Quick Work, and More Power to 'Em
By John Kelly
Thursday, May 20, 2004; Page C10
My colleague Spencer Hsu passed a delightful news release on to me the other day. The headline was "Constellation Energy's Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant Completes Turbine Replacement Project in Record Time."
I know what you're thinking: Gee, was it time to replace the turbine already? Seems like no sooner have you put one turbine in your nuclear power plant than it's time to go down to Home Depot and get a new one.
Calvert Cliffs finished the turbine installation May 9, 16 days ahead of schedule. The news release noted: "The turbine replacement, which was achieved in 20 days, marks a new U.S. nuclear industry record for a three-section replacement."
I had so many questions when I read that sentence. What was the old record for a three-section replacement? What is the record for a two-section replacement? How about four-section?
But my main thought was this: Do we really want to be setting speed records when it comes to subbing out parts of a nuclear power plant? I had visions of something like a pit stop in a NASCAR race, with jump-suited Calvert Cliffs workers rushing about, shouting, "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go! Get that turbine screwed on there!"
Really, guys, take all the time you need.
Calvert Cliffs spokeswoman Eileen Kane said I had nothing to worry about. "Being fast is important in the energy industry," she said. "And being safe is just as important, and in this case we were both."
As for my other questions, Eileen said that the old three-section record was 23 days and that she didn't know about any other types of turbines. The 20-day mark is a U.S. record, so, as unpleasant as it might be to contemplate, it's possible that the Germans or the French hold the world record.
Eileen said that no, Calvert Cliffs doesn't have a plaque marking the achievement, just the satisfaction of doing a job well. And quickly.
Unclear on the Concept
In a column a while back, I mentioned that I once labored under the misapprehension that the expression "having your work cut out for you" meant that you had no work. In other words, I had it exactly backward. I invited readers to share their own misconceptions.
Before I get to those, allow me to explain the derivation of the phrase I misconstrued for so long. Verenda Camire of Alexandria and Anita Goss of Culpeper, Va., both pointed out that it comes from a time when seamstresses did piecework at home. When your work was cut out for you, wrote Anita, the various pieces -- sleeve, yoke, collar, back, etc. -- were ready to be sewn together. "You had quite a task in front of you, and you had better get cracking."
Let's get cracking on those reader misconceptions. Maureen Greeley of Ashburn wrote: "Frankly I'm a bit embarrassed to be sharing this story, but when I first learned that we bought Alaska from Russia, I had to ask: How on Earth did we get it over here?"
Maureen, we like embarrassing stories. It's cathartic to have your embarrassing story aired in a public forum.
And is your story any more embarrassing than Caryn Irigoyen's of Springfield? When she was young, she thought that cats were females and dogs were male. When the two got married -- "I really did think they got married first," Caryn wrote -- and then had babies together, puppies were sons and kittens were daughters.
"I know," said Caryn, "I was a very odd child!"
Certainly no odder than Tracy Grygotis of Manassas. She remembers going into a department store with her father when she was 5 or 6. "At the checkout, he wrote a check and signed it," wrote Tracy. "His signature is completely illegible. I asked him, 'Dad, when you sign your name, are you supposed to not be able to read it?' "
Sure, kid, it throws off the impersonators.
Cafe Au Revoir
Yesterday was the last day that Romi the coffee lady was in The Washington Post's cafeteria. You probably don't know Romi Seyoum, but I think it's safe to say she made an impact on American journalism.
For six years, Romi dispensed lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and chais to Post employees. I wonder how many stories wouldn't have been written, how many reporters wouldn't have overcome their late-afternoon malaise, how many errors wouldn't have been caught by editors had Romi not been providing carefully calibrated doses of mind-sharpening caffeine.
Romi started out in a stand on the street in front of The Post, until some Post employees convinced the powers that be to let her set up shop in a corner of the cafeteria.
It was always kind of odd to walk into the lunchroom and see Romi's stand, sort of like coming across an acupuncturist or a guy selling roasted chestnuts. But it was neat, too, and for those of us who prize well-made coffee, Romi provided a blessed alternative to the java sold just a few yards away.
Romi grew up in Ethiopia, where coffee is practically a religion. I was lucky enough to once watch as she made coffee the old-fashioned way: roasting the beans herself in a pan.
The Post decided it wanted to let the cafeteria operate its own coffee stand and so gave Romi some money in hopes of helping her get started in a new location.
She hasn't found a home yet, but when she does, I think a lot of us will be adding a late-afternoon stroll to our day's routine.
An early reminder that at 1 p.m. tomorrow, I'll be conducting my weekly online chat. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/online.
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