02 May 2009


Knowing the reactor

Nuclear de Cofrentes... at Flickr.comIt's been just over 30 years since the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant had a partial meltdown. In many ways, Three Mile Island marked the end of the age of innocence for nuclear power, with the door slammed seven years later by Chernobyl.

I was nine, but tech columnist Bob Cringely was there. He says the accident happened because:

[The operators' job] was to follow the manual. All knowledge was inside the book. So knowing the book was everything. Unfortunately knowing the book isn’t the same as knowing the reactor.

How many of us, in the things we do, know the book but don't know the reactor? We know the processes, or the steps, but not the reasons behind them. But knowing how and why something works lets you handle the unexpected.

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"The map is not the territory." -Alfred Korzybski