You know I find it interesting that we are still being reassured that the NBAF will be safe especially after the latest GAO report. Moreover, I thought of something that I hope to see in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) , the back-up plan for the NBAF  when the computer systems malfunctions or goes down completely.

Almost everything concerning bio-containment and lab security these days is computer based, right. So what happens when the system goes down? I haven’t seen this issue addressed in any of the talking points  propagated ad nauseum by the consortia via for the lab. Here are a few that are relevant, “In more than 20 years they have had no worker infections, no security breaches, and no community releases” or, “On site security will be a federal charge, and will provide 24/7 human and technological security programs” and  “the NBAF’s perimeter and facility security system will be a 24/7 combination of human and technological systems”. What happens when the technological aspect of bio-containment and site security is absent in the process? Don’t think it’s possible? Well it just happened only this time it was a nuclear power plant.

A nuclear power plant in Georgia was recently forced into an emergency shutdown for 48 hours after a software update was installed on a single computer.

The incident occurred on March 7 at Unit 2 of the Hatch nuclear power plantnear Baxley, Georgia. The trouble started after an engineer from Southern Company, which manages the technology operations for the plant, installed a software update on a computer operating on the plant’s business network.

Run, Forest Run!!! No but seriously, I know what you’re thinking the software and subsequent computer failure was a isolated event, well it may surprise you to learn it wasn’t.

In June 1999, a steel gas pipeline ruptured near Bellingham, Wash., killing two children and an 18-year-old, and injuring eight others. A subsequent investigation found that a computer failure just prior to the accident locked out the central control room operating the pipeline, preventing technicians from relieving pressure in the pipeline.

There is a history of significant failures like the great Black-out in the northeast back in 2003 for instance. So the point is it isn’t wise to just pointblank state that anything is 100% safe. But a recent event for me is the cherry on top of this “Murphy’s law” sundae and it happened at the NIST laboratory in Colorado. 

Small Plutonium Spill At NIST Exposes 22 Workers“, A glass vial with about a 1/4 gram of a powder containing plutonium cracked and spilled radioactive particles in a lab, exposing 22 workers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to trace contamination.

Two workers, who had directly worked with the radioactive material Monday, got rid of the contamination by washing their hands. NIST officials said most of the 20 other nearby workers had trace contamination on their shoes and clothing, which was washed off.

No one was hospitalized and the workers were sent home after decontamination.

Just several other examples of how imperfect our world is, whether it’s a nuclear power plant or a bio-containment laboratory even under the best conditions accidents happen, even at National Institute of Standards and Technology. (hey, didn’t they invent lab safety?).