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, July 27, 2008

When Civilians Who Don't Understand The Terminology Attack

A columnist for the New York Daily News had a story on Saturday wherein he questioned Sen. McCain's oft-repeated claim that the U.S. Navy has never had a nuclear accident. The columnist did a lot of research for the story in listing what he claimed were U.S. submarine nuclear "accidents"; specifically, he went to this Wikipedia article and copied down the few resin and coolant discharge incidents in port the nuclear Navy has suffered in the last 55 years; all the incidents he listed were from back in the '70s. Not once did he direct his readers to this "Fact Check" story in the St. Petersburg Times that listed Sen. McCain's claim of zero accidents as "True". (He also confused nuclear weapons accidents with nuclear reactor ones, and included quite a few Russian Navy problems in his numbers.)

While it's clear that the editorial writer had his own anti-nuclear (and maybe even anti-military) objectives, I can't really hold him to the same level of accountability I would someone who had an actual clue. The reason, as you may have guessed, has to do with the specific definition of "accident" used by us nukes. A nuclear "accident", by definition, is a reactor problem that results in core damage. Most laymen would consider quite a few of what we call "incidents" to be "accidents", but that still doesn't enable them to claim that someone who does know the difference is lying. If the core's not damaged, it's not an accident, so Sen. McCain is correct.

In your comments for this post, please remember your NNPI debrief...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I skimmed through a Greenpeace book about Navy Nuclear Power "Accidents" about 15 years ago. They went so far as to include reports of propellers fouled by fishing nets as Nuclear Submarine "Accidents," and lumped that in with items like you discussed in your original post. Opened my eyes to how facts can be spun to fit an agenda.

Grumpy Old LDO

7/28/2008 4:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

8,000 people die every year mining coal, and one coal plant releases more long-lived radioactivity in a year than all the nuclear power plants combined, to say nothing of all the other harmful gasses. But something has to keep generating the power so anti-nuc fruitcakes can type up their rhetoric for the rest of us to read. It's not their position as much as their embarrassing lack of education that I resent.

7/28/2008 7:04 AM

Blogger 630-738 said...

I now work in the commerical nuclear industry after a long and prosperous career in the Nuclear Navy. I strongly believe the Navy pays the price for the way the commercial industries' practices. For the most part, the industry operates safely for sure, and the future looks bright indeed. Every once in a while, however, they do stupid things. If you would like some proof, google "Davis-Besse Reactor Head" for proof.

7/28/2008 7:29 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to change the subject, but where did you get the figure 8,000 die each year from coal mining.

7/28/2008 8:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Besides typically having no technical knowledge of the facts, writers also have some moron authoring their "style" manual. I'm in the commercial nuke biz and read related news articles, so it bugs me to no end to read that so and so plant has been "shut." Not "shut down," but "shut." I've never been around a plant, Navy or commerical, that was "shut." Trivial I know, but it still bugs the crap out of me.

7/28/2008 8:38 AM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Excellent points and more timely than ever, BH.

In my opinion, credentialled journalists should be required to claim or disclaim their specific degree of expertise in every "news" article written for public consumption.

Think about that. If X claimed a degree in nuclear engineering from M.I.T., or 15 years experience with GE reactors, who do you suppose would object first to point out X's misleading or erroneous information?

Just a thought.

7/28/2008 10:07 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearest summary regarding reactor accidents is probably here:

"Nuclear accident" is too non-descript to be used well in communicating much of anything. Everything is "nuclear" in the strictest terms, so if your grandmother falls down the steps, is that a "nuclear accident?"

Truly a dumb term, as it lacks sufficient precision to communicate information.

7/28/2008 10:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on a boat, once, when the reactor went critical.

No one seemed concerned, they said it happened "all the time"

7/28/2008 2:23 PM

Blogger richard said...

I will avoid NNPI here and comment in kind to some of the comments here. The thing that kills me where I live are all of the "save the Ozone" Naxi's and "no Nukes" who drive expeditions, escalades and suburbans to their rallies! Right, you are doing all you can to help out!

As a matter of fact, I have been running bio-diesel in my big truck for over 2 years so all you tree huggers can kiss my a$$, and stop judging me. Oh while I am at it support Oregon logging and use paper!

7/28/2008 2:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a coner, I can't comment on anything nuclear power, except that I know the general public knows less than I do. I barely got a handle on the primary/secondary containment thing. However, I was able to explain it well enough for my Engineer DCPO interview so much so in fact that he felt I didn't need to listen to his "nuclear swimming pool" analogy. I was rather proud of that... I sure as hell had to study hard, though...

But I digress.

However, being a conspiracy theory adherent, I find it amusing that all the anti-nuke eco-whackos are supported by large corporations, LIKE GE, yet turn around and rail against the very products their corporate sponsors create.

It really makes you wonder. If it was all just stupidity, every once in a while something would go right.

7/28/2008 4:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's nothing! One of my friends in Greenpeace said that civilian reactors sometimes go SUPERcritical... and none of them deny it!

I guess submarine reactors go SUBcritical...

7/28/2008 7:23 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

C'mon folks. The cognoscenti in nuclear power can claim ownership of the field's terms of art, but it can't lay claim to the common meaning of common words in our culture.

In the culture at large, 'accident' means a happening that is unexpected and untoward. By this commonplace definition, the press report is accurate and McCain is (again) wrong. Or do you claim that THEODORE ROOSEVELT really did mean to dump resin in the shallows off the Loch, etc. etc.?

7/29/2008 8:28 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorites are the Russian K-11 reactor lid/rod withdraw accident and our own SL1 rod manually assisted rod ejection accident.

Coming in a close 3rd is when one ET3 Pattawi finally qualified RO. That was an accident in and of itself.

7/29/2008 12:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're stuck in the muck again, duck.

McCain's statement: "Nuclear power is used on Navy ships which have sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident."

You'd have to be pretty slow to think that he was referring to anything but a reactor accident...not a resin spill. BTW, the U.S. used to dump its resin at sea on purpose back in the '70s. Why? Because it has a short half-life, and hardly qualifies for a real, bonafide "nuke-ular accident," which is a meaningless term regardless of how many times the illiterate MSM uses it.

McCain is no friend of the submarine force, BTW. An ex "nasal radiator" who still tries to swagger when he should be drawing Social Security, I don't see him as a great candidate.

But, just as Democracy is the worst possible government -- except for all the others -- he's not the worst candidate, by far.

Speaking for myself, I'll be voting this year, but for the first time in 30 years with a write-in: "None of the Above"

7/29/2008 3:45 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

no accident:

McCain's statement: "Nuclear power is used on Navy ships which have sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident."

False. Navy ships have not sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident. Maybe not a 'nuclear accident,' provided one defines that narrowly enough. But 'without an accident,' no qualifier? RAY, SAN FRANCISCO, GREENEVILLE (your choice: two collisions and a grounding), SARGO, well, the list is pretty long of 'Navy ships' with 'accidents.'

Tricky thing, language...

7/29/2008 4:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Language isn't that tricky, duck -- the subject of McCain's sentence was "Nuclear power."

People who try to parse his words into something else -- at least in this instance -- just look foolish, as Bubblehead and others have already pointed out.

Standing on one's head to put words in McCain's mouth looks more than a little bit off-kilter, as there are plenty of legitimate things to beat McCain up on.

Examples include: (1) understanding of macroeconomics and fiscal policy in a predominantly *de*flationary economy (when you include homes, stock prices, etc.), (2) being nearly 10 years past mandatory retirement age for many companies, (3) complete lack of executive experience in the last 40 years, (4) temperament, (5) the (no) vision thing, (6) The Manchurian Candidate thing, (7) the intellectual acumen thing, (8)...

7/29/2008 5:59 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

no accident:

And the subject of the dependent clause "...which have sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident" is 'Navy ships.' Nukes. Stay aft.

7/29/2008 6:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rubber Ducky, you need to find a hobby. Sniping over sentence structure is so unbecoming.

7/29/2008 6:32 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

no accident:

Whining about naughty comments demeaning nuclear power is even less becoming. Hobby? You need a life.

Truce. We both think McCain is a bozo.

7/29/2008 6:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bozo or not, he's got more chance than Obama. I was pretty sure that after the last 8 years the Dems could have run Saddam and won... but I was wrong. Out of two bad choices, I'll always take the guy who did time in the military.

7/29/2008 7:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duck: though well-spoken, that honestly wasn't me with that anon comment...and as far as I'm concerned we were never at war. Peace...out.

Prior anon: I hear you, bro'...but as always I'm voting on principle this year, and that means that neither one of these senatorial blowhards is getting my vote.

Ending on a less holier-than-thou note: I live in Texas, and can afford the luxury of voting on principle here -- pigs will be flying on wings at 2,000 feet over Iowa before Obama wins the Lone Star state.

7/29/2008 9:01 PM

Blogger T said...

McCain has more chance than Obama? According to what empirical data, you and your friends? McCain is Trailing Obama in nearly every poll. I don't think McCain was a bad choice of a candidate for the Republicans, but the Bush association and the changing attitudes on Iraq are killing him.

My money is on Obama, and we'll be the better for it. It's our chance to hit the reset button on America and resume our position as a contributing member of the world community, as opposed to the (mostly flawed) world perception that we're a unilateral power hungry monster country.

7/29/2008 10:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I quote..."McCain's statement: "Nuclear power is used on Navy ships which have sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident." "

Let's get away from the friggin' politics and discuss the original question. A 'nuclear accident' is something that challenges the original design basis parameters of the core, containment or accident response. This has nothing to do with a prop fouled in a fishing net, a resin discharge in the wrong place or which fliggin' idiot is going to be the next President. McCain was absolutely correct, in that the USN has an unprecedented safetey record in REACTOR SAFETY in over 60 years of operation. No other country or utility in the world can claim that. SL1 was an ARMY reactor, on land, and had no reactor vessel or containment by todays standards. Three Mile Island was a civilian plant that ended up with a core damage event with little release to the environment, well below any limits that might result in measureable effects on the populace. And Chernobyl was a Soviet design unlike anything in the US, non-contained, and totally self-inflicted by fliggin' idiots requiring the plant to operate outside its design parameters.

Look back at the original title of this post... If you don't know enough to understand it, how can you talk about it?

(BTW--I have over 35 years experience in Naval and civilian Nuclear Power, thanks to the Navy and the Draft...)

7/30/2008 12:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

King said:
"McCain is Trailing Obama in nearly every poll."

I don't remember the exact numbers, but weren't Gore & Kerry leading in the exit polls a few years back?

Polls are statistics - they will say whatever you want them to say!

7/30/2008 5:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real Obama starts to emerge from the media hype:

And be sure to check out the 1,000 plus comments:

7/30/2008 5:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it’s pretty clear that most of the distance between opinions on this post are really about whether or not this was a “gotcha” political moment about something McCain said. As I’ve said before (albeit it anonymously) we can go to almost any blog to get our fix on the McCain/Obama shouting match.
Some of the posts here have gotten at the better question. Is the “no accident” standard by which we defend nuclear power, naval or civilian, really above board? I think the answer is yes. The level of plant design, operator training (if not always competence) and oversight is should ensure the risk of an incident which has effects on people or the environment is acceptable given the benefits to national security and/or energy policy. At the same time, while it may be good PR to say that we don’t have any accidents, anyone who digs around a little will fine credibly evidence that everything doesn’t always go as planned in nuclear power. It sorta makes the nuclear community look a little shady. Would promoting a more nuanced view of the risks in nuclear power get anywhere with the anti-nuke crowd? Probably not, but it might be more credible to those on the fence.

7/30/2008 7:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question from a coner and rider too boot. What do the civilian reactor operators call these non-accidents the nukes are having?

7/30/2008 7:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key missing word here with respect to this somewhat loopy accident discussion is "reactor."

The Navy hasn't had any "reactor accidents," and that's pretty much the only proper way to characterize the nuclear Navy's performance when using the "A" word.

The real problem is the non-meaningful phrase "nuclear accident." It's meaningless. Say the phrase 'nuclear weapons accident' or 'nuclear reactor accident' and suddenly you've actually said something meaningful.

I have no high hopes of the MSM getting it's semantics in one sock in this regard, but that's the long and short of this nonsense.

7/30/2008 8:34 AM

Blogger Jarrod said...

I don't know what the civs call them, but we call them "incidents." NR has lists of stuff you have to report to them, including releasing radioactivity too close to shore. My CO always corrects me when I use the word to describe some minor event, because incidents are "really" bad things.

7/30/2008 9:53 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

Back to anon way up there: "Out of two bad choices, I'll always take the guy who did time in the military."

Guess that means you voted for Gore. And then Kerry. Good on ya.

7/30/2008 2:56 PM

Blogger a_former_elt_2jv said...

On a lighter note, I miss the EM-Log. Too bad we don't have an FTN story about how he told SUBLANT to blow him or something.

FTN, please come back. These moronic McKain V. Obamamama arguments are really starting to suck!



7/30/2008 6:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"I was on a boat, once, when the reactor went critical.

No one seemed concerned, they said it happened "all the time""

I'm not sure if this is a joke or a serious statement. A reactor must go critical to make power, or you won't be getting very far very fast.

8/05/2008 4:55 PM

Anonymous Military Shirt Stays said...

That's sad. Hope that every writer would be more responsible with what they write and have them understood clearly before releasing them. Other people might be fooled by them.

8/22/2011 9:36 AM


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