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CERN Releases Analysis of LHC Incident 149

Posted by timothy
from the training-exercise-was-too-trite dept.
sash writes "From the fresh press release: 'Investigations at CERN following a large helium leak into sector 3-4 of the Large Hadron Collider tunnel have confirmed that cause of the incident was a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets. This resulted in mechanical damage and release of helium from the magnet cold mass into the tunnel. Proper safety procedures were in force, the safety systems performed as expected, and no one was put at risk. Sufficient spare components are in hand to ensure that the LHC is able to restart in 2009, and measures to prevent a similar incident in the future are being put in place.'"
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CERN Releases Analysis of LHC Incident

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  • But but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sanso999 (997008) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:12PM (#25407217) Journal
    When is there ever a guarantee when it comes to electrical? Things frizzle, large areas have no power, cables wear out, the list goes on. 2009? I see this being a long project indeed.
  • Bleah. Big hassle. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:32PM (#25407345) Homepage

    It's worse than I'd thought. They may have to pull quite a few magnets out of the tunnel for repair, and some sheered off their mountings.

    There's a lot of energy stored in those superconducting magnets. A magnet quench, where superconductivity is lost, is a violent event, even when the electrical safeties all work properly, as they did here. The magnet heats up suddenly, and boils the liquid helium. That blasts into the vacuum insulation cavity, setting off further quenches in nearby magnets. The pressures were high enough to blow out relief disks (as planned) and damage the vacuum valves to adjacent sections (not expected.).

    None of this is about the physics. It's all plumbing and electrical work.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A beautiful mind (821714) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:46PM (#25407461)
    About the same amount as it takes to build 10 kilometres of underground metro in Budapest.
  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16, 2008 @09:10PM (#25407635)

    I'll take the above as sarcastic...but sometimes it's hard to tell. Honestly, there's always an argument for 'fix the wrongs of society' before funding pure science. ...

    You have committed the logical fallacy of: False Dichotomy.

    This is not an either/or. You could do both (or neither).

    Why is it "pure science" vs "fix the wrongs" instead of "pure science" vs "cosmetics" or "cosmetics" vs "fix the wrongs".

    Additionally, can you ever "fix the wrongs," or will there always be more?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16, 2008 @09:33PM (#25407771)

    "None of this is about the physics. It's all plumbing and electrical work."

    No, it's about overlooking a design flaw and going back to correct it. That's more engineering.

    But let's take what you said at face value--Are you kidding me? Forgetting that you are trying to dumb down something that is far more complex than you probably understand, much of plumbing and electrical work IS physics.

    On the magnet blow, the physicists designed the equipment in concert with engineers of various expertise. Clearly, some physics did not get adequately passed across to them; I am not putting fault to one or the other, or that even fault is the correct word as the design of the LHC is difficult...

    The LHC is a sequence of physics experiments in itself to study more physics. To state that it has nothing to do with physics when a (significant) part of the device has a now known (and bad) outcome and something was clearly not adequately anticipated is mind-numbingly silly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16, 2008 @09:43PM (#25407823)

    (Intentionally) lost from the antiseptic description of events is a detailed description of what the tunnel actually looked like. Train Wreck. LHC dipoles were ripped from their stands and accordianed like a derailed freight train.

    The design flaw which allowed this to happen is a pretty big one; basically there's no "bypass" for current passing between magnets. There needs to be a safe path for current to flow around faults when you open the circuit in a big magnet system, otherwise you get an arc. Not "so" big a deal in a normal conducting system, arcs like we saw here are, as we've seen, catastrophic for cryo cooled accelerators. This design flaw exists between every magnet in the entire 17 mle ring. Fixing it is no small deal.

    In spite of what the press release says, there is No Way In Hell they didn't _know_ they were at risk of this failure mode. This was the result of a deliberate decision on their part to minimize the number of penetrations in their magnet cryostats. (All well and good, but claiming it was a surprise is complete bullshit)

    MAYBE they can turn on in '09, but they've got a very very big job ahead of themselves.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NewsWatcher (450241) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:04PM (#25407953)

    If I had the choice of spending six billion euros on a quest to unlock some of the greatest mysteries on earth, or spend $US700 billion bailing out overpaid bankers and their cash-poor customers, I know what I would choose.

  • by Zackbass (457384) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:05PM (#25407961)

    I don't really understand what point you're trying to make. A lot of plumbing and electrical work IS engineering. The engineers know that all their analysis tools are based on physics and it doesn't take a physicist to understand how the support systems work and how to analyze them. The design of the systems is NOT a physics experiment, all the phenomena at work were well pinned down before anyone even thought of making the LHC. This is an engineering problem just like the space shuttle is an engineering problem. Just because the engineers didn't account for a particular failure case doesn't mean that the underlying dynamics aren't known.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denton420 (1235028) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:05PM (#25407963)

    Exactly.

    Unfortunately for most of the population, the amount of money that governments generate is unimaginable. (My self included) When you are talking about that much money, the term it self almost loses the everyday definition. It is pure power to make things happen on a huge scale. A mobilizing agent of human power and innovation.

    There is so much money to be spent that the government hardly knows what to do with it all.

    Well maybe that last statement is unfair. They know how to spend it, they just do not know how to do it in an efficient manner without gross negligence in many instances.

    And hey, maybe figuring out what mass is "really" will help us solve world hunger. Its worked before...

  • by afidel (530433) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:13PM (#25408013)
    Um, you do realize that while it's a big number the US debt as a percentage of GDP is among the lowest in the industrialized world right?
  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UCSCTek (806902) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:25PM (#25408089)

    Well, it seems to me like you can't put the 5 billion euros into both the LHC and other causes at the same time.

    The point about fixing the wrongs is a good one. LHC will ultimately yield substantial progress towards understanding the universe (which, to fully appreciate, you really have to be a physicist). What is the expectation of sinking the money into a social program? Many programs here in the states are poorly constructed or simply underfunded so end up a waste, while some can truly help many people more directly and immediately than basic science research. From this angle, it seems science is a lower risk investment.

    PS Obviously things are just that simple, though...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:44PM (#25408195)

    Really??? Wow!

    10 Trillion debt => GDP ~ 14 trillion so 71% debt to GDP ! HA!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt

    Sorting by debt to GDP, US is 27th best (last year!, now worse)

    I see a lot of coutries better than 70% :)

      * Spain? (30%)
      * Iran! (25%)
      * Mexico (22%)
      * New Zealand (20%)

    How about external debt??

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_external_debt

    US is world's worst total debt. holder. Per capita, it is still on first page.. Nasty anyway you look at it. And no one is talking about it.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @10:52PM (#25408239) Journal
    Wikipedia gives an estimate of 3.2-6.4 billion euro. That's not peanuts by any means; but it is actually pretty reasonable for a project of that scale. Cheaper than the Big Dig(Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff are to be avoided, as it turns out), and roughly the same as the saudi contract for 72 eurofighter typhoons.

    The LHC will definitely find itself on the chopping block if we go back to mud farming and cooking our food by burning witches; but it is pretty cheap for a science project of that scale and scope.
  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @11:25PM (#25408379) Journal

    Me, too. But if someone wants to pick "neither," what right do we have to take his money and spend it on our pet projects, anyway?

  • by toby (759) * on Friday October 17, 2008 @01:05AM (#25408839) Homepage Journal

    You remember - the unnecessary war of aggression, waged on false pretences, that most people* found abhorrent?

    (*counting non-Americans)

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Friday October 17, 2008 @01:10AM (#25408867) Homepage

    with any public program there will be some people against its funding. so does that mean we do away with public schools, roads, mail system, police, fire departments, libraries, and all forms of public infrastructure and government?

    a democratic society makes decisions based on public good. most people would agree that funding the arts and sciences is in public interest. if you are really against public research, you can try to petition the government to cut scientific funding (this has happened recently). if that is not enough, you can move to a country where the government doesn't fund any scientific research (i'm sure there are a few out there).

    living in a society with other people means making compromises, that is part of the social contract which allows a civil society to exist. a free society doesn't mean everyone gets everything that they want even when it conflicts with the interests of the majority. thinking that you should always get what you want regardless of the good of the whole is a rather self-centered and immature attitude to take.

  • Re:But but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by g-san (93038) on Friday October 17, 2008 @01:34AM (#25408987)

    Or consider when you buy the amount of cable they did, that 0.00001% chance of defect creeps in.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Friday October 17, 2008 @01:45AM (#25409025) Journal

    It's not a question of whether or not it is in the public interest. Clearly the public benefits from funding in the sciences, and less easily measurable in the arts. But how does that interest weigh against a man's right to the fruits of his own labors?

    The question is who funds it. If I believe (and I do, btw) that funding basic sciences and building particle accelerators a boon to myself and mankind, I'm inclined to donate some money to universities or other organizations engaged in the research I'm interested in (or that someone makes a cogent argument as to why I ought to be interested in.)

    The question is: do I have the right to demand YOUR treasure for things that make ME happy. I'm willing to concede that I have the right to spend *some* of your money on projects of particular import: police, fire, national defense, certain critical infrastructure, but every expenditure of public monies (even those I just mentioned) should be thoroughly debated, for every dollar spent was taken under threat of violence.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stjobe (78285) on Friday October 17, 2008 @04:29AM (#25409647) Homepage

    do I have the right to demand YOUR treasure for things that make ME happy.

    In a word: No.

    YOU have no right to demand much of anything from ME. However, if we live in the same society, that society have rights to demand things of both you and me. It might demand some of MY treasure and give it to YOUR pet project.

    When you (implicitly) agree to take part of the benefits of living in a society, you also (implicitly) agree to pay the costs.

    The second you paid your taxes it's no longer your money, it's ours (as in yours and mine and everyone elses in our society). The distribution of which we've decided to leave up to our politicians (since we cannot bother ourselves).

    The politicians do "thoroughly debate" every expenditure, but not necessarily in a venue you or I have (easy) access to. This is in order since we've relinquished our right to influence those decisions.

  • by ericlondaits (32714) on Friday October 17, 2008 @05:27AM (#25409883) Homepage

    The world needs a war cookie jar... you can go off to war as long as you put a dollar in the jar for every dollar spent in warfare.

  • Re:But but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Candid88 (1292486) on Friday October 17, 2008 @05:34AM (#25409911)

    It's a basic "trueism" of civil engineering that when you up the scale, you inevitably up the risks. Every little component which itself has a small risk of failure often adds ontop of each other, ultimately give a far greater risk of failure (or at least construction delays/setbacks). The technology may be sound at one scale, but that doesn't mean getting it to work on a bigger scale isn't difficult and doesn't present new problems.

    This area of the LHC was always a major challenge. I just hope they can overcome this problem (as appears to be the case) but more importantly that the measures taken to prevent future faults work as planned.

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