Episode 11


When the annunciator sounded, Wendell Auterman looked up from his desk in the office. The new junior shift supervisor saw it was a routine alarm, given the plant’s shut down condition. Fairview Station had come off line to investigate a leaking pipe inside the drywell. Special tanks within the hollow structure collected the trickles of water that seeped from the equipment inside. Some leakage was acceptable, but that limit had been passed. At least the problem had come at a good time: with the arrival of fall, the demand for electricity had dropped.

Wendell returned to the paperwork that his partner, Darrel Fleck, had once again asked him to handle. He was pleased to be paired with the long-time Fairview employee. The two made an interesting contrast: the wiry new supervisor, always in pressed slacks and a fashionable knit shirt, while the burly, affable Fleck’s apparel often looked old and slept in. Towering over Wendell as the two stood at the panels, his wavy blond hair a tousled mess, the older Fleck had a perpetually blank expression that hid a keen mind, and was the calm voice of experience. Wendell knew he could do the job, but he wanted to be the best. Fleck would help him get there.

And he would work for it, as he always had. Wendell was the eighth of ten children. His father was a draftsman at the Naval Yard in Philadelphia, his mother at home whenever they could possibly afford it. Higher education was never a given, but like most of his siblings he had scraped together enough money to cover his college bills. When he started classes at Temple, he was living at home and was almost engaged. But then he moved out, and two semesters with little contact broke the bond with his girl. Actually, Wendell was almost relieved. She now seemed too simple, too stuck in his old neighborhood. A few months later he met Karen.

The document before him called for replacing an instrument in ARAFS, and Wendell whistled at the cost, which included a huge markup for the quality checks and legal requirements a nuclear plant required. It was no wonder Fairview was running out of companies to deal with. There just weren't enough nuke plants around to make such things worth the hassle.

The rear door opened and Ted Cervantes strolled in and perched on the other desk. Wendell’s supervisor rarely chose to sit in an actual chair.

“So, got the routine?” Cervantes asked in his dour manner, as he picked up a pen and absently twirled it between his fingers. A gold chain hung around his neck, a cross peeking out above his open collar.

Wendell lifted the pile of forms. “With as much paperwork as it takes to run one of these,” he replied in his light Philly brogue, “I doubt if anyone will ever want to build one again.”

“And the bullshit keeps gettin’ worse,” Cervantes said. His head tilted back and his eyes narrowed as he spoke. “Darrel probably tells you that all the time.”

“He does mention it.” Wendell's partner had also told him a little about Cervantes. The intense operations supervisor was the son of migrant workers who had settled in the area. Like Fleck, Cervantes had joined the Navy out of high school, spent time on a nuclear submarine, and then signed on at Fairview a few months before the plant first started up. Something else Darrel had related popped into Wendell's mind. “Did you really come on shift one night dressed as Superman?” he asked his boss.

A brief smile appeared under Cervantes' mustache. “It was Halloween,” he said. “But that was years ago. Different world now.”

Figure 4 (again)


Steve considered the point, his eyes fixed on his desk, then looked up at the visiting NRC inspector. “So you feel we should check these pressure monitors more closely?”

“Yes,” the inspector said. He was in his mid-twenties, with a long, slender face. “I've seen these instruments fail at other sites.”

Steve turned to Crutch Pegariek, who'd been showing the inspector around. “How many are we talking about?”

“Twelve total,” Crutch said. “All just for information. They don't control a safety system.”

“If I recall, we read them daily, don't we?” Steve said.

Crutch nodded. “Operators check’em on rounds. We'd quickly see a problem.”

“That's all correct,” the inspector said, “but at another plant I visited, several of these monitors failed. I believe that can be prevented if you check them out internally from time to time.”

“I see,” Steve said. He had encountered the inspector’s type before: young, confident, eager to assert his power and make a mark. But also, perhaps, lacking in wisdom. “How hard is it to open these instruments up?” Steve asked.

“It’s not easy,” Crutch said, his features betraying tension. “They're not built for it. It takes a lotta time and you might just break something.”

“Well, anyway,” the inspector said casually, “I just thought I'd put that forward as a suggestion. I'll mention it in my report.”


“The bastard wants to tear’em apart!”

Paul sipped at his beer and listened to Crutch complain. Along with Tarelli and Langford, they were seated in the old bar that comprised most of Fairview’s business district. Outside, a cold rain was pulling down the last of the fall leaves.

“Internal inspections – what a joke,” Crutch said. “Crack up one monitor, and you’re lookin’ at a thousand bucks down the hole.”

Langford nodded. “That is a problem. But if he writes it into his report, we'll have to do it.”

“I still don’t get it,” Paul said. “Why don’t we talk to his boss?”

“Heh, heh.” Tarelli chuckled and gave a thumbs down. “Bad politics. Basically, if you complain too much, NRC management thinks you’re not taking them seriously – so you’re not paying enough attention to safety. That kind of perception can sway big decisions.”

“This is true. The little things count,” Langford said. “When I was at Craymont, they were visited by a commissioner. The plant spent a least a hundred thousand dollars preparing for the big day. Much of it was cosmetic. The entire plant was repainted, and a number of shiny new doorknobs were installed.”

“You'd think being an old nuclear plant guy, he wouldn't just go on appearances,” Paul said.

Langford shook his head. “Many in the NRC have never worked at a power plant. This is particularly true of top management.”

“The commissioners aren't from power plants?” Paul said, referring to the five executives who controlled the federal agency.

Tarelli put down his beer. “Not one, unless you count a nuclear sub. They’re usually admirals, lawyers or academics.”

“How can they know what's going on?” Paul said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Basically,” Tarelli said, “the NRC is supposed to be independent and watch over us, not be our pals. So Congress doesn’t want a bunch of old utility guys running the show. But they’ve overdone it. Now there's hardly anybody in Washington who's actually tried to run one of these things. The liberals seem to think you’ve sold your soul if you’ve worked in the industry.”

“A bit over-stated, but you do have a point,” Langford said. “Still, you must give the NRC credit for being correct a good deal of the time.”

“Yeah, sometimes,” Crutch said. His eyes were focused on twisting a napkin into a tight spiral. “The guy today was a loser, but the one here last month was sharp. Forced us to keep better track a spare parts.”

“A bad inspector can cost you, with dumb ideas and useless paperwork,” Tarelli said, “and a good inspector will cost you too -- but it’s money well spent. He'll help you keep the plant out of trouble.” A waitress walked by and he pointed at the empty pitcher.

“Phil Guthrie is helpful,” Langford said, referring to the plant's resident NRC employee. “He seems to focus on the things that are genuinely important.”

Tarelli lit a cigarette. “It's not an easy job -- especially if you're a resident, like Phil. It's a hell of a life. You move every few years, and you can't make friends-”

“Ya know,” Crutch said, “when my Dad first took me out to the barn to castrate hogs, he held up a knife and said, ‘Before ya get too cocky, make sure you’re on the right end a this.’” Everyone laughed. “I know which end we’re on here. An’ squealin’ don’t do no good. We can’t even complain if the NRC screws up.”

“We can do a little behind closed doors,” Tarelli said, “but they've got the upper hand, right or not. We go public and bitch about something and it ends up sounding like the evil utility is trying to get out of making their plant safe.” He took a sip of beer. “No way you can look good with that. You're better off just doing what the government wants and billing the customers.”

“Seems like on the news, people say the NRC is not tough enough,” Paul said.

“Just say ‘radiation’ and people are spooked,” Crutch said, twisting his napkin even tighter. “It’s a boogey-man.”

“True,” Langford said, “But you cannot see it, or smell it, or taste it. And in the right amounts, it can cause you great harm. I’m afraid many in the population would rather not live with something like that lurking nearby, however well-managed it is.”

“Like your fellow Democrats,” Tarelli said, smiling.

Langford nodded. “Yes. Most. Their hearts are in the right place, but their science is not.” He gave a sly grin. “I will refrain from discussing the hearts of Republicans.”

“Good.” Tarelli rolled his eyes. He slapped his palm on the table. “I got an idea. Let’s go back to the good old days. Put in a coal-fired unit and let the flyash float out the stack, like they did in the fifties. That's a bigger rad release than anything Fairview puts out. Coal's got uranium in it.” The waitress returned with a fresh pitcher, and Tarelli reached for his wallet.

“The media’s no help,” Crutch said. “You saw that thing in the paper last month. The reporter’s here one day, then calls her article ‘AN ACCIDENT ABOUT TO HAPPEN?' Jeez, that sucked.”

“It's too complicated a subject,” Langford said. He took off his glasses and began cleaning the lenses. “Unfortunately, most of the literature available that the general public can understand is propaganda from one side or the other.”

“At least she didn't say we could blow up like a bomb,” Paul said. “Vickie’s friends seem to think that.”

“Heh, heh. Can't happen,” Tarelli said. “Not enough U-235. You need a special reactor, and the government runs those. About all we could do is make heavy water.”

“That may be true in this country,” Langford said, sliding his glasses back on. “But in some nations, what begins as an atomic plant to generate power soon becomes a factory for bomb material.”

“Hey, not us though,” Crutch said. “We just make electricity.”

“Hard enough doing that,” Tarelli said.


End Post 11



Vitaly did not want to believe the plant’s destruction would ever become necessary.


All Rights Reserved, © 2005 LAG Enterprises