“How long?” the operator asked. “They want it bad--”
“Hang on and I'll tell you!”
“Done.” Tama chucked the container against the wall and slid the hatch cover back in place. He smeared his hands across his blue jeans, grabbed a bolt, and began screwing it in.
The two mechanics quickly had half the bolts inserted.
“Got it!” The operator disappeared.
“One thousand one! One thousand two!”
Tama joined in. “One thousand five! One thousand six!”
Wendell stood beside the radio, fidgeting with his collar. Come on. Anytime. Nearby, Cervantes was listening to a report from the Emergency center. The pen kept twirling in his hand. At the STurDI?1 controls, the chief operator stood ready, with Fleck beside him. The assistant operator was monitoring reactor level, while further along the curving panel, another man was also on duty.
Wendell checked his wristwatch in the dim light. It had been four minutes since the last report. Come on ... “Level?” he said.
“Control!” A voice shot out of the speaker.
Yes. “Control,” Wendell said.
“This is Baker.” The operator was breathing hard. “STurDI?1 will be ready in 45 seconds! .... Repeat: 45 seconds! .... They were counting it off. You ready?”
Wendell looked to Fleck, who nodded. “We're ready,” he said.
“One thousand thirty?seven! One thousand thirty?eight!”
“One thousand forty! One thousand forty?one!
Peering over his shoulder,
“One thousand forty?seven! One thousand forty?eight!”
“Done!” Tama announced.
“On my lap!”
Steve’s ear was pressed to the phone, as was Tarelli’s at the next desk. The rest of the emergency center had also grown quiet. This time....
His skin sticky and moist,
“Let’s go!” Tama said.
In the stillness,
“Holding the pump down!”
“Got it!” The operator knelt to the left of the two men and gripped the thin pipe near the repairs. His hard hat began to slip forward, and he tossed it over his shoulder. “Ready!”
The control room was quiet. Wendell’s eyes were fixed on his watch.
“Minus 34 inches,” the assistant operator said. He yanked off his glasses and wiped a shirt sleeve across his eyes
Wendell saw the last seconds tick away. Finally. “Forty?five seconds is up, “ he announced. He looked toward Cervantes.
“Give them a few more,” the operations supervisor said, his eyes narrowed, his face set in a tense gaze. The chief operator waited at the STurDI-1 controls, with Fleck hovering nearby. The additional staff had gathered in a semi?circle a few paces back. Cervantes took a deep breath. “Do it,” he ordered. “Start STurDI-1.”
“Starting STurDI?1!” the chief operator said as he flipped a switch. “Startup oil pump is ... on!”
The pump bucked again, harder this time, and
“Hang on!” Tama yelled.
“The oil pump is running!” the chief operator said.
Come on! Wendell could just see the indication for the STurDI?1 steam inlet valve. Green. The valve was still closed. Come on! Red! An open valve would allow steam into the STurDI?1 turbine, and then it’s attached pump would begin putting water back in the vessel.
There! Over his shoulder, at the limit of his vision,
“It's going!” Tama shouted.
First came a groan and a shudder, then a low rumble. His arms begging for relief,
THERE! Wendell saw it. The red light was on.
“Steam valve coming open!” the chief operator said. “... Turbine R.P.M. up! Pump pressure up! ... Inject valve opening ... WE HAVE FLOW! WE HAVE FLOW!”
“Level drop to minus 45!” the assistant operator said. The chilled water STurDI was now pouring into the vessel had quenched the boiling froth surrounding the fuel.
Wendell’s hands balled into fists. Come on!
“Minus 48 ....slowing!...”
“Back up,” Fleck ordered the water level.
Up! Wendell urged. Up!
“... Slowing ...minus fifty!” the assistant operator continued.
Wendell squeezed his fists even tighter. Turn around! ... Come on, turn!
“... Wait! ...” the assistant operator said, “.... going ... up .... Level's going up! Here it comes! ... 49! ..... 48! ..... minus 45!”
Jesus, Wendell sighed. He unclenched his fingers. Thank you.
Hold...Hold...Hold! His eyes squeezed shut,
“It’s running ...!” the operator yelled over the pervasive roar now filling the room.
The pump bucked yet again, and
Tama pitched himself onto the oil?smeared floor and carefully climbed to his feet while the nearby operator released his grip on the outlet pipe.
The operator had stepped behind the turbine to read some gauges on the far wall, and he came back wearing a smile of relief. “It's okay!” he yelled in
Tama leaned closer. “Fucking great!”
It was quiet at the site boundary. A light breeze drifted in from the direction of the plant, a few hundred yards distant, and there was only an occasional click from the geiger counter on Carol's lap. The radio carried some brief traffic as the second offsite team got their own truck into position further downwind.
“Marty, what time did we pull up?” Carol asked.
“About five minutes ago.” The driver peeled back his rubber glove to check his watch. “We left around 3:50.”
“Fine. Thanks.’ Carol continued to stare towards the darkness of Fairview Station, wishing she knew what was happening. Where was
“Team One, Team Two, this is Offsite Leader,” the radio said.
Carol picked up the mike. “Team One.”
“We are now currently in a General Emergency, two mile evacuation, shelter to five downwind, animals on stored feed.”
“No release in progress,” the report continued. “Hold position.”
“Man, it doesn't sound too hot,” Marty said.
“No,” Carol agreed. Lord, they're at a General. She struggled not to let concern overwhelm her. “At least nothing's gotten out,” she said. “That's good news.”
“If something does happen, you think they'll have us take some of those pills?” Included with the truck's supplies were potassium iodide tablets.
“Not unless it looks really bad. They can make you sick.”
“This whole thing's making me sick already,” Marty said.
Figure A (MAP)
“Do you know anything more?” a deputy inquired over the radio. “People are asking.”
“Nothing new,” Phyllis replied from her post at the sheriff's office. “The evacuation is a precaution.” The patrol car was near Fairview Station. “What's it like out there?” Phyllis asked. “Can you see anything?” Maybe a fire? A glow?
“It’s dark at the plant. But I can hear the sirens. Traffic's been steady, and folks are scared.”
As she signed off, Phyllis saw the blinking light for the line to Civil Defense headquarters. “Phyllis, we’ve got a big change,” the sheriff said in his rough voice. “No radiation yet, but C.D. has decided to go to a ten mile evacuation zone. Sectors D, E, and F. That's downwind.”
Phyllis looked at the county map. Brixton.
Vitaly pressed on the gas as the car headed up the incline towards the end of the cul?de?sac. He felt proud, and strong. In this, the most difficult challenge of his life, everything had gone according to plan. Vitaly Kruchinkin had succeeded in his mission.
Still several houses away, Vitaly turned off his headlights, and punched the button for his garage door. Guiding his car by the glow from a streetlight, he cruised inside and closed the door behind him.
Across the street, in a darkened sedan, there was movement. Taylor Winn had something to report.
“Level is still rising! Minus 33!” the assistant operator said.
“Torus temperature now 132,” the chief operator added. Steam from the STurDI-1 turbine was heating up the water in the big tank.
Looking good. Wendell stood back, watching the three men at the panels. At 3500 gallons a minute, the reactor vessel would soon be refilled.
“We've got high rads in the torus!” the third operator reported. “700 R!”
“Well,” Fleck said, “we cracked up some fuel.”
“Steve, bad news,” Cervantes said into the phone.
“Damn,” Steve murmured as he heard the report. Gas from cracked fuel rods was now passing through the STurDI?1 turbine and down into the torus. Radiation levels in the huge tank had risen to a hundred times normal. Steve looked over at Tarelli, who was shaking his head in disappointment.
“Didn't get lucky,” Tarelli said.
“As long as it stays where it is,” Steve replied, “I won't complain.”
Finish tightening the tank cover.
STurDI?1 was in trouble again.
End Post 29
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
“Torus rad levels still going up.”