U.S. Officials Cautious, Upbeat on Y2K Prospects

WASHINGTON (12/31/99) - As each hour passed and another part of the world marked the New Year, the year 2000 computer glitch appeared to defy expectations that it might disrupt power, financial systems or daily life. U.S. officials late tonight continued to offer generally upbeat but cautionary assessments about Y2K's impact. There were also reports of what appeared, at first glance, to be some minor date-related problems -- including an equipment malfunction at a Japanese nuclear plant that didn't jeopardize plant safety, officials said.

By late this evening in Washington, some 75% of the world had begun the New Year. There were no reports of major power outages, telecommunications failures or other disruptions to critical infrastructures in Asia or Europe, White House officials said.

"We're not declaring victory, but it looks good," said U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

U.S. Department of Transportation computer systems, which manage Federal Aviation Administration (see story) and Coast Guard systems, passed a critical Y2K test hours ahead of other federal systems, when they successfully rolled over at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, according to government officials.

"It went perfectly," said George Molaski, the chief information officer at DOT, shortly after key systems passed the zero hour GMT at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Since many of the computers and embedded devices used in transportation work off of GMT, that time "is probably more critical then the actual midnight," he said.

The new year also arrived without incident in Russia and Ukraine, regions the U.S. State Department had warned were potential Y2K trouble spots.

"Everything is working -- phones, mobile phones, computers, mainframes," said Michael Forman, the country manager in Moscow for Galileo International Inc., a Rosemount, Ill.-based company that provides electronic reservation services.

Forman, reached by telephone at about 2:30 a.m Moscow time (6:30 p.m. EST), said he doesn't know whether Russia will eventually be hurt by Y2K, but so far, so good. "I just don't know -- the lights didn't go out at 12," he said.

By late evening in the East Coast, 311 of the 434 of the world's nuclear plants, including 29 in Russia, had successfully rolled over. Two-thirds of the oil producers entered the New Year without any reported problems. And because 30% of the electric operation and management systems in the U.S. run on GMT, their rollover prospects were also good, said Richardson.

There were also no lines of motorists waiting for gas or shortages, Richardson said.

But there were a few reports of problems. A Wisconsin power facility had a clock glitch but continued to generate power, a DOE official said.

There were also three glitches at U.S. nuclear power plants that led to shutdowns. Two were not Y2K related. A plant in Limerick, Pa., experienced a transformer problem, and a human error in Waynesboro, Ga., prompted a shutdown.

A Catawba, N.C., nuclear power plant shut down after a computer problem, but it wasn't known if it was Y2K related. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was investigating. While three shutdowns in one day were "unusual" it wasn't necessarily an indication of a wider problem, Richardson said.

A nuclear power plant in Japan was shut down after midnight (see story). The system that failed was a backup system that displays the plant's operating parameters, Richardson said.

Here in the U.S., the DOT's work is far from done.

Over the weekend, DOT information system employees will be turning computers on, checking network connections and doing everything that is needed "to make sure we are ready for business on Monday," Molaski said. Glitches could still turn up in some systems as they reach end of the month or quarterly reporting periods.

Despite the good news internationally, U.S. officials continue to warn that Y2K problems could manifest themselves in critical systems in the days to come. "We should remain mindful that Y2K problems may occur as the business day begins," said Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.

Although there were no reports of any critical system failures in the U.S., one of the biggest failures to date did involve a finance system of sorts.

John Koskinen, the federal Y2K chief, said 150 slot machines in Delaware broke down because of a Y2K problem.

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