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Wired Article on US Upgrading Nuclear Reporting from Modems

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Wired Article on US Upgrading Nuclear Reporting from Modems

Postby tarwn on Tue Oct 13, 2009 11:30 am

Apparently the US government is asking nuclear plants to voluntarily upgrade a modem or set of modems at each plant that is used to report data real-time to the government. Decent article, I'll correct it after.
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/10/nuke_modems

Having actually done work for Electric Companies in the past, I can tell you that if there is a modem attached to the data systems for the nuclear plant it's probably because the govt demanded it be that way. While the only nuclear plant I did work for was a few years behind the technology curve, they are just like any other company on their business side with dedicated point-to-points and T1 or greater lines at business offices. From what i saw at the non-nuclear plants, they used the point-to-points to communicate withe main office and to send a read-only stream of data from inside the plant side of the network at each plant. All the networks were detached except for (potentially) a single channel that communicated out through a firewall to the business servers (carrying data from the equipment statuses) and wasn't able to accept communications back on any port except that one.

So the little comment about getting cable? Pure journalistic crap. Unfortunately that comment probably misled a lot of people into thinking that our power plants are backwards, when in fact they run some very sophisticated equipment and systems. My guess on the 'voluntarily' portion of the request is that the government has finally decided to revisit the laws requiring the modem connection and update them, and are asking the plants to upgrade off of the modems at their own cost so the govt can phase them out (otherwise they would have to continue to support them as a grandfather clause).

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Re: Wired Article on US Upgrading Nuclear Reporting from Modems

Postby Emtucifor on Tue Oct 13, 2009 6:37 pm

I immediately started thinking about service level. Just like the heartbeat connection of a "stretch cluster" should be at 10MBit or lower, because this is more reliable and it never carries much data, isn't reliability more important for nuclear power plant reporting than speed? I'm not suggesting modems will always be that. But a modem could even use a cellular network in a pinch. What if terrorists take out T1 lines? Is there a backup satellite phone that can be used?

I don't know all the issues, but I think reliability should be considered as a far higher priority than simple modernization. I realize that the phone calls the modems place probably run along those same T1 lines. I'm just thinking out loud, here. :)
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Re: Wired Article on US Upgrading Nuclear Reporting from Modems

Postby tarwn on Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:39 pm

If terrorists, a backhoe, or a service outage takes out the point-to-point, T1, or phone lines then they are getting all three and absolutely nothing will happen at the plant because these lines are simply for reporting a subset of the data being historized on site. The reason the government is getting these updates is because they are afraid that if they do not get the updates that either
a) They will not get the news fast enough if the plant were to go critical
or
b) Someone would take advantage of (a)

I wouldn't be surprised if there automatic fines imposed during communications outages, as this is the case with several other types of plants (EPA is very fast at fining when you lose status tracking data) but i'm also guessing that those modems are connecting directly to a dedicated system on the other (govt) end. Until that dedicated govt system is updated to accept status updates in some way other than from the phone bank, the plants don't have much of a choice in how they call in the updates.

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Re: Wired Article on US Upgrading Nuclear Reporting from Modems

Postby Emtucifor on Tue Oct 13, 2009 8:14 pm

>> "They will not get the news fast enough if the plant were to go critical"
That is exactly what I was thinking about. And also why I mentioned cellular and satellite... Who knows, how about HAM radio, laser point-to-point, and direct microwave transmission? :D
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