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Book details
  • Genre:PHILOSOPHY
  • SubGenre:General
  • Language:English
  • Pages:192
  • Format:Paperback
  • Paperback ISBN:9781098301484

Restart: The Alabama Diary

by Arthur Ruggles

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Overview
A professor on sabbatical helps restart a Nuclear Reactor in north Alabama. The reactor had not run in over 22 years, making the restart challenging. An account of the restart is taken from his diary and includes cultural, political and technical dimensions of his experience in Alabama.
Description
Challenges emerge when one restarts a complicated machine after 22 years lying dormant. These challenges are amplified when one also decides to upgrade the machine in concert with the restart. In this book the complicated machine is a Nuclear Electric Generating Station, and the restart and upgrades budget exceeds 2 Billion dollars over a five year schedule. This project is an opportunity for a Professor on Sabbatical to learn about reactor operations while contributing to the plant recovery and upgrade. This book is taken from his diary. The perspective of the Professor is not pro or anti-nuclear. His allegiance is to mother nature, and fissioning atoms is just another way to heat water to make steam for a turbine-generator set. His enthusiasm for nuclear power is muted by the reality that many other options exist for making electricity. Alternately, only one energy form as power dense as nuclear fission exists, and it is not yet harnessed, so the real question may be why one would choose to squander fissile fuel for the heating of water to make electricity that us already pretty cheap and abundant. However, the very large scale of a nuclear power generating station, where over a Giga-Watt of electricity may be made by a single unit, is very impressive. The unfolding of the final six months of the nuclear power station restart is recounted from the experience of the professor, who was integral to the program. There are regulatory challenges, personnel challenges, scheduling challenges, and technical challenges all managed in the crucible of the project's detailed work beak-down structure. Some of the approaches to addressing these challenges are ugly, and may embarrass professional sensibilities, but in the end the power station started, the President of the United States came and congratulated us, and the plant ran reasonably well. Human beings must execute the elements of the work breakdown structure to make the project a success. Human beings are famously unreliable, and the form of work being undertaken is famously unforgiving. There are many processes and methods employed by the regulator and in project management to overcome the foibles of the human condition, and these are in this book. The overarching message is optimistic, as the outcome was successful, but there are some opportunities for improvement. Ideally one improvement could be in the human condition, through a broader appreciation of consequences for sloppy or irresponsible behavior, leading to better professional discipline. Promoting this ideal is a mission of the book. The book also casts back into the history of the professor, and into the academic realm from which the professor has temporarily escaped. The position of professor remains a prestigious one, but this prestige will only persist if those in the position set a high standard. Thought leadership is something taken seriously, so some challenges are offered to the institution of University, with hope that a higher standard of care can be achieved for education and for those who hold, develop and transfer knowledge. Marketing of "the brand" using strong association with embedded semi-pro football programs cannot be the mainstay of University identity in a progressive society. Adjustments are needed for Universities to realize their potential to be important motivators of positive change. Universities also can help shape the definition of positive change. The book also illustrates a modern utility infrastructure, where interests of groups in one part of the organization, like corporate headquarters, can be at cross purposes with others, such as those in operations at a power generating site. The politics are rancorous, and led first to the plant build, and then to the 22 year plant storage, and finally to the decision to restart. Several twists and turns during the Nuclear Power Plant recovery are attributed to the politics of the utility.
About the author
On the Eastern edge of Appalachia in western Maryland lies Boonsboro, a town of a few thousand during the time of Art's youth. His high school favored agriculture and vocational technology, but Art went on to Lehigh University. After several summer jobs laboring to help with the bills, he graduated and went off to Lexington, KY to work for IBM as an Engineer. Neither of Art's parents graduated high school, and exposure to professionals was limited in the social circles of his family, so the notion of professional life was poorly understood prior to entering college and acquiring a professional job. The IBM regimentation was tolerable, but not expected. Hillbillies are used to more relaxed schedules, so after four years Art returned to school full of hope that a more flexible professional position could eventually be found. His father, in total amazement at voluntarily resigning a good high paying job to return to school, noted that most can make a living without attending school for 20 years. This is truly wisdom, but his father's view was colored by a great depression, and a few years working for WPA. Art worked as a Lecturer and then as a Project Manager in the Center for Manufacturing Productivity while at RPI earning the "terminal degree." These were years of growth, work, study and recreation. The schedule was flexible, but the pay was not good and the rigor of study and work was sometimes quite hard. Art took a position with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1987, and moved to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1992, retiring from UT in 2018. Art earned Fellow stature in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Full Professor status in a Land Grant University. He has designed targets for cyclotrons that produce radioisotopes for PET imaging, and led development of radiotracer imaging protocols capable of tracking single cells and mapping flow in opaque systems. Art has also won several teaching awards. Now as a recovering engineer, with work history in commerce, government and university, Art offers this story to help readers appreciate the technology we depend on, and the discipline required to manage complex infrastructure. While not flattering of all organizations involved, the book is offered with intent to guide improvements. We must define our flaws and continuously improve, otherwise something else will happen.
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