Paul had spent the morning watching repairs on a fuel spray pump. There were two of these which could shower the core with a cooling mist if the feedwater, STurDI and VEPI systems were all broken. He’d also had a chance to watch the mechanics tear apart the small control rod pump that pushed water up past the rods and on into the reactor vessel. The flow kept the moving parts of the rods from overheating, and it could also be used to make small adjustments to the vessel’s water level.
Now, for the first time, Paul joined a procession of sweaty workers in underwear, socks and shoes, as they inched toward three young women at a table. At least he didn’t look any more ridiculous than anyone else. A few spots ahead of him he could see Langford squinting into his finger-sized dosimeter. Paul had already checked his. It read just above zero –he had been exposed to little radiation during his trip into the restricted area. After peeling off his anti-c’s, he had also run a Geiger counter probe across his body. The intermittent “click . . . click” of background radiation had not changed to the roaring static that meant radioactive dust was clinging to his skin. He was not ‘crapped up.’ It was an odd feeling, dealing with a source of danger he could neither see nor feel. Nuclear workers obviously became somewhat callous towards radiation after a lot of time spent in the plant, but Paul was not sure he would ever feel that laid back. There was just something about it, something ominous. He’d seen too many old science fiction movies, too many monsters, he thought sometimes. He needed to remember that this was real life. But, still, he would be careful.
“So what’s Lou up to?” Paul asked Langford, as the two left the power block and headed towards the break room. He had seen little of Tarelli for several days.
“Oh, he's attempting to answer some questions INPO had about the crack in the VEPI pump.”
“What the hell is 'In-poe' anyway?”
“So it's a self-help group? People don't seem to talk about it like that.”
“Oh, it’s supposed to be helpful, and it is sometimes, but now we have to keep INPO happy, just like the NRC. Their opinion of us has an effect on our bond ratings and insurance.”
The lunch area was awash in cigarette smoke as Paul and Langford entered, the room resonating with the mumbling of a hundred voices. Paul quickly chose a sandwich, and while Langford studied the vending machines, he glanced around at the rugged men from the outage construction crews: seated at long tables, they played cards or ate from their lunch boxes, their hardhats taking up much of the table space. A heavy-set man, with close-cropped hair, bloodshot eyes, and several tattoos, finished off an apple and tossed the core down at his feet.
“Where do they get those guys?” Paul asked, once he and Langford had left.
“Some are out of the local union hall. The rest are Nuclear Cowboys.”
“Oh, they travel from plant to plant, outage to outage, doing specialized jobs. They will work seventy hours a week, perhaps do some drinking in their time off, then head down the road to the next site. There can be good money in it, but the work itself may be unpleasant.” Langford bit into a candy bar. “I did contract work for a time. Nothing too bad, but it was a definite change from teaching” -- Langford had briefly been a high school science instructor -- “and it paid far better. Cindy didn’t care for it, though, and once Trisha was on the way, she suggested a change. That made good sense to me.” He took another bite of candy. “I once ran a job in
“I've only been here a few months,” Paul said. “Believe me, it’s all very odd.”
Paul finished off the last of his sandwich just as Langford peered around the cubicle. “Ready to view the torus?”
“Sure.” Paul had read of the doughnut-shaped tank that surrounded the base of the reactor vessel and served as the final stop for any steam removed by the pressure relief valves. Soon, he and Langford were climbing down through a hatch into the huge cylindrical container, fifteen feet across, its walls painted a light gray. They stepped out on a brightly lit, bare metal catwalk, hung from the ceiling above clear water that curved away in both directions. The torus was usually kept half-full. “I never could picture how big it was,” Paul said.
“Well, in an emergency they need some place to dump all of the energy coming from the reactor,” Langford said, pointing to a huge pipe extending from the tank’s ceiling to below the pool’s surface. “To do that, they blow the steam from the P.R.V.’s directly into the water. This chills the steam down. Dissipates the energy.”
Paul saw some smaller lines nearby. “What are those?”
“Torus cooling. The water in here can heat up rather fast when the steam arrives, and that’s not a good thing. You want it cool for the next batch. So a VEPI pump can be used to run cold water through those pipes. This will pick up the excess heat and carry it away.”
“And if they can’t cool the torus down?”
“Oh, it’s a rather long chain of events,” Langford said, looking at the clear surface, “but if all the water in here is heated into steam, this tank will burst.”
Steve swallowed the last of the lukewarm coffee, unbuttoned the collar on his shirt and loosened his tie. Both had been selected by Marie, who fortunately felt the same responsibility toward his wardrobe that he felt toward maintaining their cars. Periodically, she would spend a Saturday in
Turning the page of the budget report, Steve continued reading about the just-completed outage. Forty-four million dollars had been spent inside the plant, and an additional twenty million had been required to purchase replacement electricity from other utilities. The VEPI pump crack had been only one of several issues that had prolonged the shutdown. No flaws were found in the other three VEPI pumps, but their shafts would still be replaced during the next refueling outage, and they would be monitored closely until then.
Steve glanced at his watch and saw it was time to go. He peeled the gold watchband from his wrist and rewound the spring as he tried to study a final set of figures, but soon found himself staring at the small inscription on the back of the timepiece. “S.B. Sr. to S.B. Jr.” His father had presented the watch to him for high school graduation, less than a month before fatally slamming his car into a highway median. As clearly as the day he had received the gift, Steve remembered the week previous to it, when he had twice driven to the county jail to bring his drunken father home. The senior Borden had fought for years to control his alcoholism, but after discovering his partner had squandered all the money, he seemed to give up. Somehow, his mother had held the family together, and Steve and his sister had turned out well. But he had never taken a drink – nor taken any success for granted. Steve Borden, Jr. would always be responsible for his actions. And he would not allow himself to fail.
“You moving in?” Steve looked up to find Lou Tarelli filling the doorframe, a grin plastered across his wide face.
“That might be more efficient,” Steve sighed. He tried to remind himself not to be a workaholic, but Tarelli, on the other hand, seemed interested in becoming a case study. In college, Steve had taken some psych courses, and found he enjoyed trying to understand why people moved in the ways they did. With Tarelli it wasn’t hard to figure out. Mozart had his music and Rembrandt had his art. Lou Tarelli had nuclear power. He loved the work.
Steve stood up and began packing his briefcase. “Better get home. Parent-teacher thing tonight. Marie will kill me if I’m late, and it’d be hard to blame her. I was a no-show at everything the whole outage.” Steve thought briefly of school plays and band concerts, but it was the church activities he’d missed the most. It wasn’t the religion itself –- to him that was more a background hum of guidance and ethics than a wellspring of deep, spiritual feeling. What he regretted giving up was the time spent chatting with friends and fellow businessmen about things other than pumps and valves and regulatory concerns. For Tarelli, of course, that technical world was heaven itself.
Tarelli pulled out a cigarette. “Ann wasn’t happy about the things I missed either.”
“She lives over in
“A little east of there. Not too bad of a drive.”
“You get to see Timmy much?”
“On weekends, or maybe some event.” Tarelli lit his cigarette and took a long drag. He smiled. “He'll be playing Little League this summer. That'll be fun.”
“Martin started last year. Good hit, no field. He loves it.”
“Fun to be that age. I go talk to the bigger kids tomorrow.”
“College.” Tarelli took another puff. “I just hope I don’t get another know-it-all activist like last time. She was a bitch.”
“As I recall, you said the professor kept breaking up your little debate.”
“Like a referee. She had nice legs, though.” Another puff. “If I remember right, it was fun to be that age, too”
“There were moments,” Steve said as he flipped out the lights.
End Post 8
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
“We were talking about how radiation can kill you. So how many Rems does it take?”