Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's Called the Gell-Man Amnesia Effect

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”
Two days ago, the Daily Caller posted something I happen to know a little about: Lax Security At Nuclear Power Plant Outside Washington
The threat against nuclear power plants is real, experts say: the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists initially considered attacking a nuclear power reactor, according to the 9/11 Commission report.

Lyman, the nuclear terrorism expert, said: “I think it’s kind of foolish to allow such lax controls over the owner-controlled area.”

Asked about a hypothetical meltdown at Calvert Cliffs, Lyman said the Fukushima disaster showed that a reactor meltdown could warrant evacuations 25 or 35 miles away, and could threaten radiation exposure to people who live 50 miles or more away, which in this case would include the 3.6 million people who live in Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs. . .
The point of the article, and video, is that the employee parking lot at Calvert Cliffs, is essentially unguarded; anyone can go in and out without being challenged (most of the time).

Regular readers may know I live within spitting distance (the wind has to be just right, and pretty strong) of the power plant. Although never employed at the plant itself, I have also worked for institutions that contracted with the plants owners, and have been in various parts of the plant (including some very important ones) on a number of occasions.

As mentioned, the front gate to the employee parking lot and delivery area has a guard booth, but one which is rarely manned.  Frankly, that guard booth is security theater, meant to put on a show of exclusion, without being able to really do much about it.  The plant employees hundreds of people, 24/7, and even more during that annual ritual called the "shutdown", when one of it's two reactors is refueled.  At shift changes, traffic at the gate would back up to Washington D.C. if all the cars and trucks going past were subject to any reasonable scrutiny.

As to the level of danger to the reactor from the parking lot, the containment of the plant was designed to withstand a direct hit from (an admittedly 70's era) jetliner.  I seriously doubt you could carry enough explosives in a truck to damage the reactors from 600 feet away.

The real security for the plant lies in several levels deeper in. I won't say much, and it's almost certainly changed since the last time I was inside, but to get into the important areas means going through real security, metal detectors, etc, usually in the company of an escort. There were even biometric locks. Armed guards patrol the various layers of fences. I know that personally, because guys with assault rifles (yeah, probably real assault rifles, the ones with real automatic fire), have waved me off from fishing too close.

So, thanks Daily Caller, for reminding me that I have to be more skeptical.

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