Episode 14


Steve stared out the small window and tugged on his aching hand as the corporate jet began its final descent into South Bend. The day’s meeting had been a disappointment, and all he could do now was look past his anger and make the best of the NRC's decision. Checking his schedule book, he grimaced at the reminder that he was having dinner with Brixton’s mayor. This was one night he would rather stay home. But Marie already had a babysitter arranged, and it was too late to cancel.


Paul put his beer down and flexed his ankle where the grounder had bounced off. Vickie’s gonna laugh, but those linemen really beat the hell out of the ball. Best in the company league. Now he, Langford, and Crutch were drowning their sorrows.

“Jeez, guess we gotta do it, huh?” Crutch said, referring to the day's big news.

“At least we were permitted a few days for planning,” Langford said.

“Why now?” Paul asked. The plant was shutting down to replace the wiring on valve motors located near the steam pipes.

“Oh, we believed the wiring was ‘environmentally qualified,’” Langford said, “but one of our fellow utilities performed a retest and found a large steam leak would ruin it.” He shrugged. “Therefore, we fix it.”

“Third time down since spring,” Paul said. “Couldn’t we wait a few months to the refuel outage-”

“That argument was put forward,” Langford said wearily. “The odds of having an accident that would destroy the wiring are remote. It didn’t seem appropriate to upgrade the wires immediately, since that would mean changing the state of the reactor, and also subjecting our workers to a large dose.”

“And the NRC didn't agree?” Paul took a sip of beer.

“No. They were under pressure from activist groups, and Congress also expressed an interest.”

“Ya know,” Crutch said, a frown appearing within his beard, “the papers’ll say the NRC shut us down to take care of ‘n emergency. Like we're inches away from disaster. But it’s an extreme precaution.”

“Kind of ironic,” Paul said. “Some people think we're out of control, and we feel over-regulated.”

“Oh, the NRC must be having some success, if everyone is mad at them,” Langford said. “Of course, in 1979 the task force that looked into T.M.I. said there were too many regulations. Workers were getting distracted from the most important items. Since then, to our infinite regret, the situation has only gotten worse.”

“Jeez, ya wonder if other countries have ta deal with this shit,” Crutch said. With one long finger, he traced circles on the table. “Hard ta picture protesters at a Russian plant. Or them shuttin’ down for something like this.”

“They don't even have a drywell, do they?” Paul asked. “I know they’re different.”

“They have little in the way of containment,” Langford said. He took off his glasses and cleaned them. “But you don’t have to leave the country to find plants that operate without a great many controls. The D.O.E. units aren’t monitored by the NRC.”

Department of Energy. “They make the bomb stuff, don’t they?” Paul said.

“Correct. I’ve spoken with workers from there. It seems a bit more haphazard. They contaminate a great deal of ground.”

“Didn’t Karen Silkwood work at one a those?” Crutch said.

“No, she was at a factory where they processed uranium for fuel,” Langford said. “A private company was in charge.”

Paul took another sip of beer and rubbed his shin again. “Speaking of screwups, did you see the report on the African who picked up the x-ray source?” The other engineers shook their heads, so Paul continued: “They were x-raying some welds at a coal plant in Morocco and the rad source fell out of the machine. A pellet. Some worker picked up this cute little chunk and took it home. The thing was so radioactive his whole family died, and nobody figured out why until the last one was gone.”

“Don’t go tellin’ that to Maxie,” Crutch said. “Let the Africans worry by themselves.”

“Cindy would just remind me to come home with clean pockets,” Langford said. He slid his glasses back on. “Of course, there was a natural reactor in Africa at one time.”

“Huh?” Paul said.

“Over a billion years ago there was a great deal of high grade uranium ore in one location, as well as a lot of water. The pile went critical-”

“How'd they find that out?” Paul said. “Was it still hot?”

“Prospectors in Gabon located a uranium deposit, but when it was tested, it contained abnormally low amounts of U-235. It had been burned up by the reactor.”

“How big was this thing?”

“Very small. We would call it a baby reactor. It just bubbled slowly away for a few hundred thousand years.”

“Not to change the subject,” Crutch said, smiling broadly, “but speakin’ of babies, Maxie had another ultra-sound. Looked fine.”

“What could you see?” Paul asked.

“Not much -- only the head. Kid’s the spittin’ image of me.”

“Your child has a beard?” Langford said.


“Kind of a bad time for you folks to be shutting down, isn't it?” the mayor said, just as the dinner party of three had finished passing around the food. “A lot of air conditioners running right now.”

“Certainly summer is when you need the power,” Steve said. After apologizing for his wife's remaining home with their sick boy, he had explained the current issue. “But we’ll have things fixed up in a few days.”

“Can your company produce enough electricity with Fairview shut down?” the mayor’s wife asked.

“Well, we always keep a little in reserve, since you've got to take down plants for maintenance once in a while. But we’ll also have to get power from other utilities. Everyone feeds into the same grid, so we’ll ask someone else to pump in a little more to make up for Fairview.”

“Have you thought about building more plants?”

“Someday we'll have to,” Steve said. “Our older units are starting to wear out, and the need for power keeps increasing.” He took a sip of iced tea, grateful the subject was drifting away from his own responsibilities. “You know, back in the early 50’s, Eisenhower first talked about using atomic power to generate electricity. To give you an idea how much demand has grown, U.S. nuclear plants will soon be producing more electricity, by themselves, than the whole country was using back then.”

“What would happen if those anti-nuclear folks got their way, and all the plants shut down tomorrow?” the mayor asked.

“There would be brownouts, and maybe some blackouts. Nuclear is more than fifteen percent of the country's production. We'd probably end up buying hydropower from the Canadians for a few years, and perhaps have some rationing. The country could get through it, but it wouldn't be pleasant. And I’m not sure how we’d replace it over the long haul. Nobody wants a power plant of any kind built in their backyard.”

“How much does Fairview generate?” the mayor's wife asked.

“About 580 megawatts,” Steve said. “580 million watts.”

“You're a big employer, I know that much,” the mayor said. “How many people you got out there now?”

“Nearly five hundred. And we'll be adding more next year. These days, it takes a larger staff to comply with all the rules.”

“Has Hoosier Electric ever looked into solar power?” the mayor's wife asked, dipping a fork into her salad.

“A little, yes,” Steve said. The question invariably came up when he talked to civic groups. “But solar cells aren’t very practical in this area. It’s too cloudy and we're too far north. If we wanted to replace Fairview with photovoltaics, we'd need about four square miles of collectors and batteries. A bit less if we added windmills.”

“That’s a big chunk of farmland,” the mayor said.

Steve nodded. “Solar is nice, inexpensive energy, but it’s spread awfully thin. Even in Arizona, you need a square yard of the best collectors to light up a seventy-five watt bulb.”

“So do you think solar will ever work?” the mayor's wife said.

“It will keep growing,” Steve said. “They're generating a few megawatts in California right now, with both cells and windmills. But to produce the amount of power the country actually uses -- 300,000 megawatts at any given time -- would take up a great deal of room and cost a fortune.”

“People complain about their utility bills as it is,” the mayor said.


“Comrade,” Dmitri said, “I'd like you to meet Doctor Gregori Ivanovich Berdyayev.”

Vitaly extended his hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Thank you, comrade,” the doctor said. His trim black goatee fit perfectly with his angular face and high forehead.

The three men took their seats at the table. “Did you enjoy your tour, Vitaly Fedorovich?” the doctor asked. “We thought you might like to see one of your own country's plants for a change.”

“Yes, it was interesting. A little different from Fairview. Not as many contaminated areas, but I understand that's one of the advantages of a P.W.R. Is that what we have, mostly?”

“Yes,” the doctor said as he opened his briefcase. “We also have a few graphite-based B.W.R.'s and some Fast Breeders. Those are quite different from U.S. commercial plants.” The Doctor retrieved a folder. “Now, perhaps we should get started. I understand the colonel,” he nodded in Dmitri's direction, “has filled you in on my background.”

“Yes, comrade.” Vitaly knew Berdyayev had been involved in Soviet reactor design for many years. “Now he works part-time for us,” Dmitri had said on their chartered plane flight to Kalinin. “He's reviewed your sabotage plans quite thoroughly.”

For the next hour Vitaly’s roughed-out ideas were discussed. With the little time he could spare, he had devised three approaches: obvious sabotage that would allow him to escape, sabotage that would lead to his capture or death, and damage to the plant that would not have a clear cause.

“I can anticipate one question my superiors will ask,” Dmitri said. “Why risk discovery of an agent during wartime when we could just send in a commando team? Vitaly has given me some input on that, but I'd value your opinion as well, Doctor.”

“As I understand it, U.S. plants must all meet certain security standards,” the scientist said. “Armed guards, a monitored fence, constant patrols, and so on-”

Vitaly nodded agreement.

“-and Spetsnaz troops shooting their way in would be unlikely to accomplish much beyond scramming the reactor and sealing things off. These plants are built to shut down, not keep running. But I wouldn't consider destruction to be the real objective here. The goal should be to cause massive fear among the public. You only need a radiation release to do that.”

“So a big rad release is the target, you think?” Vitaly asked. A little different than my approach.

“A release must happen,” the doctor said. “If the plant is damaged but nothing gets out, the public will only care for a little while. You've got to impact the common man directly, or national concern won't continue. You need interviews on American television with people who've been exposed to radiation, who've been evacuated. That is the lesson of Three Mile Island.”

“So, a big rad release.”

“It does not have to be large,” the doctor said. “With the Americans, five or ten milli-rems per hour will suffice. Of course, that's not much at all- “

“But the public won't understand that,” Vitaly said, completing the thought. Of course. I was too close to see it. “So I just need a little puff. Enough to get a Site Emergency declared.”

“Exactly.” The doctor looked through his notes. “And it's the undetectable sabotage that's the real challenge for you, correct?”

“That's the tough one. How can I make them think it's an accident? So many things have to go wrong.”

“I understand. Somehow, you've got to stop water reaching the core, so there will be fuel damage and a release.”

“And there's a lot of ways to get water in there,” Vitaly said.

“A real challenge,” the doctor agreed. He smiled. “But perhaps I have a solution. Some American utilities are experiencing this problem.” He slid a sheet of paper across the table.

Vitaly scanned the short newspaper article. Obvious again. And I can pull it off from outside. “It would work,” he said.

“You might consider this as well.” The doctor pushed another photocopy across the table.

Vitaly looked at the report from the NRC detailing a recent event. “It might work, I suppose.” He shrugged. “STurDI-1 is dead without the oil pump.”

“Good,” the doctor nodded. “And we may be able to help in other ways. For example, we have a method of producing a short circuit that has a built-in time delay -- and it will also be undetectable later on.”

“Now that's something I’d like to see.”


1985: September - December

In his small, unfinished basement, Vitaly was spending the night decoding a message from the Center. His superiors asked for an update to his sabotage plans. At least he had the time for it now. John Donner had passed his exams, and the proposed attack upon Fairview Station was finally foremost in Vitaly’s mind. The plan for a radiation release, versus catastrophic destruction, was easier to develop, and the lesser goal also helped assuage any guilt. His co-workers –- his American friends –- might lose their jobs, but there would not be a massive sacrifice of lives. A good soldier only killed when it was necessary. And, of course, his plan was destined only to sit on a shelf, gathering dust.

Vitaly reached the Center’s salutary farewell, and, as he had hoped, there was more text. He began decoding another of Yelena's chatty notes, reading as he went -- but then until a word stopped him in his tracks, and he hovered motionless over the paper, the pencil tip still pressing down. His heart beginning to race, Vitaly blinked and refocused. Calm down. Finish the message first.

My Dearest Love,

I have missed you so very much these past few months, and I so look forward to your return. Mama and Papa are fine. Papa's emphysema is much better now that he is getting that new medication you arranged. Now for the big news -- by the time you come home next spring, my dear one, you will probably notice that I have changed a bit since your last visit. I'm pregnant! I'm so excited, and so are Mama and Papa. I know we had planned on waiting, my love, so that you could share in our little one's early years, but perhaps it is better this way. We can have more children -- an even larger family--after you return! I am feeling fairly well, although I have some morning sickness. I have not begun to show yet. The due date, as you would expect, is at the end of May. I love you, my darling, and miss you very much. BOTH of us miss you.


Filled with happiness and anticipation, Vitaly read the message over and over. He was going to be a father -- Yelena was carrying his child. She had made that clear. The due date was nine months from his last visit.

The pregnancy was due to a combination of circumstances. Yelena had always had trouble with the Soviet birth control pills, and even the superior East German ones had bothered her. The last two years they'd gone back to using western European condoms he would pick up at airports on the way home. But on the last visit his connection was tight, and there hadn’t been time. Yelena was not at the right point in her cycle, so they'd foregone any precautions. Vitaly couldn't stand the Russian condoms -- they were commonly known as “galoshes”.

So, my love and I have made a child. Dmitri had asked many times if his young protégé was thinking of starting a family, and Yelena's parents, too, had dropped many hints. Now, when spring came, he and his wife would celebrate in Moscow. But, at this moment, in his small house in South Bend, Vitaly was finding it hard to control his excitement. I‘m going to be a father, and I can‘t tell a soul! There was still one traditional way available to mark the occasion, and he headed upstairs. The bottle of vodka was waiting.


End Post 14



“As you can see,” the instructor said, “there are two principal ways to detect an illegal.”


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