Inquiry: USS Hampton submarine crew fails to read meter, fakes logbook, as fluid that keeps reactor from going critical runs low
[Welcome, Bubbleheads readers!]
Prince Namor is best described as SO not happy about this story. Via AP:
Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton failed to do daily safety checks on the ship's nuclear reactor for a month and falsified records to cover up the omission, a Navy investigation shows. [Shades of the nukes that accidentally flew from Minot AFB to Barksdale last month.]
In the case of the Hampton, it appears from a preliminary investigation that sailors in Submarine Squadron 11 had skipped the required analysis of the chemical and radiological properties of the submarine's reactor for more than a month, even though a daily check is required.
"Some of the Hampton's operations and records fell short of high Navy standards," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.
"There never was any danger to the crew or the public," he said.
That last line, sez Prince Namor, is what we call a "fib." A "misstatement." "Flat-out fucking lie" is another expression sometimes used when one wishes to be more precisely accurate.
The indoctrination given (and absorbed by serious students) at sub school is such that even all these years later the Prince refuses to tell me specific details about the chemistry under discussion here, so we will describe this in terms of analogy:
There is a substance which is added to the water that circulates inside a nuclear reactor. It is a very important substance which has an actual effect on the ability of the water to keep the reactor from going critical.
This substance is used up over time, and a relatively short time at that, so it is very important to keep an eye on it so that more can be added to keep everything running, um, smoothly. As in not setting off alarms and shit, followed shortly thereafter by everybody becoming radioactive and the ship sinking. This does not look good on anybody's performance report so it is considered good form to be avoided.
And how complicated is it to perform this task? Are wrenches involved, and muscles and sweat and the like? Well, no. What is involved is reading a goddamn meter, which is in a convenient place, easily accessible, and requires no effort whatever to get to. You read the meter, write down what it says on your little logbook, and voila, that's pretty much it.
Unless it says your reactor is running a little low on this Essence of Important Shit, in which case you put some more in. It's about as complicated as, and in fact more than slightly analogous to, keeping track of the oil in your car.
This is in the course, mind you, of a 12 hour daily shift, most of which you spend, in the normal course of activities, bored. Having something to do is good.
This is disturbing on more than just the obvious level. Of all the things you could do if you decided to be a complete fuckup, this is the one bit of maintenance that is the stupidest one to choose. Cheat authority by failing to clean behind the head as carefully as you might if the CPO was coming by for inspection, or you were about to pull back into homeport. Or for chrissakes fail to do the daily check on the diesel backup engines, they hardly ever get used to begin with and there isn't much that can go wrong with them anyway. Worst that can happen is you get chewed out and lose some promotion points.
And of all the people, even on an attack boat, to decide to become a complete fuckup, the guys who work in the reactor room are the absolute last you would expect. The training they go through after basic and after sub school is something even the Prince stands in some awe of, and that's a short list. The Nukes are the high priests of the sub community.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is that this required at least three people to be involved in it: the enlisted man who was supposed to read the meter, the other enlisted man on that shift, and the officer in charge. If any one of the three had been not-involved he would have told somebody else what was going on. This did not happen--they say for a month; Prince Namor says that that seems unlikely since, on a three-month cruise, why would you perform just fine for 2/3 of it and then decide to fuck off?
And that "fib" etc. at the end? This Mysterious Reactor Fluid that they didn't read the meter of is really, really important. And 30 days is just about as long as it can go without more absolutely, positively having to be added. These boats are fabulous pieces of engineering but them damn laws of physics can be most unforgiving.
The fact that they tried to keep this quiet does not bode well. The earliest item I can find about it before today was a Navy press release, carried only by the NBC station in San Diego, with some mumbling about "he USS Hampton, currently at the Point Loma base, fell short of standards during a recent review.". Um, yeah. No shit.
Now there's one other story between that Oct. 12 one and the ones that broke today: WTKR TV Hampton Roads VA, the sub's old home port. They didn't have all the details so they ran a bit of speculation:
There are also some who theorizing that a music video that recently posted on YouTube entitled, "What is submarine life exactly?" may be part of the controversy. It was made by a Hampton crew member on the recent deployment and it's fun pictures of the crew joking around together. The worst thing we saw on the video was someone giving the middle finger and slapping someone on the butt. But several blog sites on the internet are wondering whether this music video has something to do with the investigation.
Back in Prince Namor's day you were forbidden to bring any sort of electronics on board. No Walkman (Prince Namor, being old, did his service in pre-MP3 player days) no GameBoy or analogous devices--hell, it was even forbidden to have a glow-in-the-dark wristwatch for reasons I have yet to have adequately explained. It was just Forbidden, dammit.
But now it seems that submariners are allowed to have computers on board, and video gear? The Prince finds this somewhat disquieting too. But not as much as failing to read that particular meter and then faking your logbook to cover it up. That would have left a very, very expensive hole in the water.