March 1945 Hanford Substation Fire

  • #1
To clarify why I'm asking this, I'm interested in counterfactual history and this is a little known event in early nuclear history that could have had major repercussions for the Manhattan Project and the end of World War II.

On March 10, 1945, one of the last Japanese fire balloons fell on high voltage direct current lines leading to Midway Substation, which served Hanford Site. The bomb shorted out the line and led to a minor fire that quickly extinguished, but there were forced outages lasting several minutes at B Reactor and D Reactor, and for almost an hour at F Reactor.

What if the bomb had fallen directly on Midway Substation itself and caught the highly flammable electrical equipment on fire? Could it have led to the reactors melting down or otherwise being rendered unusable due to resorting to impure Columbia River water and/or borated water? How long would it take to restore production at the site, especially if the substation has to be replaced? There's a backlog of a few years now to replace one because the equipment isn't commonly produced and must be custom made, but maybe it was lower in 1945, especially for a high priority project?
 

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  • #2
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You'd have to estimate how long it would take a company like GE to build replacement equipment. Perhaps you can find information on how long it took to build the site initially and then that gives you an upper bound. My guess, it would take 6 months to reorder, replace, ship and install but I have nothing to justify it.

Recent hurricane events might give you another estimate for how long it will take to replace the equipment in a flooded substation.

NOVA did a show awhile back on the dangers of hacking the controls of a generator and I think they said it would take 6 months to replace the damaged unit after its destruction. The hack messed with the generator speeds causing it to run at a resonant frequency which tore it apart.

You might even be able to ask an experienced electrician about how long it might take to order parts and repair it.

Here's more from the NOVA show on Cyberwar where is say 6 to 9 months to replace it:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/cyberwar-threat.html

NARRATOR: Cyberattack scenarios against critical infrastructure have been a concern for the Department of Homeland Security, at least since 2007, when the agency commissioned an experiment called "Aurora."

The question experts wanted to answer was a simple one: "Could a purely digital cyberattack disrupt or disable a large generator connected to the power grid?"

PERRY PEDERSEN (Department of Homeland Security, 2006–2007):I was the director of the control system security program at the Department of Homeland Security. And during that time, I ran the project that many people are familiar with, called Aurora.

NARRATOR: A team of electrical engineers brought a 27-ton, heavy-duty diesel generator to a specially built testing facility at the Idaho National Lab. After connecting the generator to the power grid, they challenged a team of computer security experts to use computer code to knock the generator off line. The test was monitored via closed circuit T.V.

PERRY PEDERSEN: In the video, you'll see it running, humming along normally. And then you see the first hit, the first jump. You see the generator shudder.

NARRATOR: The jump occurred almost immediately after the would-be attackers sent the first packet of malicious computer code.

PERRY PEDERSEN: We wanted to hit it, and then wait and collect data and see what was happening, and then hit it again, collect some data and kind of watch the progression of the damage to the generator.

NARRATOR: After the second attack, the generator lurched again, belched ominous smoke and ground to a halt. Not only was it knocked off the grid, it was rendered completely inoperable.

JOE WEISS: What they found when they opened the generator was just failures with almost all parts of the generator, both mechanical and electrical. So, what you're really talking about is, essentially, what you would do with pieces of dynamite.

PERRY PEDERSEN: This was a tough machine. This was heavy duty, and it was designed to run in severe conditions. If you were actually doing that attack, there's no reason to pause and wait in between. You simply put your software on a loop, and you just keep hitting it until it breaks.

NARRATOR: An attack like this could take less than a minute but leave consequences that would last for months.

JOE WEISS: If you damage or destroy these, you can't just go down to your neighborhood hardware store and buy another. It could take you maybe six to nine months to get another one of these.
 
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  • #3
Astronuc
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What if the bomb had fallen directly on Midway Substation itself and caught the highly flammable electrical equipment on fire? Could it have led to the reactors melting down or otherwise being rendered unusable due to resorting to impure Columbia River water and/or borated water? How long would it take to restore production at the site, especially if the substation has to be replaced? There's a backlog of a few years now to replace one because the equipment isn't commonly produced and must be custom made, but maybe it was lower in 1945, especially for a high priority project?
I talked with a colleague who work with the production reactors, and he mentioned that there were several shutdown mechanisms, e.g., control rods and some backup systems. The burnup/exposure on the fuel was very low, so decay heat was not significant. Once the reactor is shutdown, the fuel could be removed out the back face and dropped into a cooling pond, which was standard procedure.

N-reactor had a closed coolant systems, but the older reactors used cooling water from the river in a once through system. I believe there was some processing of the water to remove minerals and silt.
 
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