Episode 26





     Get there!  The lines on the highway sped by as Steve’s mind raced ahead to Fairview. A station blackout left no electric power except the batteries, and with the STurDI pumps gone, there was no way to put water back in the vessel.  Then there was the public.  Emergency Action Levels.  If we don't get this under control, they’ll start evacuating…

     At last, he turned off the highway and  pulled his car onto the Fairview access road.  He spotted Karl Leeman’s rusted truck up ahead.  Good.  The two came to a jarring stop beside the darkened front entrance.

     “Karl!  What do you know?” Steve asked as he jumped out.

     The maintenance supervisor recounted his phone call as the two hurried towards the entrance.  Another car sped into the lot behind them.

     At the door, a figure waited in the darkness.  “Who is it?”     

     “Borden and Leeman,” Steve said. 

     “Great,” the STA said. “Shift sup's got me down here directing traffic.”

     “Where we at?” Steve asked.

     “No offsite power, the diesel and STurDI-2 didn't move, and STurDI-1 blew an oil line.  So far, I've sent an electrician to the diesel, and an insty tech to STurDI-2.  Sharpley and Crayvick.  Nobody down at STurDI-1 yet.” 

     “Jeez,” a voice said from behind.  Steve glanced around.  It was Crutch Pegariek, from Tech Engineering.  The plant manager turned back to the STA.  “What’s the status of the reactor?” 

     “Shutdown and bottled up.  Losing about three inches a minute to boil off, then blowing that to the torus.  Level must be down to plus-forty by now.” 

     “Understood.”  The story was not getting any better.  What first?  Power?  STurDI-2?  Got somebody at each.  STurDI-1 sounds messed up...  Steve glanced over at Leeman.  He knows the diesels.  If we can get power back....  “Karl, start with the diesel.  Anything it takes.”

     “Yessir,” Karl nodded.  Behind him, another vehicle pulled into the lot.

     Good, more help.  So what now?  Get the control room some help too.  Steve turned to the STA.  “Tom, you brief Crutch and then head back to control.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Crutch, run things out here until we get set up in the Emergency center.”

     Crutch nodded.  “Right.”

     “Diesel didn't roll.  Give me I & C an’ electricians,” Leeman said.  “And run a mechanic by STurDI-1.  If he can't fix it, send'em my way too.”






     Taylor Winn used his flashlight to check his watch.  3:26 a.m.  He had been on stakeout duty across from Donner’s house for ninety minutes.  The suspect was either asleep or not at home.  Restless, the FBI agent turned off the radio, pulled a cookie from his coat pocket, and nibbled as he flipped on the police scanner.  There was silence, and then a South Bend unit reported they were coming back to the station.

     More silence.

     “Dispatch,” the scanner broke in, “Unit 249.  Any more on Fairview?”






     The last of his equipment now in the muck below the isolated country bridge, Vitaly headed on towards South Bend.  The scanner was busier now with Fairview activities, and the public living downwind was being asked to take shelter.  And the plant itself?   Water level will be getting low -- unless something’s fixed.  Vitaly dismissed the thought.  He had thought of every contingency -- and how Fairview Station was coping didn't matter so much anymore.  People in the area had been warned that a nuclear disaster was on their doorstep.  If things got worse, if there was an actual release of radiation, so much the better.  But the die was already cast.  Fear was now hard at work among the good citizens of Potowatomie County, Indiana.






     Gary put his truck into a tight turn and headed into the parking lot.  Fairview Station was dark.  He had never seen that before.  Crap.  He cut the engine.  A flashlight was playing across the sidewalk near the plant entrance, and he popped open the glove compartment and grabbed his own light, then jogged towards the door.  The bright beam soon caught his unshaven face.

     “Who we got now?”

     “Gary Halvorsen.”

     “Mechanic, right?”

     “Yah.”  Gary came to a stop.  It was fifty degrees outside, but he was damp with sweat.  

     “Crutch Pegariek, Tech Engineering,” the greeter said.  “I'm handing out work for Leeman.”  

     “Karl’s here?”

     “He’s headed for the diesel already.  Listen, the plant's a mess.  Leeman wants a mechanic down at STurDI-1 to check out an oil leak.  You're the first one here.  No rules, no paperwork -- just get the damn thing running!  Fast!  Level’s dropping.  And if you can't get it fixed quick, get over to the diesel.”

     “Right.”  Gary headed inside.  






     The radio station began fading away, and Liz flipped the dial until a strong new signal appeared.  A jingle promptly identified the source as South Bend, and an announcement began:


“To repeat, there appears to be a problem at the Fairview nuclear plant, eight miles northwest of Brixton.”


     What?  Liz leaned closer.


“As of 3:25 this morning, the Potowatomie County Civil Defense began advising those persons within a two mile radius of the Fairview plant to take shelter.  As soon as we hear anything more on this, we'll let you know. . . .”


     A sinking feeling washed over the FBI special agent.  Too late.  It's got to be him.  Got to be. . .  She grimaced.  Just a few hours! 


     As she drove on and the sharp edges of her anger began to wear away, Liz thought of what lay ahead.  There was nothing she could do until she reached South Bend.  Then she would bring the suspect in.  John Donner must not escape.  She switched the radio to the State Police band.  Let's see what the Troopers know.






     Steve entered the dim, stuffy control room through the propped-open door.  We look dead in the water.  In the supervisor's office, he spied Auterman on the phone and then spotted Fleck by the main panels.

     “Goddamn it, just try it and see!” Fleck said into the microphone.  “It worked for me a few years ago.  Or try something better.  Just keep trying!”  He saw Borden and handed the mike back to the chief operator.

     Steve looked closely at the shift supervisor.  He appeared hot, tense, and irritated, but still in control.  Darrel Fleck was not panicking.  “I heard some of it from the STA,” Steve said.  “Where’s level?”  Start off with the worst.

     “We're around plus 27 inches.”

     God…  “How long have we got?”

     “Right now, we figure on hitting top of fuel a little before 3:40.”  Fleck glanced at his watch.  “Ten minutes.”

     “Have you made the calls?”

     “Yeah, got 'em done.  Site Emergency.”   

     “Good.  So what happened?” Steve’s initial shock was gone, replaced, in part, with anger.  This was his plant.  His plant was falling apart.

     Fleck ran his hands through his sweaty blond hair.  “Well, we lost backup offsite about 2:40.  Around 2:50 we lost the primary.  We scrammed, and the main steam lines bottled us up.  But the #1 diesel didn't start, and #2's still in pieces.”

     “What's the load dispatcher say?”

     “Another hour, maybe.”

      “Batteries okay?”

     “As far as we know,” Fleck replied.  “It looks like the reactor building isolated fine too.  All the vents slammed closed when we lost power.”

     An alarm went off and the chief operator moved to deal with it.

     Fleck continued, raising his voice until the buzzer was silenced.  “We tried a manual diesel start, and a local, but it won’t turn over.  No real clues.”  The tall, stocky supervisor shrugged his shoulders in frustration.  “The scram took level down to 155.  We tried to fire up STurDI-1 but the startup oil pump is torn loose. We tried STurDI-2.  Nothing moved.” 

     Steve listened carefully -- there wouldn't be time to go over it again.  He tried not to think about what it all meant.  

     Fleck continued.  “As far as the reactor goes, we're losing around three inches a minute to boil-off.  And drywell temps at 280 and still creeping up.  No cooling in there.”

     “Understood,” Steve said.  “Where we at on repairs?  The STA said we have maintenance at STurDI-2 and the diesel.” 

     “They're headed there, yeah.  And we'll have operators at both.” 

     “Control!” the radio speaker crackled.  The chief operator picked it up as Fleck and Borden moved a few feet away.  

     “One more HP has come in so far,” Fleck continued, “and we got another operator and shift sup. on their way.  Leeman just got on site, too.”

     “I talked to him outside,” Steve said. “What do we need first?”  

     Fleck crossed his thick arms.  “Well, I’d go after STurDI-2  and the diesel.  Both look electrical.”  He worked his gum.  “And we’re gonna have to start thinking about venting the drywell.  It's getting hot in there.”

     God, we don't need that -- opening up primary containment.  “How long before we hit three hundred degrees?”

     “Forty-five minutes, maybe an hour,” Fleck said.

     At least there's a little time there.  “What are rad levels in the drywell?”

     “Near normal.  A little something from the steam going in the torus.”  The huge tank was connected to the drywell in a few locations.  “I wouldn’t expect high rads anyway,” Fleck said.  “No reason to think we’ve had fuel damage.” 

     Steve nodded.  As long as the reactor fuel held together, the air in the drywell and torus would remain relatively clean -- a good thing if some had to be released to the environment.  The public, Steve reminded himself.  “Where do you think we are on Action Levels?”

     “Just finished checking.”  Fleck pointed his flashlight at an open manual nearby, and Steve leaned over to look.  “You could argue we’re near a General.  But that usually means you're gonna dump out a hell of a cloud, and we've got no release path at all.”

     Steve nodded as he studied the criteria.   A General Emergency – Civil Defense would call for evacuations.

     “I don't know, Steve,” Fleck said.  “Everything's bottled-up.  I can’t see it’s worth clearing out a bunch of people.  More harm than good.”

     Steve's gaze remained on the procedure.  Unnecessary evacuation ... Uncovering the core ... Not much chance of a large escape of radioactivity at this point ...  But if the fuel starts to crack and we also have to vent  ...  At T.M.I they were slow ... still paying for it ...  Better safe than sorry.

     He decided.  “Let's call it a General and get folks moving.  If we get out of this with no release, I'll be happy to take the abuse for the evacuation.”  He looked back down at the procedure.  “What's our minimum action?”

     “Evacuate a two mile radius and recommend shelter to five miles downwind,” Fleck said, pointing.

     Steve's mind flashed ahead.  If we're evacuating .... “Anyone on site we should get out?”  he asked.

     “There's nobody extra here,” Fleck said.  “Maybe the janitor, but he should've been sent home by now.”

     “Understood.  Anything else I should know?”

     “Well, most of the in-plant phones are down, the page is out, and none of the card readers work.  We've been unlocking the doors and propping them open.”

     Steve nodded.  “All right, Darrel.  Keep at it.”

     “Sure.”  Fleck hesitated a moment, his eyes downcast.  He looked back up.  “Damn it, Steve,” the supervisor murmured, “I never thought....”

     “Neither did I.”






     The emergency lights in the reactor building lit a shadowy path for Gary as he ran toward STurDI-1.  Since grabbing his film badge and dosimeter at the plant entrance he had encountered no one else.  Reaching the metal-grating stairs, he hurtled down into the darkness, his flashlight pointing the way.  At the bottom, the STurDI-1 door was jammed open by a pipe wrench. 

     Inside, one small light backlit the turbine:  a hulking shape the size of a garden shed.  The area stank of oil.  Gary stopped at the entrance and played his flashlight across the floor, finding the surface coated with syrupy fluid.  Crap.  The oil was used to hydraulically open the valve that brought steam to the turbine from the reactor vessel.

     Gary swung his light atop the low, square oil tank in front of the machine, and the beam hovered amidst the finger-sized piping above the container.  There!  Near the tank's leading edge, a line had separated at a coupling, leaving gaping ends of pipe hanging a few inches apart.  With the light, Gary traced back from one of the loose ends.  The pipe dropped over the front edge of the tank, and after a right angle turn and a short run above the floor, it attached to a small motor.  STARTUP OIL PUMP was stenciled in white on the black device.      

     So, the busted line is the outlet from the startup pump.  Something about the unit didn't look right either, and, careful not to slip on the greasy floor, Gary stepped closer, knelt and put his hand on the pump.  He could easily rock it.  The small machine, the size of a loaf of bread, was supposed to be bolted down.  Damn thing shook itself loose.  Then it whipped the outlet pipe free.  And that was why the STurDI-1 turbine hadn't worked.  Without the high pressure oil from the battery-powered pump, the steam inlet valve could not open.  No hot gas could enter the STurDI-1 turbine to spin its shaft and provide the power needed to shove water into the reactor vessel. 

     Gary looked at the dirty brown puddles spread out across the floor. Lost a lot of oil.  He ran his hand along the pump’s outlet pipe, and found it had bent slightly before tearing itself loose at the coupling.  He played his flashlight over the rest of the thin piping.  No other leaks.  Maybe this is it.  How?  The pump?  A loose coupling? -- it doesn't matter.  The question, Gary knew, was could he fix it?  Fast?

     He stood.  To get the turbine running, what?....  He stared at the pump.  It blew a lot of oil.  Might be out of alignment a little, but I'll bet it’s still working ... New piping, some oil, bolt the pump down... No!!  No!  No!  -- Think quick fix!  Cheat a little...Maybe some tubing from the warehouse....welding.... or just tape... Need something to hold the pump down....Wait.  WAIT!

     Gary's mind braked to a halt.  The answer had come.  But would it work?  The #2 diesel...Thing's torn apart.  There's tubing ... tape...and oil too.  In his mind he heard Crutch Pegariek's words.  “...get the damn thing running!  Fast!”  He turned toward the phone on the wall, sliding on the greased floor.  Control room.  Get help.  But there was no dial tone.  Crap!  Gary slammed down the receiver and headed out the door. 






     Led by a security guard with a flashlight, Lou Tarelli entered the pitch-black emergency center in the basement of the administration building.  “There's lights in the cabinet,” he said, pointing, and soon a pair of battery-operated fluorescent tubes had been set up on a table.

     “What happened?” a deep voice said from the doorway as Mike Langford entered the room.






     The stereo grew quiet as the album ended, and Paul saw it was finally time to go.  He had done a lot of thinking since Agent Rezhnitsky had called over two hours before.  John Donner, a drug dealer?  It was hard to believe.  How had Donner made it through the background checks?  And, with all the security around, why would he want to work in a nuke plant in the first place -- in operations no less, a job that took a lot of training and commitment?  Paul thought back to the few times he had dealt with the man.  Had there been anything odd there?  Not really.  John Donner was on the quiet side, but he seemed like a normal guy.  Still, if the FBI said Donner was it....

     Paul sorted through the cassettes atop the stereo.  Loud music would keep him alert on the trip up to South Bend.  Once there, he would have no trouble staying awake.  Not for this.






End Post 26





“Got to be a way to get water in there.”



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