure the power generation plants they work on are safe and to the extent possible fail safe.
Nothing is Fail Safe
However, good planning combined with documentation, data capture and training can make a challenging situation manageable. I don’t know what will happen with the power plant that has been damaged by the recent earthquakes in Japan. However, I do hope a serious situation does not occur. Beyond the obvious reasons that a meltdown or other radiation release would cause damage to the surrounding environment and of course to plants, animals and people that live in the area.
What does this have to do with Documentation?
The people that have spent their lives designing power plants --- nuclear and other power generation options spend inordinate amounts of time putting in factors of safety, considering alternatives and thinking through a lot of different scenarios --- good and bad. Why do they do this? Because it’s part of the ecosystem of designing, developing, managing, and even dismantling the power plant.
Engineers in the automobile industry have been using the “Design for Disassembly” model for many years. Power plant designers and operators also follow a similar model. One big difference is that automobiles might only last 10 years and power plants are expected to last much longer.
Documentation needs to span the lifetime of the project. From design time --- which might be 50 years or more before the plant is decommissioned. Through the operation of the plant and all the ancillary activities that need to occur during the lifetime of operations – maintenance, provisioning, training, and yes disaster management. Finally, the process of dismantling and decommissioning needs to be considered too. The people that built the power plant are not likely to be part of the decommissioning process. For this reason the process of documenting everything is critical.
What does this have to do with Data Capture?
A power plant, much like any system, runs on data.
During day-to-day operations this data is used to keep things within the pre-defined checks and balances. In the event of a disaster that data can be used to reconstruct what happened. The data is captured in many forms. There are paper based forms, there is electronic data that is updated manually, there is a constant running stream of data from sensors too. All of this data needs to be captured. All of this data needs to be managed. All of this data comprises the ecosystem of the power plant.
One of the unexpected data streams that should be captured and managed is GIS Data. GIS data provides a lot of information about the physical location that can be useful for both daily operations and if needed in the event of an emergency. This data will prove invaluable for the damage caused by the tsunami – where markers on the ground have literally been washed away.
Get Knowledge Here
If you want some deeper education about the nuclear industry and some of the buzzwords and jargon that are going around please take a few minutes to peruse Kathy Gill’s page where she fills in a much needed role of “The Explainer”
As @brucenussbaum said:
“Japan's nuclear catastrophe is about asymmetrical risks, not just risk assessment. The "what if" downside requires extra "what if" backup.”
Risk Management is Driven by Data
While no one wants to see a catastrophic event occur the engineers and plant managers (both civilian and governmental agencies) need to plan for the worst. The plans they develop and run countless scenarios against are dependent upon data. That data comes in many forms and needs to be documented and captured. Those data stream become part of the power plants ecosystem and history and will be used to help future projects operate more efficiently and safely. One bit of good news is that, again much like the automobile industry, safety and operational data is shared with other countries and agencies.
Thank an Engineer
The people behind the scenes should be commended for their plans and their planning. Again, I don’t know what will happen with the power plants in Japan. However, it’s been quite clear that the people involved did indeed have plans in place to manage the risk that was exposed by the earthquake.
Will these plans prevent a meltdown or the release of radiation to the environment? I don’t know. However, it seems pretty clear that they have (so far) averted a catastrophic disaster scenario. I hope the smart people around the world (not just in Japan) can continue to make wise choices and minimize the risks.
Sure, some will say that the power plant should have never been built. Well, that’s almost more of a socio-economic decision than anything else. Yes, there are risks. Yet, the risks can be managed. Fission based nuclear power is what we have today. In the future fusion as well as solar, wind and perhaps other sources of power will become more available to the masses.
Regarding Risk --- Using the “something might happen” logic could be (mis-)interpreted to infer that automobiles, cigarettes and alcohol should be banned --- because “something might happen.”
Nothing is Fail Safe. However, I give credit to the engineers that developed the systems and to the civilian and government agencies for having plans in place. Those plans took years of effort to develop. Those plans included documenting everything they could, those plans included a lot of data capture and a lot of training. Unfortunately, the training is being put to the test now. I hope the years of effort pay off and avert what could be a much larger catastrophe.
I will keep my eyes and ears on the situation in Japan. I will probably update this post as more information becomes available. If you have a comment I’d like to hear it. I’m just one voice. Your voice should be heard too. Thanks for reading.