Monday, September 18, 2023

Is AI useful in the nuclear industry? Maybe "yes" and definitely "no":

Is AI useful in the nuclear industry? Maybe "yes" and definitely "no"
by Ace Hoffman

September 18, 2023

First the good news: AI really is incredible.

Last week I heard a NASA spokesperson put it nicely. She said AI helps find "the data inside the noise;" the pattern "inside the wiggly line." AI is used to analyze long-timespan films of industrial machinery so that subtle movement that is causing stress cracking can be viewed. AI can help identify weakening parts, or identify long-term trends that are hard for humans to notice. Great stuff if it's used right. AI can be used to increase reliability of pumps and pipes in a sewage treatment plant. Sure, why not?

But will the same increase in reliability to pumps and valves in a nuclear reactor actually **prevent** meltdowns? Or just prevent SOME meltdowns? Well of course it's only "some" not "all." It's not a miracle drug. If it was THAT smart, it would tell humans to stop using nuclear power altogether!

Aside: We live in a world which is far more dangerous than it needs to be. Take air travel, for instance. AI is taking over all sorts of functions in the cockpit, including during dogfights of the world's top fighter jets. It's easing the mental strain on the pilots. It's even removing the pilots entirely. In fact, for 99% of all commercial flights, what do we need pilots for at all?

The answer, of course, is: Extreme or unusual situations. (Or a computer hardware malfunction, communications malfunction, equipment malfunction, software malfunction (besides the AI software itself), etc..)

But to be available when needed, the human pilots have to fly the planes themselves regularly, in order to be proficient when the "Scully" moment comes and you lose both engines flying out of a New York airport. Can AI help? Sure, but you know what would REALLY help? High speed rail. Far safer than air travel, ESPECIALLY for innocent bystanders when planes fall out of the sky. Nuclear power plants are NOT protected against large airplane strikes. And nuclear waste even less so. One of these days a terrible thing might happen. About a hundred large jets overfly San Onofre every day. Let's say the FAA manages to have AI software that alerts them instantly whenever a plane has been hijacked. Then how do they know if a nuclear power plant is being targeted? (Many hijacked planes have flown near nuclear reactors, of course, and at least one nuclear power facility has been threatened specifically (in the 1970s, if I recall correctly.)) But let's say the FAA decides to call a reactor and "warn" them that they "might" be targeted. What would a human operator do? What SHOULD they do? What would an AI program do? How easily can any FAA operator contact any nuclear reactor control room operator and what will they do with whatever knowledge has worked its way through the maze of steps, each of which could inhibit the warning going through, that results in whatever action is most appropriate? (SCRAM!).

We all use various forms of AI multiple times every day. And it helps tremendously.

But all that aside, one thing's for sure: Taking TWO things, neither of which works very well, and pairing them together is unlikely to yield a more positive result. Neither "nuclear" nor "AI" are properly functioning technologies (safe, reliable, etc.) -- and it's reasonable to assume that neither ever will be. Nuclear can NEVER be benign because it necessarily creates unmanageable waste streams and risks sudden catastrophic meltdowns; AI can never be benign because its mistakes can also cause real damage and, as described briefly below, it's "hit or miss" with no explanation of why it produces the results it gives.

(Further aside: During the Vietnam era the phrase "we had to destroy the town to save it" appeared. Perhaps AI will decide it has to cause a meltdown to prevent whatever it sees as otherwise unpreventable...)

I've always called "Artificial Intelligence" "Imitation Intelligence". I haven't changed my mind.

My wife and I have, together, more years in the computer industry than there are years in the computer industry (we started in our 20s, and are at 42 and 43 years the industry respectively; the industry isn't yet 85 years old (ENIAC was built late in WWII, less than 80 years ago).

Although neither of us have "officially" worked on AI development, we've certainly studied it, and we can make some qualified observations thus far, having worked near and around it since its inception. In my wife's current job, people use it frequently, for example, to write short code snippets or do research.

And our opinion of using it at nuclear power plants to help control the reactors? It's horrific!

The problem with AI is that AI returns a result we have no confirmation of (no "provenance"), and it is frequently wildly **not** what is needed or what will work in a particular situation. It's as if it forgot something obvious, you might say.

Modern chat AI, for example, simply grabs sources that seem related to the question asked of it based on criteria such as word count and word association, and assembles a response from those sources, with apparently little regard for the quality of the source. Humans try to ignore idiots. AI doesn't seem to know what an "idiot" is (perhaps because, in reality, it is one itself).

When returning results of a Google inquiry, usually no one really cares if it misses the 10th most-important web page on the subject and the person doing the inquiry doesn't find the information they desperately need, right? That sort of thing happens all the time -- you refine your query and try again.

But with AI running the show at a nuclear power plant -- controlling the valves, pumps, reading the temperature gauges and calculating the internal flow rates and instant-by-instant deciding whatever adjustments are needed -- well that might work fine for 100 years...and like FSD (Full Self Driving) it PROBABLY will be better at it than human control room operators.

But will it be perfect? Not likely.

Will it be "programmed" (or "taught") to know what to do when a meltdown starts? (Side note: If it's "really" AI it will throw its electronic hands up and say: "I CAN'T DO THIS!" and never even touch a nuclear power plant, they are simply too dangerous under ALL circumstances. But if humans aren't going to be that smart, can we expect AI to be?).

AI software is usually "trained" on vast amounts of existing data. Other AI can continue to "grow:" It can repeatedly go out on the Internet and get more current (but perhaps less accurate) data. Both are limited to what's available online at some time, not what's actually out there in the real world. A lot of past nuclear accidents are kept highly secret, either by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the owner/operator or even the employees involved. AI can't learn what it hasn't been exposed to. National borders block information exchange too, not just language barriers (which AI can -- sort of -- get around) but "proprietary" information and "NATSEC" information is intentionally hidden and unavailable. ("National Security" is regularly used as an excuse to hide reliability problems, embrittlement issues, operator errors, etc. that occur with military reactors.)

Besides all that, there's this: Will the AI software care if it fails and actually CAUSES a meltdown? NO. NOT AT ALL. And you can't punish an AI program for its failure, either. What are you going to do, turn it off and turn it on again?!? Tracking down the problem is well nigh impossible -- it's unlikely to be one line of code somewhere in the algorithm. AI's logic is, for all intents and purposes, encrypted -- and no one has the key. As a general rule: AI works in mysterious ways. That's kind of what makes it AI. The mathematical calculations are too complex for humans to comprehend. Its appeal is that it comes up with solutions humans have not been able to think of. It's awesome. But not perfect, and nuclear power needs to be impossibly close to perfection to be worth using.

My recommendation is we shut down the reactors. Thinking AI can be a "last best hope" to prevent operator error causing catastrophic (or expensive) accidents -- or merely improving efficiency -- isn't going to make them safe -- just safer (if we're lucky, and maybe not even that). AI won't eliminate "operator error," especially during critical, unusual or unique situations. It might even be the thing making the errors. And no one will know why it did what it did, possibly even in the aftermath.

Besides, nuclear energy actually blocks better solutions for Global Warming / Climate Change. Nukes suck up money and make false claims about being reliable "baseline" energy.

Keep AI where it belongs: Keeping cars on the road, and flying drones into ships and buildings...and into...nuclear power plants?!?

After the pilot has already bailed out?

(Also see substack clip shown below.)

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA
Professional computer programmer since 1980 (Assembler (LOTS of it!),
Cobol, RPG, Animate, HTML, etc. etc.)

Some programs I've written over the years (from: www.animatedsoftware.com ):



"What is clear is that Cruise—and its main rival, Waymo—coucould do a
better job handling emergency situations like this. The memo about
Davis̢۪s deadly crash was one of dozens that Farivar obtained via an
open-records request and published online. These memos document at
least 68 times self-driving cars in San Francisco interfered with
first responders or otherwise behaved in ways that emergency workers
found disconcerting."
Source: Understanding AI <understandingai@substack.com> 12:05 PM Sept 14 2023
Do driverless cars have a first responder problem?


Addendum (written/added Sept. 20, 2023):

After 9-11 there was a San Onofre annual safety meeting, and for the first and only time, there were PRESS galore. Cameras, reporters, everyone was there. Well over 100 people, when they were getting maybe half a dozen people at each NRC annual public meeting about the plant.

THAT DAY, before the meeting, mysteriously, I was surrounded by "enthusiastic" NRC personnel, about six of them -- all wanting to talk to me before the meeting. Wow! They're finally paying attention?!?!

I was so naive back then.

They were there specifically to keep me away from the reporters and news cameras.

Because I had blockbuster facts that our reactors are NOT designed to withstand large airplane strikes, and they knew I had the citations and would make some very devastating comments ON THE AIR that were all true, while the national tone was to pretend the reactors were safe.

After I wrote this latest piece, that F-35 went missing. An F-35 -- even unarmed -- can do quite a bit of damage to a reactor site, even if it's too small to breach the domes themselves. You really don't need to, though, to cause a meltdown.

The missing F-35 did cause me to make one change to the article I had already written -- I simply added the last line ("After the pilot has bailed out")!


Saturday, July 22, 2023

What's wrong with extending Diablo Canyon's license for one day, let alone 1826 additional days (five years)?

by Ace Hoffman
July 22, 2023

What's wrong with extending Diablo Canyon's license for one day, let alone 1826 additional days (five years)?

Everything.

It's risking everything and gaining nothing. It gets in the way of progress and could be catastrophic. It wastes time, money and resources, and creates permanent problems future generations will have to deal with  -- even without an accidental release of radiation, the containers will still need to be maintained at least until a permanent solution is found -- and for hundreds of years AFTER that, since there is so much waste already which will have to be moved there. But where is there? Nowhere. No one wants the waste, and no one ever will.

We already have a state law in California which should have caused Diablo Canyon to close down years ago. The law forbids "new" nuclear reactors in California until and unless a solution to the waste problem is found -- outside of California. But decades later, mountains of nuclear waste remain on site with NO foreseeable solution.

Instead, California has had to make long-term arrangements to continue to store the used reactors -- the old reactor cores -- on site at each commercial reactor location.  Permanently. Billions of dollars has been spent storing existing waste in multiple locations around the state. The containments are thin-walled and in some cases are likely to be shoddily constructed. Holtec, for example, a major cask manufacturer and decommissioning corporation, has been cited repeatedly for various acts of negligence and non-compliance. So has PG&E.

None of it is safe from accidental airplane strikes or from terrorism (including using airplanes as weapons), or from war or social unrest, and much of it is also liable to be damaged (and released) in floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, or other natural phenomena. And don't discount asteroid impacts, either! An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building flew by earth (closer than the moon's orbit) just a few days ago!

These used reactor cores are called "spent fuel" but let's be honest: They ARE nuclear reactors! Nothing else makes a nuclear reactor a nuclear reactor! We could boil water in a pressure vessel a thousand different ways. We can turn turbines likewise! Wind, wave, flowing water...all collect energy safely from the environment and produce...no significant waste, and certainly nothing even a millionth as hazardous as nuclear spent fuel.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, are discarded regularly. They are only used ONCE, and then THROWN AWAY. But there is nowhere to "throw" them (long ago, so-called "experts" even considered launching nuclear waste into space (see my compendium of attempts at handling nuclear waste in the past, linked and included below)).

Reactors only last about 3 to 5 years. That's right! The reactor cores are "depleted" or "burned up" but they look the same, and weigh almost the same amount, and are still very much in existence. So it's NOT "fuel" or certainly just "fuel" -- it's the reactor itself!

Used reactors must be stored forever as highly toxic nuclear waste. By far the most toxic substance on earth! It wasn't very pleasant to begin with, but after being "used" it is somewhere between a million and ten million times more toxic, per pound. Or more precisely, per lethal milligram or microgram, and there are already millions of pounds of it. We don't need any more.

Nuclear power creates nuclear waste. The electricity it can provide for a fleeting moment is practically inconsequential compared to the problems created by the waste.

So why, if there is a law forbidding "new" nuclear reactors until the waste problem is solved (which can never happen completely) are the old reactors okay?

Because they were "grandfathered in." That's it. That's the only reason. And yet that was more than 40 years ago! Since then the OLD reactors have been RELICENSED once already -- and that contradicts the spirit and intent and, frankly, the meaning of the state law!

Besides, not only do we not need Diablo Canyon's power -- we've added many times that much, many times in the past -- but with clean energy alternatives (including "off-grid" alternatives that are becoming more and more commonplace). So have many other countries, and we -- and they -- are doing so now, and can do so easily again and again and again in the future -- not only do we not need Diablo Canyon, it IMPEDES clean alternatives!

For example, offshore wind in the Diablo Canyon area would be very easy to construct and could easily power the entire state. And the grid connections are already there! But Diablo Canyon is using them at the moment.

Offshore wind energy in that area could provide at least as many jobs as Diablo Canyon could provide, and if the goal is set soon enough, it would be replacing Diablo Canyon permanently very soon. We could have started yesterday. Instead we are wasting billions on the biggest risk to Californians in history: Two operating old nuclear reactors! Maintenance has been put off because they were expected to close: How many months (or years) of the five-year extension will they be inoperative for? One of them "needs" a new reactor pressure vessel: If that's NOT a "new" reactor, and the "fuel" assemblies are NOT a "new" reactor," then what IS a "new" reactor under the state law?!? And why was relicensing of these old behemoths NOT prohibited by the state law in the first place? (The answer to that is probably because the reactor companies assured the public that wouldn't be necessary since they were ONLY going to be used as an "interim" solution to cleaner forms of energy.)

Tens of thousands of people protested Diablo Canyon's being built -- for good reason.

Every day we wait to shut Diablo Canyon risks a Chernobyl or Fukushima (or another Santa Susana) right here in California. For what? To get in the way of renewables!

Shut it down. Shut it down today.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

The author has studied nuclear issues for more than 50 years. He has a collection of over 600 books on nuclear topics and has spoken at several hundred public hearings including the CPUC, CEC, NRC, DOE and other local, state and federal agencies.

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https://acehoffman.blogspot.com/2017/10/nuclear-waste-management-view-through.html
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[Will add the full text of the above link to the final submission the CPUC]

To subscribe to this FREE newsletter please send a request to:
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To view these newsletters online: https://acehoffman.blogspot.com/

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Experts to talk about SanO safety; comments on the previous newsletter; health report for author

Feb. 1, 2023

1) Online forum on San Onofre safety with UCS physicist Edwin Lyman this Friday, 11:30 am PST
2) SCE's CEP is useless; citizens plan alternative meeting with highly qualified safety expert(s)
3) Paul Blanch Bio
4) Last week's newsletter refuting nuclear power as "baseload" is available online
5) A few hours after sending last week's newsletter I had a mild stroke ("mild" means no apparent lasting effects)
6)  It's always better to be lucky than smart
7) URL for this newsletter

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California USA

==============================================
1) Online forum on San Onofre safety with UCS physicist Edwin Lyman this Friday, 11:30 am PST:
==============================================

As part of the First Friday series, the Samuel Lawrence Foundation is hosting a Zoom meeting 11:30 a.m. PST Feb. 3 with physicist Edwin Lyman, PhD, Director of Nuclear Power Safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The online meeting is free and open to the public.

Lyman, an expert on nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear power safety will address security risks at Southern California Edison's seaside nuclear waste dump at San Onofre.

Lyman argues that security at nuclear storage sites should be beefed up.

"We agree with Dr. Lyman that security is inadequate, especially at locations that are so near publicly-accessible areas, like Edison's beachfront nuclear waste dump near San Onofre State Beach," said Bart Ziegler, PhD, president of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.

Lyman, coauthor of "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster" and the 2018 recipient of the Leo Szilard Lectureship Award from the American Physical Society, is a member of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management and past president of the Nuclear Control Institute.

Zoom link: (this event was recorded and should be available soon)

First Fridays are made possible in part with the Coalition for Nuclear Safety.

Friday, February 3, at 11:30 a.m. PST
Contact: admin@samuellawrencefoundation.org

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2) SCE's CEP is useless; citizens plan alternative meeting with highly qualified safety expert(s):
==============================================

The Southern California Edison-funded-and-controlled Citizen's Engagement Panel (CEP) has been completely useless and biased, and complicit in promoting SoCalEd's propaganda while suppressing opposition viewpoints.

Paul Blanch, on the other hand, is a well-known and highly qualified expert who should have been given a voice at the CEP meetings, but has been repeatedly denied a chance.

Now, a group of local concerned citizens are organizing a meeting to give Blanch and other experts a forum the CEP will not provide. The Ocean Beach Rag has published an announcement about the upcoming event. The exact date has not been set, but it will probably be in late March, 2023. See:

https://obrag.org/2023/01/11-years-ago-today-san-onofre-nearly-became-the-next-fukushima/

Contact:
Gary Headrick gary@sanclementegreen.org
Cathy Iwane cathyiwane@yahoo.com
Paul Blanch pmblanch@comcast.net

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3) Paul Blanch Bio:
==============================================

Paul Blanch has more than 50 years of nuclear engineering experience, including management of regulatory issues and safety concerns in the nuclear industry. He has been employed by nuclear licensees for more than 30 years. As a nuclear safety advocate, Blanch's main goal is to assure that US nuclear plants are operated safety and in compliance with federal regulations.

During Mr. Blanch's career, he has worked for the chief nuclear officers (CNOs) at Millstone, Maine Yankee and Indian Point, including both Consolidated Edison and Entergy Nuclear. He has been a paid consultant for the State of New York. While engaged with these companies, Blanch was heavily involved with decommissioning responsibilities. He has also made presentations to the Pilgrim and the Vermont decommissioning panels. Blanch has interfaced extensively with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on decommission safety issues and recently met with the NRC Chairman, Staff and NRC's Inspector General regarding San Onofre.

Mr. Blanch has provided consulting services for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). He was named Engineer of the Year by Westinghouse Electric. Blanch has been a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) by the State of California. Blanch has testified before the US Senate on NRC regulatory issues resulting in a significant change to the Atomic Energy Act.

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4) Last week's newsletter refuting nuclear power as "baseload" is available online:
==============================================

Here's the URL for last week's newsletter:
https://acehoffman.blogspot.com/2023/01/should-diablo-canyon-ever-be-considered.html

Thanks to Dr. Helen Caldicott, Harvey Wasserman, Jane Swanson, Jan Boudart, Judy Treichel, Bob Nichols, Michael Feinstein, Alice McNally, Joe Holtzman, Penny McCracken and others who sent this author kind words, and in some cases reposted the previous newsletter.

And thanks also to Donna Gilmore, who also doesn't like Diablo Cyn, but nevertheless doubts that offshore wind is feasible (though I never described something that hasn't already been done somewhere in the world) and who is worried about the quality of the grid in terms of reliability.

Grid reliability is certainly an important issue. But, as Buckminster Fuller showed nearly a century ago, a global energy grid can supply ALL the energy the world needs through clean, renewable sources like wind and sun. The wind doesn't always blow all the time in any particular spot, but it always blows somewhere!

On the other hand, having an enormous percentage of the "baseload" coming out of one spot and that spot requiring its own offsite power is a recipe for failure. Or for disaster.

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5) A few hours after sending last week's newsletter I had a mild stroke ("mild" means no apparent lasting effects):
==============================================

TL/DR
My first. I'm fine.  But if you want the details, read on...

Of course, a stroke doesn't feel "mild" when it's happening. You only learn that (if you're lucky) later.

A few hours after sending out the newsletter last week, I had what doctors have determined was a minor stroke in my cerebellum. I spent about 34 hours in the ER of a local hospital.

All of a sudden, the world started spinning (while I was "on the throne"). The spinning surprised me, but about once a month I see stars there anyway -- ever since I took a really hard punch right between the eyes during karate class about 15 years ago. (It was accidental, but I had eye problems and headaches for a few weeks afterwards. And the stars come out now and then ever since.)

I closed my eyes for a few seconds, but when I opened them, things were really spinning pretty strangely -- as if they were actually going round and round.

I closed my eyes again, but when I opened them the second time, things were spinning crazily, like a whirling dervish! I tried to get up a little and realized it was impossible, I was totally dizzy. I dove for the floor and yelled for my wife. By the third or fourth try enunciating the words, I managed to tell her I thought I had a stroke. The right side of my mouth just would not cooperate, which is a pretty good sign it was a stroke. When I tried to use my arms they were shaking like a leaf on a tree, pale and weak. Most of the symptoms subsided within about 20 minutes; thankfully none remain.  We've been out biking several times since then.

I saw stars once in the past week, which is not too surprising, but for the first time, they were only on one side. THAT was strange!

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6) It's always better to be lucky than smart:
==============================================

My late father, Howard S. Hoffman, was a veteran of World War II with a mortar platoon in the U.S. Army.

War began for Howard in Italy in March, 1944, and progressed all the way to the Elbe River in Germany, where they met the Russians coming the other way in May, 1945. His platoon was rushed up to take part in the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, with help from the G.I. Bill, dad went to college, earned a Ph.D. in psychology, and in 1957 "Dr. Hoffman" joined the faculty at Pennsylvania State University until 1970, and then at Bryn Mawr College until he retired. Prior to joining PSU, during lean years, he painted and shared a small flat in New York City with the then also-young writer William Styron (they stayed in contact later in life, and he was always referred to as "Bill Styron" in our house).

Dad taught statistics for nearly 50 years, to students from many disciplines (not just psychology students) and, after he retired, my dad, my wife and I wrote an interactive educational statistics tutorial together (he later told me she's "the best statistician he'd ever met"!).

My dad always said "it's always better to be lucky than smart." I've been very lucky. But nothing compared to what he went through during his military service in Europe! I've survived cancer twice (bladder cancer about 15 years ago, and Mantle Cell Lymphoma just after the start of the CoViD pandemic). There was a suicidal driver intent on having a head-on collision, and several dozen other "close calls." A year or so ago I actually made a list of over 30 such "Near Death Experiences" (NDEs) -- at least, all the ones I could still remember!

It may seem like a lot, but my dad probably had that many NDEs each week of combat for more than a year.

His platoon started with about twenty-four men, and by the Battle of the Bulge, had been "replaced" two or three times, and was down to about eight men, including officers. Losses include both KIA and wounded. According to dad, there were more losses from "bad ammunition"  (4.2 mortars) than from the enemy! So-called "bad ammunition" had a nasty tendency of exploding inside the mortar barrel, or just after it left the barrel.  Mortar shell problems turned out to be a huge scandal after the war.

Sometimes government regulation isn't much use. And it's always better to be lucky than smart!

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7) URL for this newsletter:
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https://acehoffman.blogspot.com/2023/02/experts-to-talk-about-sano-safety.html

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