6Big Data to Infinite Data

Twenty-five years ago, when I worked at North America's largest nuclear power plant, the operators installed thousands of small (and back then very expensive) sensors throughout the complex to measure temperature, pressure, vibration, and other indicators on the miles of large, brightly color-coded pipes and valves within the facility. (Differing colors indicate the content of the pipe—be it hot or cold, liquid or steam, normal water or heavy water, etc.)

A business case was not needed to install these expensive devices. They were installed in the hope that the mountain of data collected from the thousands of sensors could augment the maintenance, safety, and efficiency of Bruce Power's operations. With restart times for a reactor of at best eight hours and at worst days or even weeks (at Chernobyl, trying to shortcut these processes had devastating results) and revenue of millions of dollars an hour, preventing just one shutdown would more than pay for the expensive monitoring equipment. Nowadays, this equipment would be considered part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

It is interesting to note that the computers that run a nuclear reactor's core systems are vacuum tube based for the simple reason that gamma radiation (from a leak) would play havoc on today's microscopic integrated circuits. And contrary to the plot of some great movies, the critical control systems are not connected to the Internet.

With both Three Mile Island and Fukushima, the ...

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