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What BP could learn from the Nuclear Industry

I've resisted writing this blog post for months, but I need to get it off my chest. If you stopped by for something funny, I apologize. I'll get back to that tomorrow, but if you've got a minute read on. And if you agree, or disagree, or just want to vent, leave a comment.

It's day one hundred of the Gulf Oil Spill. The cap is on. Cleanup continues, but in my opinion there's still one question that hasn't been answered. How did this happen? I just don't understand it. Oh I get the mechanics of the tragedy, explosion, fire, but I don't understand the logistics.

I work in the nuclear industry. I'm not a nuclear engineer or nuclear technician, I'm a carpenter. I build scaffolds so other people can gain access to components that need testing, repair or replacement. In the nuclear hierarchy I am very near the bottom of the stack. About on the same level as the folks that empty the trash, cook in the cafeteria and clean the toilets. Important jobs all, and necessary, but not critical to the safe operation of a nuclear reactor. Every time I walk into a nuclear power plant to start a new job, I'm required to take training classes, even if my last job ended less than a week before. As a trained nuclear worker I'm expected to understand how to work safely in a dangerous environment. I'm expected to follow all rules, and I'm expected to perform no work unless I have the correct documentation. In the nuclear industry there are procedures for everything. About the only operation you can perform in a nuclear power plant without a procedure is a trip to the restroom. There may be a procedure on that in the future.

What's this have to do with an explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf, you ask? I'm getting there, hang with me a minute.

Here's something most people don't realize. A nuclear facility is one of the safest workplaces in the world. Let me say that again. A nuclear facility is one of the safest workplaces in the world. The reason that these massive power plants and during refuel these massive construction sites are among the safest anywhere is that NOTHING happens in a nuclear facility without documentation, adherence to procedure and at times, endless pre job meetings. Nothing happens fast in a nuclear power plant. Safety is job one. Do it safe, follow procedure and the schedule and the budget will take care of themselves. These are the rules we live by in the nuclear industry. We've come by these rules because we've learned from mistakes in the past, but we've also learned to look forward and to anticipate failure or disaster before it happens. We plan our work and work to our plan and we DO NOT skip steps in a procedure even if it seems stupid. 

Here's were I get back to the oil spill. On an oil platform, a workplace that's inherently more dangerous than a nuclear facility, why were procedures not followed? Why was schedule put ahead of the safety of workers and the environment? Who made that call? Who signed off on the death of those 11 oil workers? And here's the biggest question of all. This is the one that makes me tear my hair out. Why in an industry that incredibly dangerous in a location that is one of the most hostile in the world was there not a procedure in place to deal with a catastrophic failure of the well? Let me ask that again, because that's the question I haven't heard answered in the last 100 days. Why Was There Not A Procedure In Place To Deal With A Catastrophic Failure Of The Well? People died, wildlife was destroyed, and very possibly a way of life has been ruined for some of my good friends on the gulf coast because there was No Procedure in place to deal with the Catastrophic Failure of a deep water oil well.

Could it be that in all the years that deep water drilling has been going on in the United States that not one single person ever thought, "Wow, we should probably have a system in place in case we lose one of our wells to a disaster of some sort." No one? Ever? Seriously?

I Don't Buy It!

The bottom line is safety costs money. Following procedure takes time. It takes a lot more time to do a job safely. There is no question about that it's a fact. If you perform an unsafe act ten times and don't get injured it doesn't make the act safe it makes you lucky. BP and the other oil companies drilling in the gulf have been lucky for a long long time. But BP has found out that the cost of complaisance is high. It's costing them billions of dollars. I would weep for them, but instead I'll save my tears for the families of the eleven men that paid for that complacency with their lives. No amount of money BP throws at this disaster is worth even one of those workers. BP should be ashamed. The oil industry should take a page from the nuclear playbook and realize that making money shouldn't be first. If you get the job done under budget and ahead of schedule and one person was injured or killed, You Failed.  

BP You Failed.


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Couldn't agree more KD. Saddest thing is that they're probably already back using the same practices now with still no procedures in place.

That's true, RJ. Without some type of oversight, there's no reason for them to comply or change their practices.

Idaho National Laboratory's Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor is designed for management of high-level wastes and, in particular, management of plutonium and other actinides.

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