What do a computer and a nuclear reactor have in common? Both were brought down small creatures getting into the works...
Seems like the crippled nuclear reactor, resulting from the tsunami that hit Japan two years ago, needs a little debugging. While they have brought the reactor back under control and are attempting to properly decommission it, a process that is expected to take decades, they had a small problem yesterday that takes us back to the early days of computing and the development of the term debugging. The early computers were built from relays and if a bug, meaning an insect were to crawl into the computer and get between one of the relay contacts, it could result in an error.
Today, we would call that a soft error because there was no actual failure in the hardware. The computer had to be debugged and the problem removed. The term then changed to mean a hard failure caused by the software running on the computer and the term stuck. Today it is applied to the development of the hardware itself.
So, how does this apply to a nuclear reactor? Well, it would appear that a rat got into one of the control panels erected to keep the plant under control. It ate through some wiring – killing itself – but knocking out power to three of the cooling tanks holding fuel rods. All power to those has now been restored, but it does remind us of the somewhat fragile world that we live in and how we can be foiled by creatures deemed less intelligent than ourselves.
Japanese officials stated that the reactors are in a "cold shutdown" state and no longer releasing high levels of radiation. That statement does not reassure me at all. I would hope they were not releasing any radiation, but perhaps under control just means that the levels of radiation are no longer increasing.Brian Bailey
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