Allan Friswell's comment (scroll down) on this video for "O Superman" for Laurie Anderson contends:

The UK nuclear power stations of the 80s had that "ha" sound on continuously 24/7. Apparently it got so you stopped hearing it, and only when it STOPPED did you know there was an emergency. Apparently you heard the silence quicker than if it were an audible alarm.

(the song features a soft "ha" looping continuously in the background). This has some serious poetic heft, so I want to believe it, but I also don't trust it for the same reasons.

Can anyone confirm or deny?


Yes they absolutely did.

I know this because I've been in several of them. However it was only in the most dangerous places - the criticality labs, where there was enough nuclear materials that, if mishandled, they could generate a fatal radiation dose in a matter of seconds. Most nuclear power stations would not have had a criticality lab and hence not an alarm of this kind. Only places like a research establishment (where I heard them) or a fuel rod assembly facility would have had them. The sound was a short electronic bip every few seconds, not a 'ha' or anything else that could be mistaken for a human voice. I suppose different places may have used different sounds, but the ones I visited were all the same. The sound played 24/7 and stopping indicated a criticality. The action if it stopped was to run as quickly as possible towards the nearest exit until you were a safe distance away.

I was only ever a visitor, but I was told by the people who worked there regularly that you got used to it quickly and really noticed if it stopped.


  • 1
    This answer didn't make any sense until I read the references. If something kills you within seconds and there's a bip "every few seconds", there's enough time to kill you between the bips. The article clarifies that there is also a loud warning if something happens. That makes the quote in the question nonsense: "you heard the silence quicker". Silence of the bips just tells you that the alarm is broken. – pipe 16 hours ago

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