Matters of Scale - Murphy's Law: The Nuclear Corollaries
Among the thousands of nuclear accidents that occur each year worldwide, certain recurring patterns have become evident. Here are a few of them, as gleaned from the Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age, and other sources:
Did the right thing, but in the wrong direction.
A nuclear power plant operator turned a valve the wrong way, spraying 105,000 gallons of radioactive water into a reactor containment building and plunging the building into darkness. (Sequoya I, Tennessee)
Had the right object, but dropped it
A maintenance worker in a Titan missile silo accidentally dropped a 7-kilogram socket head from his spanner. It fell 20 meters, bounced off a concrete mounting, and penetrated the aluminum skin of the missile, releasing a vapor stream of highly toxic and explosive aerozine-50 fuel into the silo and triggering a series of escalating malfunctions culminating in an explosion that blew the missile's 2,700 kilogram reentry vehicle and 9-megaton nuclear warhead 600 feet into the air. (Titan missile silo, Arkansas)
It was the right stuff, but it got into the wrong hands
A boy found seven pellets of radioactive cobalt lying in the street and brought them home. He, his mother, his sister, and his grandmother all died. (Mexico City)
Took the right route, but got unexpectedly detoured.
A Mammoth Major warhead transporter truck, believed to have been carrying nuclear depth charges, slipped off an icy road and crashed down an embankment, landing upside-down in a field. (Dean Hill top secret arms depot, United Kingdom)
Got the right signal, but misinterpreted it.
Operators of a nuclear power plant in Germany noticed a red light indicating that the primary cooling system's main valve had been left open by mistake. They assumed there was something wrong with the signal light, and ignored it. The valve remained open for 15 hours, bringing the plant to within a hair's breadth of a disaster. (Biblis-A, Germany)