RE: MOVIE REVIEW: K19: The Widowmaker

Subject: RE: MOVIE REVIEW: K19: The Widowmaker
From: "Gilger.John" <JGilger -at- acresgaming -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 08:23:08 -0700

Hollywood needs to quit making movies about things they know absolutely nothing about.

The problems of the K-19 and several other Soviet submarines built in the same time frame have been common knowledge in the submarine community (at least among the nuke engineers) since they happened. The Soviet central planners chose to save money at the expense of crew safety when building their reactor systems.

The Soviet Navy built their nuclear plants based on successful espionage in the mid-50s. When Admiral Rickover toured the 'Lenin', the Soviet's first nuclear powered ice breaker, and found that the reactors were identical to the reactor in the Nautilus, the Navy's Nuclear Power Program became classified.

In America and Britain's nuclear submarines use of written procedures is _mandatory_ for ALL plant operations, no matter how routine. Failure to do so results in loss of rank and pay. Repeated failure to do so results in termination.

The Soviet navy was also highly trained and I am sure that *verbatim compliance* with procedures was required of them also.

Been there, done that ;)

John Gilger
Senior Technical Writer
Acres Gaming, Inc.

-----Original Message-----
From: Matthew Nankin [mailto:mgnankin -at- hotmail -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, August 15, 2002 1:22 PM
Subject: MOVIE REVIEW: K19: The Widowmaker

MOVIE REVIEW: K19: The Widowmaker by Matthew Nankin

Inspired by a true story that was kept secret until the fall of communism,
K19: The Widowmaker is the tale of an ill-prepared Russian nuclear missile
submarine that embarks on its maiden voyage with near-disastrous
consequences. However, on a much deeper level, it is a story of the misuse
of documentation that all technical communicators can appreciate.

Immediately the audience is made aware of the improper use of technical
documentation. On a first voyage, nobody onboard looks at any of the
manuals. We are not even aware that they exist. When one of the crewmembers
first sees that an important instrument is not working properly, he taps it
with his finger instead of referring to official written procedures. This
failure to consult the documentation early on will have fatal consequences
for some members of the crew.

In the movie's pivotal scene, tensions mount as radiation levels rise
throughout the submarine. Finally, Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford)
and Executive Officer Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) turn to the
documentation for answers. The emergency procedures manual is read aloud to
the crew, but does not contain information on fixing a malfunctioning
nuclear reactor. In disgust, the loose pages of the guide are thrown aside
and never referred to again!

Although the movie goes on to show standard Hollywood-type action and
dramatic scenes, larger questions regarding the manual are never answered.
For example, why didn't the Russian sailors refer to the index or table of
contents? Was there another manual that might have had the emergency
information that they needed? Why was time wasted contacting the Kremlin
when a better solution might have been speaking to a technical support
specialist? Since this was the very first Russian nuclear submarine, there
might have been updated pages or an addendum. The crew should have, at a
minimum, verified they had the latest version of the document available
prior to setting out.

Sadly, these important questions about the document remain unanswered. As
the Russian nuclear submarine is fixed at the expense of crewmembers exposed
to lethal radiation, we are all left to wonder what might have occurred had
the documentation been more complete or if the sailors had taken the time to
look through the manual before they needed it. As the movie concludes with
sailors honoring their fallen comrades in a Moscow cemetery, we can only
hope that people who view this epic will take away an important lesson about
the disastrous consequences that can result from documentation that is both
incomplete and misused.

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