Episode 31



The bad news was relayed to the site boundary. There had been a release. Forty milli-rems.

“Oh, Christ,” Marty said. “Something's getting out.”

“Yes,” Carol said softly, her thin lips barely parting. The worst had finally come. I wish Gary … Concentrate! On her lap, the geiger counter continued to show background. She checked the window to make sure the probe was facing toward the plant.

“Team One, Offsite Leader,” the radio said.

Carol picked up the mike. “Team One.”

“Release is ground level, northwest side of plant. It’s now at 100 m.r.”

“We’re still reading background.”

“I can't believe this,” Marty blurted out, his face creased with shock. “It's actually happening.”

Carol didn’t reply. She focused on the counter. Click . . . . . Click . . . . . . . Click ... The meter was still showing a low value, the audible counts coming at random, seconds apart. Click . . . . Click . . . . Click . . . . Click Click . . . Click Click.. Click Click Click Click. Shoot! The meter gave off another series of rapid counts, like static.

“It's coming,” Carol said. She grabbed the mike. “Team One beginning to pick up the plume. Out.” She worked quickly, retrieving the probe from the window. The audible monitor was a sensitive device that could tell when a cloud of radioactive gas was approaching, but the other meter at her feet would take more accurate readings once the plume had arrived. Carol swapped the two instruments and stuck the new probe outside. Unlike the other device, this meter made no sound. There was only a dial with a thin, red needle. The reading was at zero.

Carol felt a light breeze drifting over the flat, round sensor and her gloved hand as she stared at the dial on her lap. The red needle soon shuddered. “It's starting,” she said. “Marty, get the time.” The needle began to creep up the dial. “Two m.r.” Carol read off. “Now five.” Within half a minute, the reading had reached 20 milli-rems per hour, and it was still increasing.

“I’ll check plume elevation,” Carol said, as she reached outside and covered the probe face with her free hand. The reading on the meter instantly dropped by half. Carol uncovered the probe and the needle jumped back up. “Ground level confirmed,” she said. The truck was immersed in a cloud of invisible, radioactive gas.

“We're at a minute,” Marty said, checking his watch.

“Fine.” Carol grabbed the mike. “Offsite Leader, This is Team One. We are one minute into the plume. Ground level confirmed. We're reading 35 m.r. ?? and rising.”


FIGURE D (Radiation)



Steve studied the in?plant maps. As he had feared, some of the fuel gas in the torus had drifted up through ventilation ducts into the drywell, and that cavernous structure now contained an atmosphere a hundred times more radioactive than before. Of even greater concern, the air inside the concrete and steel shell was approaching the 300 degree stability limit. He bit down on his lip. If we don't get power back and drywell cooling in service, we'll have to vent. And we’ll dump a hell of a hot cloud out to the atmosphere. But there won’t be any choice.

Tarelli returned from the radio room. “Okay, Steve, here's the scoop on our release. We’ve got 120 milli-rems out in the yard now and 35 at the site boundary.” He motioned with his hand. “So far it's not much. And the plume's definitely on the ground.”

“We're still releasing?” Steve asked

“As far as we can tell. The yard says levels keep inching up. In?plant we've basically got--”

“I've been looking at the maps.”

Tarelli glanced at the information. “Okay, well, beyond that .... the STurDI?1 team is on their way out. The rad levels in the room shot up when the turbine ran.” “Busted fuel makes crappy steam,” Steve said.

“Right.” Tarelli continued. “STurDI-2’s not looking too bad, and the team down there told the HP they're staying. He wasn't gonna argue. We'll get them masks and an air monitor.” Tarelli shrugged his thick shoulders. “If it gets worse, we can always club them and drag them out.”

“Just keep them under the limit,” Steve said.





At the site boundary, Carol continued measuring the vaporous plume, her eyes fixed on the thin red needle as it inched upward: 50 . . . 60. . . . 70 milli-rems per hour.

“Two minutes in,” Marty said. “Damn.”

Carol clicked on the radio mike and reported the numbers, while in the back of her mind she struggled to accept what was happening. At this early hour, with little sleep and darkness surrounding the truck, the whole thing was like a dream. But she knew the truth. It was very real. A cloud of radioactive gas was flowing past, though except for her meter there was nothing to warn of its existence. There was no smoke, no oddly?colored curtain of mist. The window was cracked open for her to hold the probe, but Carol could smell nothing unusual, nor feel anything but the breeze against her small hand. But, still . . . the plume was there.

The red needle passed a milestone. “100 m.r.” Carol said aloud. Shoot. The thin line continued to glide up, but she soon detected a change. “110 and slowing,” she said.

“Three minutes,” Marty reported.

Carol tried to will the needle into stopping. Stick! she ordered. Stick! The red line inched up past 115, then a little further ... a little further ... “120 m.r.” Carol announced. The needle began to waver. 120 . . . 120 . . . 120 . . . Carol picked up the mike. “Offsite Leader, this is Team One. We are holding at 120 m.r. We are over three minutes in. “

The reading remained steady as the plume drifted over and around the truck. What are we seeing? Carol wondered. Just a puff? A steady stream? The needle was wavering a little more now. To Carol, it seemed to want to go down. Or was that wishful thinking?

120 . . . 120 . . .

The needle hesitated, and then the thin line start to fall. “It’s dropping.”

“Good deal,” Marty said as Carol radioed the news.

“Roger, Team One. Can you traverse?”

Carol nodded and turned to her driver. “Okay, let's see how wide this thing is. Cut across it.” Marty put the idling truck into gear and nudged it forward on the dirt road. After fifty yards, the radiation levels fell off sharply. “Stop, Marty, we're at the edge,” Carol said. “Turn around and we’ll find the other side.” The driver complied with a sharp U?turn, and as they crossed back within the cloud, Carol noticed the radiation values throughout were now much lower. It must have been a puff. Just a little burp of gas. It’s passing. Her meter soon hit zero again. “How far did we come?” she asked. “Maybe eighty yards?”

“I’d say a hundred.”

“Fine. Take us back to the middle.” Carol radioed in the new data as Marty lurched the truck around once more and soon brought it to a halt.”

“Team One, what is your current reading?” the radio asked.

Carol checked her meter. “We're near the centerline. I've got 5 m.r. and falling. Looks like we're on the back end of it.”




His tape deck pounding out a steady beat, Paul pulled into the empty Donut World lot at the South Bend city limit. He was early. Settling back, he gazed at the deserted counter and tables inside, and let loose a tired grin. So far, the night had been unreal. And it would only get better.

The music faded out and Paul ejected the cassette. Sparse traffic on the highway behind him was the only sound. At the approach of each car he expected his wait to be over, but none turned in, and he soon grew restless and switched on the radio. Immediately, Paul sensed something was wrong. It was in the man’s voice. The report came at him in bursts ?? short, ugly sentences that hit hard:


“Problems at Fairview . . . no release of radiation . . . recommended shelter . . .”

Oh, God. A knot formed in Paul’s gut. The plant.

“3:55 am . . . now evacuation . . . . precautionary . . .”


The announcer repeated the message and Paul listened closely, hoping it was all a mistake. “Additional details as we get them,” the deep voice concluded.

Urgently, Paul began scanning the other stations. He caught most of another report, but it was identical to the first. Fairview. Accident. Evacuation.

Paul's head fell back as a sinking feeling washed over him. He stared at the dark, featureless roof. How could it happen? . . . Maybe I should get out there. Maybe I could . . . No. He dismissed the idea. No. I'd just be in the way. I'm not on the team. There was nothing to do but wait ?? wait for the FBI, and wait for news about Fairview. Paul closed his eyes. How?




With the others behind him, Gary reached the power block entryway. The scene had changed from the darkened passage he had navigated thirty minutes before. Portable lights had been set up, and HPs were now on station. Gary was brought to a halt.

“Arms and legs out!” the man holding the geiger counter ordered, as he began running probe along Gary’s leg. “Check your dose while I frisk you!”

Gary reached into his shirt pocket and found three dosimeters. Damn, I was supposed to give a high-range to Doug. He held his normal?range tube up to a light. As the scale inside came into view, Gary had trouble finding the needle. There. It was at the far end, beyond the highest mark of 200 m.r. Off scale high. Crap! Next, he tried one of the high-range dosimeters the HP in the plant had given him -- and sighed with relief when he saw the needle at 900 m.r. He had been exposed to nine hundred milli-rems of radiation during his short stay in the STurDI?1 room. Not so bad. In emergencies, personnel were allowed several times that amount.

There was a sharp thud on his leg, and Gary looked down. The HP had hit him with the probe to get his attention. “I said these are crapped up! Pants off! Now!”




“So half an hour,” Wendell repeated back to the load dispatcher. “What happened? How'd we lose two different lines?”

“Don't know for sure. They saw foil near the west line. Could’ve been a metal balloon.”

“All right. Just get us power. We're hurting bad.”

“I know. You’ve got evacuations going on out there. Our trucks have had trouble getting through the road blocks. We’re working as fast as we can.”

Wendell put the phone down. Evacuations. Cervantes had already informed the crew that Brixton was being cleared out. Wendell could only hope Karen had gotten on the road early with the dog and headed for her sister’s in Fort Wayne. She’d be worried about him, but there was nothing he could do. He stepped back into the control room. The water in the reactor had swollen a few more inches, but now it was boiling again and level was going back down – though the drop was slower this time. The lessening heat in the core could not produce as much steam as it had an hour before. “Tom,” Wendell asked the STA, “how fast we dropping?”

“Inch a minute. Maybe less. We just hit eighteen.”

So eighteen minutes and we uncover. Jesus. Too soon to get offsite back. If only they had offsite power, they could use a feedwater pump and slowly raise level at high pressure without cracking more fuel. Slowly up. Inch a minute drop. Diesel… Wendell’s thoughts came together. Maybe… “How many gallons for each inch?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“A hundred, I think.”

Wendell nodded. “Right.” Maybe it would work…




At the site boundary, the geiger counter continued to read zero. The cloud of radioactive gas had drifted on by. Carol pulled the probe back inside and covered it with a plastic bag. “That's it, Marty,” she said as she peeled off the rubber glove she had extended through the window. “We're out of it.”

“Good,” her driver said, “and thank God.”

“We'll know for sure in a second.” Carol slipped on a new glove and swapped rad monitors, returning to the more sensitive audible meter at her feet. She thrust its probe out the window and the device registered only the widely?spaced clicks of background radiation. “Looks fine,” Carol said. “Let's cruise back and forth.”

The vehicle slowly covered the route, but the readings did not change. Carol called in her findings, then scribbled some notes in her log. The second offsite team reported they were a mile downwind from the plant, and had yet to detect anything abnormal. The breeze was still light, and the plume seemed to be taking its time.

Carol put her book aside. One hundred and twenty, she repeated to herself, echoing the plume’s biggest punch. She wished it had been lower, but many times she had worked in radiation fields greater than 120 milli-rems per hour. At that level, the release would pose little threat to the public, and as the cloud fanned out the dose would get progressively lower. Iodine might still create some problems, but as far as nuclear accidents went, things could be much worse. Just think of Chernobyl....




To Steve’s relief, readings in the yard had tapered off to virtually nothing. Now it was a matter of tracking the cloud that had escaped. But how did it get out? Tarelli was at the wall maps. “Lou,” Steve said, “do we know the source of the release?”

“Not yet. Basically, it seems to have been a puff of bad air.” Tarelli shrugged. “Some kind of ventilation leak, maybe? I don't know. We’ve sent Crutch and an HP out to look.”

“In?plant status?”

Tarelli pointed. “They're setting up to vent the drywell. Not too long on that. Leeman's still troubleshooting the diesel, and it’s the same at STurDI?2.” He paused. “Nothing on the immediate horizon, Steve.”






Time: 4:08 am.

Time from Start of Event: 77 minutes

Reactor Water Level (above Fuel): 16 inches

Drywell Radiation: 20X normal (Damaged Fuel)

Radiation Release to Environment: Limited (Puff) Plume of 120 milli-rems per hour.


“So here an’ here?” Leeman asked the two men kneeling beside him.

“Right. The rest of the points check out.”

“Mmmmm, let's see...” The grizzled supervisor massaged his back as he peered down at the blueprint through his bifocals. Emergency diesel generator #1 sat silently nearby. “Yeah, that’d do it all right,” he finally said. “You'd slip back ta idle.”

“Gonna be hard to pin it down further,” a technician said.

Leeman pointed. “Don’t have to. Resistors here ... tap in at 6 ...”

“Yeah ...” the tech nodded, as he began to understand. “You’re right, we could go around! There and there. I got those in my box. Quick fix.”

“Do it, boys” Leeman said as he painfully climbed to his feet. “I'll holler at Control.”




The assistant operator set the radio mike back on the table. “God, I hope Karl’s right.”

“He'll get it this time,” the chief operator said. He had returned from his enforced break.

“Get another man down there,” Cervantes ordered. He was perched again on the operator’s table.

Wendell stood nearby, trying to keep his hopes in check. Come on. With the diesel running, the drywell cooling system could be started, and ARAFS could filter the air leaving the reactor building. The torus could be cooled down. And there was the opportunity to refill the reactor vessel by blowing down and then using the low pressure VEPI pumps. But there was a second option Wendell had been thinking through. He turned to Fleck and Cervantes. “We could go with the control rod pump for inject. Run it off the diesel. We can hold level stable and wait for offsite power. No blowdown.” Cleaner, less risk.

Arms crossed, Fleck peered at the center panel. ‘How fast we losing? Inch a minute?”

“Right,” Wendell said. “A hundred gallons.”

“And the CR Pump is 120 g.p.m.,” Fleck said.

“So we gain a little, get offsite back and then use feedwater,” Cervantes nodded. “No more fuel damage.”

“Twenty-five minutes to offsite?” Fleck said.

Wendell checked the clock. “About that.”

Fleck looked to Cervantes. “Could be the way to go.” He paused. “Yeah, I think so.”

In Cervantes hand, the pen twirled back and forth. His eyes narrowed. “Okay,” he said. “Get set for it.” He picked up the phone. “But be ready for blowdown, too.”




End Post 31





“Steve, we can do this,” Cervantes said.



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