Windows Oopsie

Just about everyone has experienced the frustration of coming back to a computer and seeing the log in screen patiently waiting after an unplanned, automatic reboot. Usually happens just after an “update” is deployed by Micro$oft. Kind of frustrating. But harmless, right?

Not if you are running the Hatch nuclear facility in Georgia. The incident occurred on March 7 at Unit 2 of the Hatch nuclear power plant near Baxley, Georgia. The trouble started after an engineer from Southern Company, which manages the technology operations for the plant, installed a software update on a computer operating on the plant’s business network. The computer in question was used to monitor chemical and diagnostic data from one of the facility’s primary control systems, and the software update was designed to synchronize data on both systems. According to a report filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, when the updated computer rebooted, it reset the data on the control system, causing safety systems to errantly interpret the lack of data as a drop in water reservoirs that cool the plant’s radioactive nuclear fuel rods. As a result, automated safety systems at the plant triggered a shutdown.

Why am I seeing the mental image of Johnny, from the movie Airplane!, holding a power cord while all the airport lights have gone off, and just saying “sorry!”? Critical systems should not be designed to just reboot.


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