Development Trials on Large-Scale
How do we turn promising prototypes into commercial products? What strategy
should we use for each different project type? How do trials change as development
progresses toward commercialization? Why do development and production organi-
zations view this work differently?
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know
what you’re doing.
W. Edwards Deming
History’s worst plant trial had been underway for 35seconds during the
early hours of April 26, 1986. Shift leader Alexander Akimov sat in the pro-
cess control room with his hand poised over the emergency stop switch. His
crew was trying desperately to maintain control over an inherently unstable
situation. Akimov was only 80minutes into his shift on the worst day of his
career and had only a few hellish days left to live.
The atmosphere in the control room was tense. The engineer-in-charge,
Anatoly Dyatlov, was determined to complete his experiment, regardless
of the warning signs. Safety interlocks had been bypassed. The plant was
running in uncharted “white spot” territory and was responding abnor-
mally. The run plan was covered with cross-outs and handwritten additions.
Because of unexpected delays, Akimov had not been briefed on the proce-
dures. Under the original schedule, his team should have been overseeing
the plant shutdown, rather than running the trial.
A historic drama was unfolding at Chernobyl Unit 4, a Soviet RBMK-
1000 power plant. This reactor design had a number of aws, which made
Akimov’s job both difcult and dangerous. The system was unstable
when operating at low power levels and would run away in a fatal pos-
itive feedback loop if the cooling water ow was disrupted. This state
secret was concealed from the plant’s operators. The unit was lled to its
limit with radioactive waste, which made the control response sluggish
Ironically, Dyatlov’s risky experiment was to verify a vital safety system
for the plant. He was trying to demonstrate that the steam-turbine genera-
tors could provide temporary electrical power as they spun down during an
emergency shutdown. This transient energy supply was needed for a critical
274 Process Techniques for Engineering High-Performance Materials
30–40 seconds until the backup generators kicked in. The central power
authority required that this operation be veried with a full-scale plant test.
Management bonuses were at stake.
In the run-up to the brief test, the operators needed to stabilize the reac-
tor at half the normal power level. Control rods were lowered into the
core to absorb neutrons, slowing the chain reaction. However, a strange
situation developed, which was beyond Akimov’s experience. The output
power plunged to 5% of nominal levels. Inside the core, iodine and xenon
135 gas were collecting around the fuel rods. These reaction by-products
absorb the neutrons, which sustain the chain reaction.
In this situation, the reactor should have been shut down for 24hours to
allow the iodine and xenon to disperse. However, Dyatlov was under pres-
sure to complete the experiment and was determined to move forward. On
his authority, more and more control rods were extracted to coax the power
output up to the required levels.
Without moderators, the nuclear chain reaction gradually climbed out of
the “iodine well” that was choking it. The reactor’s thermal output increased
slowly, but it was still below the planned levels. Impatiently, Dyatlov ordered