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Mike Gray on: His First Impression of a Power Plant
Mike Gray Q: What was your impression the first time you walked into a power plant?

MG: The first time I walked into the power plant at Zion, Unit One was finished and Unit Two was under construction. So it was the perfect moment to see the finished product and how it was put together. And the man who took me through the plant was named Jack Bytel, who later became the model for the Jack Lemmon character in the movie "The China Syndrome," Jack Gudell. And Bytel was a gung-ho nuclear power plant chief engineer who really understood this technology and had great hope for the future and believed that what he was doing was, you know, a moral energy crusade to save the country. And I liked this guy very much, but when he took me into the control room and I looked at this and I could see here is a room -- it's 90 feet around -- dials and buttons and gauges and alarms -- and here are these operators at this console. And a lot of the instruments aren't even visible. In order to get to adjust something, you had to have a guy on one of the back panels reading the gauge while -- so the other guy at the console -- you know, I mean it was not designed like an airplane cockpit is what I'm trying to say. This was primitive lay-out in an ergonomic sense, you know. And then we went next door to the plant that was under construction and I'm looking at this place and the pipes are big enough to walk through. The pumps are four stories tall. There is nothing in this whole operation that is anywhere on a human scale. And all of this stuff is right off the drawing boards. And there's 90,000 miles of wire in this thing. And all of it's got to work pretty close to perfectly. And I looked around there, as an engineer, and I said to myself, "These boys are in trouble," because, as I say, it's all right off the drawing board.

Even today, nuclear power in this country, as we speak -- we elected a free enterprise model, which is our tradition. We turned it over to the public utility companies. We said, "You guys know about how to make electricity. This is just making electricity with atoms. You guys will run it as free enterprise." As a consequence, instead of one design, as the French had, one carefully planned design where all plants were relatively the same and each operator can go from one to another and understand what he's seeing and so forth, we turned it over to different companies. Babcock and Wilcox, General Electric, and so forth, all these different designers designing totally different plants. And turning it over to some several dozen separate utility companies. And the problem is when you have that kind of individual design and individual ownership -- there were two problems. The first problem was that they scaled this thing up from the hundred-megawatt demonstration plants, to the sort of laboratory proof of concept nuclear power plants, to these thousand-megawatt super plants like Zion and Dresden and Three Mile Island, without anything in between. So in terms of aircraft design, which was my specialty, this would have been like going from the Piper Cub to the 747 with nothing in between. You can't go from fabric to titanium without making this aluminum -- middle step here. And that's basically what happened. So they created a monster in the literal sense. These monster plants were something that, as events proved, they did not understand clearly.

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