On Jan. 30, 2012, Byron Nuclear Generating Station lost operability to all of its safety-related equipment. At the time, Jim Hazen was the nuclear station operator responsible for the affected reactor, one of two at the Exelon-owned nuclear plant in Byron, Illinois. NSOs drive nuclear reactors like pilots fly jetliners — it's mostly autopilot, except when something goes wrong. Hazen surveyed the control room's instruments and advised taking actions that would trigger the plant's diesel generators, switching the plant to backup power. According to multiple sources familiar with the incident's details, including at least one who was directly involved, this was clearly the proper action to take.

But shift manager Ed Bendis rejected that advice. Hazen repeated it. Sources claim he repeated it several times. Bendis didn't relent, and the reactor went without safety equipment for eight minutes, an eternity in fission time.

"For eight minutes, you've raised your middle finger to the meltdown gods," one reactor operator said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If anything else happened in that window — and it's a safe bet one problem causes another — you're screwed."