Episode 25

At his desk, Wendell flipped through the thick binder to the Emergency Action Levels. Loss of power... In the faint glow he could barely read, and he opened a drawer and pulled out a flashlight.

Fleck came in and grabbed a phone as he sat down. He began dialing a number taped to the wall.

Loss of power...there. Wendell began reviewing the criteria.

“Steve?” Fleck said into the phone.

Wendell kept reading while trying to listen as his partner explained the situation to the plant manager.

“Steve, this is Darrel Fleck. We have a major problem here. We've got a station blackout with no makeup to the vessel.” Fleck listened a moment. “Yes, that's right, a loss of offsite power. Lines down, I guess. We scrammed okay on that, but then the #1 diesel failed to start, and we couldn't get STurDI-1 or STurDI-2 to pump. Nothing's going in the vessel.” Another pause. “Below 110 by now. Our steam isolation valves closed when we lost offsite, so we're bottled up. Residual heat's just boiling down the vessel level bit by bit. We got P.R.V.'s lifting to keep us near normal pressure. The drywell air is heating up good too. It’s around 260 ..... No, we've got a few rad instruments left -- nothing abnormal.”

That's it. The paragraph illuminated by Wendell’s flashlight left no doubt. He turned to Fleck. “Site Emergency. No choice.”

“About ten minutes ago,” Darrel said, in answer to another question. “Yeah ..... We just finished reviewing the Action Levels. It's a Site Emergency ...... Yeah, that's what I thought too. What? ...... We're calling Leeman right now.......”

Wendell read through the list of actions the public could take for its own safety, then laid the book on Fleck's desk, shining his flashlight beam over his partner's shoulder.

“Yeah ... that's correct.” Fleck ran his finger along the chart. “Okay, I've got the Protective Action matrix. Where we're at ... well, we've got no release yet ... nothing wrong with our vessel and drywell so far... we've got a little time ...” Fleck's finger stopped, and he tapped at the chart.

Wendell nodded. Looks right.

“I think we fit the minimum, Steve,” Fleck said into the phone. “Yeah -- shelter two mile radius around the plant and five miles downwind. Animals on stored feed.....Yeah...Okay. We'll notify the authorities and have Security start calling our people in. Hopefully, Leeman's ahead of us on that... Yeah.... Oh, right.... Okay. Bye.”

Fleck stood and reached for the door to the control room.

“I'll make the calls,” Wendell said. He began dialing. It was time to let the authorities know what was happening at Fairview Station.



The radio played softly as Liz sped through northern Indiana, still an hour from South Bend. Why now? she kept asking herself. Why would the Soviets risk it? Something to do with Chernobyl? To take the heat off? Or was there more? The start of a war? What if Donner wasn't the only spy who would be taking active measures?

Questions you can't answer, Liz reminded herself. Tonight, the big issues were not her concern. Quietly, efficiently, she must arrest John Donner.


The first ring of the phone wrenched Gary from the fog of sleep, and after the second ring he fumbled for the lamp. Carol groaned and rolled away. “Hello?” Gary answered, his eyes locked in a squint.

“Gary Halvorsen?” asked a firm, familiar voice.

“Yah.” Gary glanced at the clock. 3:07.

“This is Leeman. You awake?”

“Yah, Karl.” Something broke. Crap.

“All right,” Leeman drawled. “Now lissen closely. This ain’t no drill. They’re having problems at the plant. Offsite power dropped away an’ the diesel didn't pick up. No power. There’s other shit went bad too. I need ya in thar right now. Ya understand?”

“I'll be there.”

“Good. Fast as ya can. Call Tama first and tell ‘im the same thing. You hurry!”

Gary pulled himself upright. He was wide awake now. Shit, no power! Gary punched in Doug Tama's number. The phone rang once... Be there... twice ... Wake up!


Good! “Doug, this is Gary.”


“Listen, Leeman just called. Plant’s all fucked up. Diesel's out, for one. They want us now. This is no drill. Okay?”

There was a brief moan on the other end of the line. “Boy, I had a few beers ... but I'm okay. See you there.”

Blue jeans and a flannel shirt from his Saturday work on the diesel lay across a chair, and Gary was ramming his legs into his pants when Carol rolled over.

“What are you doing?”

“Trouble at the plant. Power problems, I guess.” Gary latched his belt. “I gotta go in.”

Carol propped herself on one elbow. “Shoot. They down?”

“Karl didn't say,” Gary buttoned the shirt across his wide chest. “Probably. He just told me to call Doug and get the hell out there.”

Carol sighed. “Fine. I wish they wouldn’t always call you, but go fix it, I guess.” She fell back amid the blankets. “Let me know when you think you’ll be home.”

“Yes, Miss Carol-l-l,” Gary said.


“Yes, thank you.” Wendell hung up, his first call completed. He had awakened the Civil Defense director for Potowatomie County, explained the situation, and provided the plant's recommendations for actions the public could take. The director would make the final decision. After an initial curse, he had been all business: “How much radiation could you release? How much time before it really goes to hell?” To the first question, Wendell had no answer. To the second he could only hazard a guess -- within the next ninety minutes if nothing was fixed. It had already been twenty minutes since offsite power was lost.

Before his next call, the junior shift supervisor stared through the glass into the darkened control room. The STA was still at the center panel, the chief operator was working at the STurDI controls, and Fleck was busy on the radio. Wendell assumed his partner was talking to the two men now at the diesel. Fleck had dispatched the assistant operator from the control room to help.

Wendell punched in the next number. He would tell Fairview’s town policeman to expect a call from the C.D. director. The 300 people in the nearby community would probably be advised to take shelter and stay indoors. Since it was only three a.m., that shouldn't prove much of a problem. Even the farmers aren't up yet.


Vitaly continued home via the back roads, his sense of accomplishment growing with each mile. He had done his duty. He had struck back. After all these years in enemy territory, he had struck back! Only briefly was his elation tempered when he thought of the men in the control room. It was Fleck’s crew tonight. They’re good. He would not want to be in their shoes, but he had no regrets. This was a battle his country must win.

“Roger. 41 out.”

The voice on the scanner was distant and full of static. Vitaly had yet to hear anything from the County Police about the plant.

“. . . units! All units. We have a report of a Site Emergency at Fairview. Repeat: Site Emergency at the Fairview Nuclear Plant. You are to head towards Fairview and await instructions. 10-25 to Fairview and standby. 10-12. Dispatch out.”

Yes! Vitaly slapped the steering wheel. YES! The plant was definitely in trouble. The only question now was how bad it would get. Letting his car coast through a lonely intersection, Vitaly already knew the answer. Bad enough.


Time: 3:19 am.

Time from Start of Event: 28 minutes

Reactor Water Level (above Fuel): 53 inches

As the light turned to red, Joel Wermager brought his police car to a halt at Brixton’s busiest intersection. There was no traffic at the mini-mart, so Joel drove ahead through the four blocks of the business district. It was early on a Sunday morning, and the town of 18,000 was quiet.

At another light, the policeman stretched his tall, spare frame. In three hours he could head home, have some breakfast, and then crawl into bed beside his wife for a little sleep.

“All cars,” the radio blurted out. “10-12. Standby.”

Probably a fight.

“All cars. Be advised there is a 10-33 at Fairview Station. A Site Area Emergency has been declared. Civil Defense is requesting public shelter to five miles downwind. No recommendation yet for Brixton. Return to station for your emergency packets. All cars. Acknowledge.”

Joel stared at the radio. Fairview Station. The nuke plant. Was there an accident? Another Three Mile Island? He hadn't been back long from his army tour when that had happened. And then there's Chernobyl...

“Dispatch, Unit 9,” the radio broke in as another car responded. “Is this one of their drills?”

Good question. Say yes.

“Negative, Unit 9. This is not a drill. Repeat: not a drill. Report to station. Out.”


Wendell perched on his desk. The event was thirty minutes old now, and his initial rush of adrenaline had been replaced by a steady flow of nervous energy. He watched through the glass as Fleck paced in front of the long, curving panels, while the chief operator wiped the sweat from his bare scalp with a handkerchief as he manned the radio. Off to one side, the STA was punching numbers into a calculator. Nothing new had occurred, but that in itself made the situation worse. There was still water covering the reactor core, but it was slowly boiling away. Once the fuel was uncovered, it would be less than an hour before the uranium-filled rods began breaking apart.

Fairview, are you still there?”

“Yes,” Wendell replied into the red phone balanced on his shoulder. He was speaking with the NRC crisis center in Bethesda.

“Very good. Any change?”

“No. Same as before.” Wendell had already provided the story. Now the NRC wanted to stay in continuous contact.

“Very good. We'll have supervision on the line shortly.”

“Right.” Wendell waited impatiently, scanning procedures with his flashlight. If we keep heading downhill we might have to go to a General Emergency. He shuddered. But we've still got some time… Apart from the level of water over the core, air temperature in the drywell was the other concern. The steel reactor vessel was holding a mixture of fluid and steam percolating at 550 degrees Fahrenheit, and nestled within the drywell shell, the huge tank was slowly heating up the air around it. The drywell's cooling system would be out of service until power was restored, and the air temperature inside had now reached 270 degrees. If it got above 300 for very long, the intense heat could cause the hollow structure of concrete and steel to weaken and then crack open or collapse. Such a failure would be catastrophic. There was an alternative: some of the hot gas could be vented off into the atmosphere, but that was not a step to be taken lightly. The air might be radioactive.

Wendell heard a click in the phone. “Fairview, what is your reactor vessel level?” a different voice asked.

“We were just under 60 inches a few minutes ago,” Wendell said. “Dropping slowly.”

“Any values more current? How fast is level dropping?”

“I'm not close enough to see,” Wendell said. “If you'll hold, I'll find out.”

“We'd prefer you to stay in continuous contact.”

“My sitting here, not knowing the answer, isn't going to do much good!” Wendell snapped. Jesus! He sighed. “Look, until we get more people, I can’t hang on every second. Do you want the current readings?”


“Very well. Just a minute.” Wendell let the receiver fall hard against the desktop as he headed into the control room.

Fleck and the STA were now talking by the center panel. The STA swallowed hard. “I've averaged out the level drop,” he said, “and we're losing three inches a minute.”

“Where does that put us for uncovering the core?”

“It’ll slow down some, but I’d say 3:35, maybe 3:40.”

Fleck looked at the clock. “Under twenty minutes.”

Christ! That fast? Wendell came up alongside. “How about drywell temperature?”

“Best guess is we'll hit 300 degrees a little before 4:30.” the STA said.

“Too soon,” Fleck said. His arms folded across his chest, he stared at the center panel. His jaw worked hard on his gum, and the dim light revealed a line of sweat down his back. “Okay, Tom,” he finally said to the STA. “Next job. Get a walkie-talkie, and go to the front door. Catch people as they come in and brief them. Until Leeman gets here, here's what I want ...” The shift supervisor paused: “...First thing: I need an I & C tech down in STurDI-2.”

The STA nodded. “STurDI-2 first.”

“Yeah. Somewhere there's an open circuit, and we’ve gotta get that turbine rolling. Then I need an I & C or electrician down at the diesel. Once Leeman gets here, give him your radio and come on back.”

“Got it.” The STA turned to leave.

“Hey,” Fleck added, “and prop the god damn door open as you leave. Get us some air. It's too damn hot.”

Wendell glanced at the nearby level indicator. Forty-seven inches. Just four feet of water now lay above the fuel. Without a solution at hand, they might have to raise the warning level to the public. He looked back at Fleck. “I checked the criteria again. We're sneaking up on a General Emergency.”

“Yeah, maybe. Kind of stupid, though. Everything's intact. No releases. For a General, you start evacuating around the plant.” With all the barriers still in place, both men knew that even the melting of some fuel would not lead to a large radiation release.

“Jesus,” Wendell said. His job was to keep any fuel damage from happening. “If we don't get this under control soon--”

“We're screwed, I know.”


End Post 25



If we don’t get this under control, they’ll start evacuating…


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