Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Brit SSNs Have Nuclear Valve Issues

This report in The Guardian details how two British SSNs, HMS Turbulent (S 87) and HMS Tireless (S 88) operated for up to two years with their Steam Generator Safety Valves isolated. Excerpts:
Safety valves designed to release pressure from steam generators in an emergency were completely sealed off when the nuclear hunter killers Turbulent and Tireless left port, a leaked memo discloses.
The problem went undetected on HMS Turbulent for more than two years, during which time the vessel was on operations around the Atlantic, and visited Bergen in Norway, the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, and Faslane naval base near Glasgow.
It was not noticed on HMS Tireless for more than a year, and was finally detected last month, two months after Tireless started sea trials from its home port at Devonport naval base in Plymouth...
... The blocked valves, on the hull of the submarines, meant that steam from nuclear-powered boilers could not have been released in an emergency, leading to a potentially disastrous build-up of pressure.
John Large, a consultant on nuclear safety who advises governments on submarine safety, said: "It was a very significant failure. These two submarines were unfit for service. It was a perilous situation."
He said sealing these valves was like blocking the valve on a domestic pressure cooker. If pressure had built up to dangerous levels, the submarine's steam circuit could have burst, leaking radioactivity into the submarine and shutting down the reactor. "There would be a risk of fatalities," Large said. "This was such a glaring and fundamental omission. It's jaw-dropping."
[Emphasis mine] Obviously, the nuclear "consultant" who thinks a steam rupture results in an immediate leak of radioactivity into the submarine, before the reactor shuts down, doesn't have a clue (unless all Brit subs have massive primary-to-secondary leaks), but the report is correct that this was a massive blunder by the shipyard and a big nuclear no-no. Admiral Rickover, who did so much to impose nuclear safety standards on the British submarine fleet in exchange for the S5W reactor design, must be on the governor right now.

(In discussing this, please remember not to disclose NNPI. For those wondering if I violated my own admonition in posting about this article, please note that I included links for both of the esoteric nuclear terms I used to show that the concepts are in the public domain.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well if those steam generators blow up, is there some place else heat comes from to create the steam? Article wasn't THAT dumb in my opinion

5/02/2010 5:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:53- Um, what?

5/02/2010 6:07 PM

Blogger Bill Lapham said...

I love it when you guys talk all nuclear and shit...I get

5/02/2010 6:10 PM

Blogger midwatchcowboy said...


One thing I learned quickly is that you've got a friend in the NRC for discussing general PWR concepts: the Generic Fundamentals Examination (required for all Reactor Operators). The requirements for the final operator license discusses many of the other intricacies of operating a PWR.

As long as you're speaking in general terms about PWR construction and operation, you can reference these all day long.

5/02/2010 6:27 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Do they not have British equivalent of ORSE?

5/02/2010 6:39 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Sea trials for the Brits must be very frightful if safety valve cycling is routinely omitted at the yard. Had to have been tested there. Why did RAN not witness or obtain a cert? Who signed the certs -nobody? The guy who used to do it retired and was never replaced? Socialism at its finest.
Coming to a navy near you?

How many readers have ever cycled the factory-tested pressure relief valve on their hot water heater? DO NOT try this at home when the water heater is in operation, still energized, or very hot. Needs to be cycled by your installer prior to use. If it is stuck, you too could have some serious safety issues later.

5/02/2010 6:43 PM

Anonymous Former Squadron Rider said...

Do they not have British equivalent of CLUE!?!

5/02/2010 6:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did someone really just invoke "socialism" as a root cause of leaving safety valves gagged? Does that mean the next time I visit the Doc and get the generic Vitamin M I can blame "socialism"? How about the next time a mechanic or EOOW screws up a tagout? Is the root cause "socialism" too?

5/02/2010 7:14 PM

Blogger Thomas said...

Bah, it's a secondary system, no concern. Flog all concerned and call it a day. It's not like they left a primary valve out of position, that's a hanging offense in the USN. :)

5/02/2010 8:00 PM

Anonymous mark/MM1(ss) said...

How comical is it, that someone can call themselves a "nuclear safety consultant" who would not have the grasp that Joel showed of the problem? Anon @5:53, the answer to your first question is no, but it's clear you know next to nothing about pressurized water reactors, naval or otherwise...

5/02/2010 8:10 PM

Anonymous mark/MM1(ss) said...

I apologize, anon, didn't mean to be that rude...that comment by the "safety consultant" was incredibly stupid, though...

5/02/2010 8:37 PM

Anonymous ex (U.S.) SSN Eng said...

Actually, I don't think it's overkill to call this "a reactor safety issue"...but on the other hand (and admittedly a bit flippantly) no animals were harmed in the production of this news item.

No one got hurt, in other words, but this is a very big deal, IMHO.

5/02/2010 9:23 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Anon @ 7:14 PM

"Did someone really just invoke "socialism" as a root cause of leaving safety valves gagged?"

Nice try, Duck. [Please, NEVER put words in my mouth]. The problem was that gagged safety valves were not detected before two subs deployed. What was the root cause?

Redundancy of error is symptomatic of administrative failure (faulty system design or poor feedback of lapses in execution).

Is socialism to blame? The UK's system failed; can anyone doubt their sub safety program is managed in socialist fashion?

To reiterate possible root causes that were actually mentioned (all administrative, by the way): Why did the Royal Navy neither witness the test nor obtain a cert? Who signed the certs -nobody? The guy who used to do it retired and was never replaced?

When and if the facts surface, one or all of the above should be obvious. Rather than argue with you pointlessly, I prefer to just wait and be proven correct.

Good day.

5/02/2010 9:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who does not think this is a reactor safety issue needs to think about what would happen if say, I don't know, the reactor was CWLU and suddenly there was a sharp increase in temperature. Bad things could start happening very quickly.

5/02/2010 10:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it might be a reactor safety issue if a SG blew up due to overpressure and killed everyone in the engine room, right?

I'd also be concerned about something breaking loose and causing that primary/secondary leak...

5/02/2010 10:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you've been paying so little attention to your plant that your steam generator safeties are lifting you have some serious issues. Sure it's a big deal, but it's one of those "safety" features that's there to make us feel good. The CWLU aspect is the only one that makes a little bit of sense, but I've spent a significant amount of time in CWLU in the last two years and a temperature "spike" is somewhat far-fetched. Yeah it's a big deal, but if you haven't done anything by the time your safeties are lifting you're fucked. So it's a moot point, In my opinion.

5/03/2010 1:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like this is John Large's web site:

Nuclear Test Veterans High Court Hearing - Large & Associates Evidence

Justifying UK New Build Nuclear’, Call for Independent Inquiry - Technical Omissions in the Justification Process, Palace of Westminster, London 11 March 2010

SCANS Objection to Southampton City Council's Off-Site Emergency Planning for Nuclear Powered Submarine Berthing in the City

1 Repository Road
Ha-Ha Road
London United Kingdom

Mayhaps the "Ha-Ha" road address says it all.

5/03/2010 5:46 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

Anon @ 1054: "Well, it might be a reactor safety issue if a SG blew up due to overpressure and killed everyone in the engine room, right?"

Ah, someone who hasn't been on a boat since, well, EVER, I see. Basically, coming out of any yard/extended availability period, it's always been my experience that a 100 percent valve lineup is pretty much expected prior to latching and snatching, or even significantly changing plant conditions; i.e., heating up/coming out of CWLU. Can mistakes occur? Sure, but hull isolations are kind of important, and it seems inexcusable to me that they would be overlooked not once, but TWICE (more if you consider the number of hull/backup valves on each boat...)

I know in our system, there would be an ENG and CO (among others) that would be going bye-bye if this happened on their boats.

5/03/2010 10:36 AM

Blogger DDM said...

Way too much B.S. on this topic.

Isolated safety valves are very big primary safety concern.

Which USS Virginia? Not the sub. To say otherwise is rubbish. I have been pretty knowledgeable about her since SSN 774 was only an RC at EB. I rode her several times.

Saftey valves not any help in CWLU. That's why we have so many other administrative controls when in CWLU.

I remember doing Safety Valve testing on SSN 23 with our host as my ENG.

If there is one thing that needs to be emphasized, it's that our naval nuclear power plants are the safest in the world. Hearing of these types of events only reinforces the importance of the nukes primary missions: Keep the core covered and answer the ordered bell.

5/03/2010 10:48 AM

Anonymous Carl said...

Nuclear safety issue? Absolutely. Any time a failure can occur that compromises one of the primary (as in "main") barriers such that the secondary (as in "backup") barriers is a big issue.

Vigilis - you invoked the "socialism" bug-a-boo. Care to enlighten how it has any relevance? How is British sub nuclear power programs different? I've worked with some British civilian nukes and didn't see a big difference between us and my counterparts in civilian nuclear safety behaviors / expectations.

As far as hurting folks in the engine room (or their equivalent) ... it really depends on where the weakest link is. It doesn't have to be the SG shell but could be in attached piping that might penetrate the bulkheads. So the statement ain't that dumb (but that may be dumb luck).


5/03/2010 11:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

this may only be a 688 thing, but these valves in particular are checked before EVERY startup.

5/03/2010 12:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...this may only be a 688 thing, but these valves in particular are checked before EVERY startup."

Same thing with S5W...and probably all plants...

5/03/2010 12:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I served on Skipjack and Permit class and do not recall those being checked on every start up. My recollection is:

Short form lineup if the plant stayed hot and there was no maintenance

Long form lineup if cold and/or upkeep.

Special form if hot but maintenance on the system.

But then that was a long time ago...

Old Chief from the dark ages

5/03/2010 1:42 PM

Anonymous ex (U.S.) SSN Eng said...

Some older boats have/had a dedicated XC system. Isolating the SG reliefs on boats that don't have that kind of backup system is a very BFD, both in terms of violating operating philosophy and tempting the fates.

5/03/2010 2:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK so maybe there wouldn't be a radioactivity issue if the S/Gs had a catastrophic rupture ('course being said who's to say what would happen to the integrity of the primary side) but it would still be a REALLY CRAPPY day for the crew.

5/03/2010 3:11 PM

Anonymous T.J. said...

With so-called experts like the guy in the story it is no wonder that the media and the public as a whole have no idea about anything nuclear.

The big concepts are really not hard to grasp.

As midwatchcowboy said, tardathe NRC sample GRE exam will bring back memories of power school - it's all there on the internet.

5/03/2010 3:42 PM

Anonymous xem2 said...

1) Seems like a SG explosion could result in a primary leak, so the comment was technically correct. The "expert" should have emphasized that this is just one line of protection, and one unlikely to ever be necessary.

2) "Is socialism to blame? The UK's system failed; can anyone doubt their sub safety program is managed in socialist fashion?" Every military program is socialist. The government takes private citizens' property (money in the form of taxes) and uses it to buy, maintain, and operate public property. Textbook socialism, just socialism that everyone in the world agrees is necessary.

3) Turbulent? Were all the good T-adjectives taken already?

5/03/2010 4:18 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Deleted a couple of comments. When I asked commenters "not to disclose NNPI", that was a code phrase for "don't provide speculation about bad things that may or may not have happened on specific U.S. nuclear powered ships that aren't in the public domain". An example would be, "On USS Ustafish, we used to take the Reactor Protection circuit cards out of the cabinets to use them to control fighting robots we were building in Shaft Alley."

5/03/2010 4:31 PM

Anonymous LT L said...

Dude, BEADWINDOW on the P&A-powered fighting robots. They already took our smokes, we can't let them know about the only fun thing we have left.


5/03/2010 4:58 PM

Blogger FastAttackChief said...

Maybe the brits would be kind enough to let us use their Incident Report for training.

5/03/2010 5:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what the sub force needs...more mandatory training topics.

5/03/2010 5:55 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

Though I have great admiration for this blog and Joel's running of it, I will take exception to his insistence on NNPI trumping journalistic interest. There are many reasons for NR's phony restriction on information flow but none of them have to do with release of classified information ... which already had a well-defined and effective set of laws governing it and to which the NNPI process added nothing.

Which is to say, if the USTAFISH screwed the pooch back aft in some especially entertaining way, covering the Navy's ass is not an interest of journalism. Some who post here may have legal constraints on what they can say, but the public has no such constraints on what its interest may be or on its need to know.

Need to know? Yes. If the nation's Navy is performing poorly or unsafely, its owners - we, the people - have a need to know that. Those crafty communists who wrote the Constitution, they recognized that government - even NR - might not always be trustworthy and so made certain that a free press would be enshrined in the law of the land to dig out information that government sources - even NR - would want to bury beneath obfuscation and secrecy.

Either blogging is a form of journalism and protected under the First Amendment ... or it is meaningless and an utter waste of time.

5/03/2010 6:35 PM

Blogger Old Salt said...

If you read the article, it appears that it was NOT a valve lineup issue. It sounds like the yard put hull blanks on for ER pressure testing and forgot to take them off. No pre-anything valve lineup would have caught it.

5/03/2010 6:37 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the lack of Reactor Protection circuit enabled fighting robots to be a reactor safety issue.

5/03/2010 6:50 PM

Anonymous Shore JO said...

Old salt is right. I learned all about requirements for hull blanks the hard way at EB.....

5/03/2010 7:19 PM

Anonymous Yadda yadda said...

Dear Duck: I think that a reading of the former USSR's "NRTBs" would be a lot more interesting...and horrific...than any "screwed pooch" story in the U.S. nuclear sub inventory.

Both countries' records speak for themselves. The U.S. has had no reactor accidents, such as they are defined. The USSR had any number of them, some of which ended up in the drink, sans appropriate burial.

Bark up another tree. Or, better yet...just go fishing, old friend. And take a chill pill.

5/03/2010 8:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LT L said...
They already took our smokes, we can't let them know about the only fun thing we have left.


Took away your smokes? Hell, LT, they are giving you women! Just can't please some guys :)

5/03/2010 8:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I highly applaud the NNPI control. It is there for a reason, this site is great. While I would love more details, there is a reason they shouldnt be posted on the internet.
Thanks Joel!

5/03/2010 9:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the valve line up issue is covered if it was the shipyard with hull blanks, and yes, even the brand new virginia class submarines still have a pre-critical valve line up that includes the safeties. When we were at EB, when the shipyard owned a system and turned it over to us we inspected the whole system, including out to the hull. If we still owned the system one of us would be on the JLG with the shipyard guy. How exactly do other countries run their nuclear reactors? I mean, really, these are just some gross fundamental errors.

5/04/2010 1:05 AM

Anonymous Carl said...

"... take exception to his insistence on NNPI trumping journalistic interest."

Joel may not be interested in tilting at this windmill and having to fight the issue in court. (Joel also may not agree ... which ends up at the same result.)

You're free to open a blog and start stretching the NNPI boundaries until the Feds show up and arrange an arraignment.

(I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with the point just that the decision to head down the path of civil disobedience is not one to be foisted on others. Make the decision for yourself and take the risks yourself.)


5/04/2010 11:20 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

I would gently suggest that the exercise of journalistic freedom is not civil disobedience. This First Amendment thing certainly does baffle those who swore to uphold it.

5/04/2010 11:50 AM

Blogger FTC(SS) ret. said...

You nailed it. They also seemed equally baffled by the whole "equality" and "freedom" thing as evidenced by their discussion of gays and women on subs.

FTC(SS) ret.

5/04/2010 12:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your exercise of journalistic freedom includes divulging information that is categorized as NOFORN (or is perhaps classified), you deserve whatever you get.

5/04/2010 1:10 PM

Blogger tennvol said...

I would 'gently suggest' that blogging is not necessarily journalism, nor is journalism a free license to publish any information one desires.

5/04/2010 1:13 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

All arguing that the government's interest in hiding information trumps the people's interest in what the hell that government is doing. Interesting.

Laws exist out side NNPI to properly safeguard classified information - NNPI is the KOG's distrust of the rest of the Navy and his closed-shop approach to innovation and engineering. It is a control-freak approach, and I've never heard anyone say he wasn't that. But a rich body of precedence exists for the publication of information discomforting to government officials: the Pentagon papers, the Watergate press effort, and many others. As one journalist put it, the role of the profession is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I come down on the side of the Constitution - that's what I swore to uphold. The document starts out with the words "We The People," putting its ownership and that of its government in the proper hands. You certainly have the right to prefer an authoritarian government that decides what is right for the people to know. My preference lies contrary, in the direction the Founding Fathers (yes, those communist bastards) set out for this nation.

Makes me think some folks who post here need to get out more.

5/04/2010 1:42 PM

Blogger tennvol said...

"All arguing that the government's interest in hiding information trumps the people's interest in what the hell that government is doing. Interesting."

Not sure to whom 'all' refers, but I'm quite sure I argued nothing of the sort.

Since you brought it up, please detail all of the deployments in which you were involved. The American people need to know.

5/04/2010 2:26 PM

Anonymous Bill Lumbergh said...

Mmmm, yeah.

Duck: I know you weren't a nuke, 'just' a StratWeps guy, but while you're at it, could you please discuss primary plant chemistry controls? It's been a while, and I'm starting to forget a few things.

Also, since you were a CO, could you describe a few of the Incident Reports that you sent into NR back in the day? All of that here on Joel's blog, so he takes the rap...of course.


"You can just go ahead and move a little bit to the left. Yeah, that's it. Great."

- Bill Lumbergh

5/04/2010 2:41 PM

Anonymous Bill Lumbergh said...

Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too...

- Bill Lumbergh

5/04/2010 2:43 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

provincial: adj. - having or showing the manners, viewpoints, etc., considered characteristic of unsophisticated inhabitants of a province; rustic; narrow or illiberal; parochial: a provincial point of view.

As Bob Maxwell said, it's sure a lot of fuss just to boil water.

5/04/2010 3:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lumbergh is a pussy communist and a Homo!!

5/04/2010 3:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you hate Lumbergh so much, why don't you just get a job at Penetrode?!

5/04/2010 3:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because I'm to busy fucking my sugar momma Jenn Aniston, that's why. Additionally, I'll tell ya that she likes it from behind as I slide her pantie down and slap her tight ass before pounding her hard and deep.

She's considerably more appreciative of my efforts than she ever was of that of Lumbergh.

5/04/2010 4:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because I'm to busy fucking my sugar momma Jenn Aniston, that's why. Additionally, I'll tell ya that she likes it from behind as I slide her pantie down and slap her tight ass before pounding her hard and deep.

She's considerably more appreciative of my efforts than she ever was of that of Lumbergh.

5/04/2010 4:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, RD wasn't a nuke. That explains a lot.

5/04/2010 4:51 PM

Blogger DDM said...

For those who believe that we should divulge anything we feel like, maybe you should read your security clearance paperwork or your non-disclosure statement when you got out. Many of us took jobs post-navy that require a security clearance as well. I'm sure the reporting agencies would like to know how seriously you treat your signature/oath.

If blanks were involved, I'm sure we can find that we have lessons learned about blanks.

5/04/2010 5:30 PM

Anonymous Bill Lumbergh said...

DDM: Mmmm, yeah...but the NY Times prints classified info all the time, so that must mean it's OK, yes? C'mon, guy.

Duck: Listen, are you gonna have those TPS reports for us this afternoon? Be sure to include lots of juicy know, some of the good stuff from Incident Reports you signed.


- Bill Lumbergh

5/04/2010 5:43 PM

Anonymous ssnret said...

Hey Lumbergh, do you know a guy named Mulligan???

5/04/2010 6:46 PM

Anonymous mark/MM1(ss) said...

Lumbergh's comments in this thread have been friggin' awesome. WTF are you trying to say, bringing up Mulligan?

5/04/2010 7:46 PM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

I'm thinking it's time for me to break out my, "Jump to Conclusions" map. That worked as well as anything when we were having a critique...but back then all the squares said, "Burn the blueshirt!"

5/04/2010 8:03 PM

Blogger DDM said...

So if the Brits fixed the glitch, the problem will just go away?

5/04/2010 8:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, RD, I love you and all, but given your comments here: you don't get to claim loyalty to the constitution. You either uphold all of it or your oath ain't worth shit.

5/04/2010 8:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bunch of diggits

5/05/2010 12:13 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

The thing about the Constitution, it is not self-interpreting. Laws and regulations made in its service and court rulings on constitutional isseus extend its meaning in necessary ways. So far in my mind I've done my best to thread the line of what-it-says based on black letter reading and what-it-means as decided by the government bodies it establishes.

Here's a corollary: the Christian Religion. Or rather Religions. All are based on one document, the Bible, the Christian analog to our secular Constitution (are you with me so far?). But multiple references give the best estimate of the number of Christian religions at about 38,000. That's 38,000 separate and distinct interpretations of what that one document means and says. If one of these readings is right, 37,999 are in some way wrong.

So unless you can produce a burning bush proclaiming exactly how one should take meaning from the Constitution, I'm going to continue to do so using the imperfect means - laws and courts - that it establishes.

On one aspect, though, clarity: the First Amendment stands. Testing its limits is a freedom-affirming act. Do it often.

5/05/2010 4:44 AM

Blogger Steve Harkonnen said...

Some who post here may have legal constraints on what they can say, but the public has no such constraints on what its interest may be or on its need to know.

The Virginia incident apparently was declassified some time ago (we heard the entire story on NBSV as it happened); not any violation of NNPI whatsoever but I do agree with the blogger's concerns and don't take him deleting my posts personally.

The Virginia story is in my second book and was cleared by CNO office last month. It should be published sometime in the fall. I ran my first book through CNO prior to it being published and was frankly surprised a lot of it didn't get redacted because I discussed a lot of technical details about my rating (Radioman).

5/05/2010 7:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

NR cannot be trusted?????

5/05/2010 7:22 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

Self-censorship. Imaginary restrictions on free speech. Dumber than dirt.

Follow the rules, don't make them up. Press for free speech, not government secrecy.

5/05/2010 7:22 AM

Anonymous yadda yadda said...

Follow the rules, don't make them up.

You mean, like, invoking the 14th Amendment for issuing the proclamation that the LAW says a woman may destroy a fetus with various degrees of certainty that it's perfectly OK to do so (trimester-based)?

As though THAT wasn't manufactured out of thin air?

ALL "the rules" are made up, Sir Duck. Let's all agree to come clean on that one. Some are just considerably more validated by society-at-large than others.

5/05/2010 7:56 AM

Blogger Vigilis said...

In every comment he has made above, Rubber Ducky has not only expressed himself eloquently and clearly, he has staked out positions with which I generally agree.

In my view, no domestic secrets shoulkd ever be withheld from the public of the U.S. Otherwise, voter selection of suitable leadership would not only be compromised, it would become extremely unlikely.

5/11/2010 1:03 PM

Anonymous disfrutar del sexo said...

It cannot have effect in reality, that is what I consider.

11/17/2011 1:25 PM


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