“Great.” The news of the diesel fix was the break Steve had been waiting for. Karl, be right this time. “Where we at?” he asked Cervantes.
“Level’s at plus 16. Boiling now. Drywell's at 290.”
Too close to 300. “If we get the diesel, drywell cooling is first.”
“Agreed. How about ARAFS?”
“Understood. That’d be next.”
“Then we deal with level,” Cervantes said.
“So we blowdown.”
“That’s one way. Or we can use the control rod pump. Hold up level until feedwater is back.
Oh. “How long on feedwater?” Steve asked. “A half-hour?”
“They tell us twenty-five minutes for offsite power.”
“Procedures say blowdown.”
“Yeah, but you and I know they weren’t written for this situation. They’re for pipe breaks, not an intact system. The regs allow us to deviate with good cause.”
“Steve, we can do this,” Cervantes said. “Come out with a little core damage. Nothing more. We can save this reactor. Keep the plant alive.”
“That can’t enter into it.” Public safety, not jobs.
“Of course. No bullshit. If a blowdown were best, you know I’d say it.”
Steve nodded. Cervantes surely would.
“But this is our way out,” the operations supervisor continued. “We sit tight and hold level with the CR Pump. Then feedwater comes back and it’s all over.”
“You’re assuming the diesel will keep running,” Steve said.
“The problem is starting it. Leeman gets it rolling, it’ll be fine.”
“Okay, I understand. Give me a minute, Ted.” Steve covered the phone with his palm. He stared down through his desktop, thinking. Using the control rod pump made sense. But so did blowing down. On the one hand, they could prevent more fuel damage, while on the other, after a blowdown the reactor would remain cool and stable for hours. So what was the downside? Cervantes’ idea called for the plant to hang tight on the cliff edge until offsite power came back – in twenty minutes, or thirty, or an hour. They could pull out of this with a halfway decent core and no more releases. But the ARAFS filters were built to stop releases. And they’d be running. Then there was the power supply. The blowdown and fill would only take a minute. But there was no turning back. It was like popping the lid off a pressure cooker. Once it was up and running, the diesel should keep going for at least sixty seconds, even if it started to tear itself apart. But could they count on it for an hour? And the procedures… was this the time to look past them?
So what was the answer? Steve understood the issues, but the call would be driven by instinct as well as facts. What was his gut telling him?
He lifted the phone. “Ted?”
“I want you to blow down.”
There was a pause. “CR Pump’s a better way to go, Steve.”
“Understood. But I don’t want to be left with nothing if the diesel fades away, and I don’t want to ignore the procedure. Either way we go, we’ll end up in the same place. Let’s get there as quick as we can. Blowdown and fill up with VEPI.”
“Okay.” Cervantes issued a few orders, then came back on the line. “We’re on it. It’ll work.”
“ARAFS first. Shouldn’t take long to pull a vacuum on the building.” Given a little time, the suction of the ARAFS fans would allow no air to leave the reactor building without first being filtered. That would include anything that escaped from the torus when the blowdown sent a huge amount of steam hurtling into the tank.
“How does torus temperature look?” Steve said. If the pool of water within the tank began to boil due to the additional steam from the blowdown, the huge container could burst open.
“It can take it. But anything else goes wrong, we better find another place to put the heat.”
“Understood. So you can wait on torus cooling.”
“Right. We do ARAFS, start the VEPI pumps, then take a good look at the diesel. Then we blow down.” Cervantes sounded confident.
“All right, Ted. That’s the plan. Make it work. And good luck.”
Steve hung up. He looked around at the frenetic activity in the emergency center. “Lou!” he said to his second-in-command, who was conferring with Langford. Both hurried back. “Leeman may have the diesel going in a few minutes,” Steve said. “Then we blow down.”
“And maybe get another release,” Tarelli added.
“Where we at on offsite teams?”
“The first two are pursuing the plume,” Langford said. “They’re still nearby. We’re attempting to dispatch a third one. There seems to be a shortage of HPs.”
“You think Leeman's got it this time?” Tarelli asked.
“I know Karl doesn't like to be wrong twice,” Steve said. And I’ve got to believe he won’t be.
Carol steadied the probe outside the window as the truck accelerated down the country lane. She and Marty had not encountered the plume in their zig?zag path towards a spot two miles downwind of the plant. The radio reported no further releases, but people were now being evacuated out to ten miles. “God,” Marty said, “what’s going on?”
“I wish I knew.” Instinctively, Carol looked over her shoulder.
The truck slowed as the headlights caught the white glint of a road sign. “
“Awhile, I suppose,” Carol said. “It hasn't reached the team at the mile mark yet.” She noticed Marty looked pale, his skin drawn tight across his face. “Are you all right?”
He stared out through the windshield. “I'm worried. Scared maybe. This is too much.”
“It'll be fine.” Carol put her hand on Marty's shoulder. “They'll get things under control. And the plume isn't big, really.”
“Right now, maybe not,” he said. “But you saw what it was like at the plant. Something's fucked up really bad.” Marty turned toward Carol. “It's not me so much. I got three little kids. And my wife. They must be scared to death.”
Carol nodded. “Don't worry,” she said, trying to sound reassuring, “they'll be taken care of. People have a way of getting through these things.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.” Marty sighed. He shifted his gaze to the floor. “But, man, I can't just sit here.” His gloved hands squeezed the steering wheel in frustration. Suddenly, he looked back at Carol, the spark of an idea in his eyes. “We got some time, right?”
Carol considered the question. The truck was at least a mile beyond the plume. “We probably have a few minutes.”
“I want to make a phone call,” Marty said, strength creeping back into his voice. He pointed. “There's a campground over there. I've brought the kids out a few times. I know they got a pay phone.” The driver fell silent, then jerked the truck into gear. “Fuck it, I'm doing it. We'll get back in time.”
“Fine,” Carol said. She thought of her own fears. I understand.
The radio reports hadn't changed since Paul had first tuned in. Waiting now for the FBI, he recalled his first visit to
Paul rubbed his eyes. Whatever it was, there was nothing he could do -- for now. It was the future he would have to deal with. What would he find when he returned to work? He’d have a role piecing together what had happened – a task that would surely go on and on. They're still cleaning up at TMI… That isn't what I want! Not for a career. He stared through the windshield. There would be a lot to do in the next few months. Dealing with work, sorting through his options, looking around. So much ... His spirits sinking, Paul grasped for the one thing that could him afloat. Vickie. There was Vickie. That was good. I'll need to call her. Let her know I'm okay. And maybe I'll be able to tell her about this FBI thing. But crime-busting didn't seem like such a big deal now.
There. Liz spied the Donut World and pulled her car off the highway. There was one other vehicle at the front of the closed store as she guided the black FBI sedan to a halt nearby. Liz gave Paul a nod. He started to get out of his car, but she waved him back. Better talk to Walt first. She hailed Kreveski several times, but
“Agent Rezhnitsky, this is Agent Winn. Where you at?”
Liz recognized Taylor Winn's voice. “
“Affirmative. The target is available. Over. Out.”
“I understand,” Liz replied. “Out.” So Donner is home. Winn had played it smart, revealing little. It was always possible Donner was monitoring the radio. Now it was time to talk to Hendricks. On the drive up, Liz had decided to stick with the cover story of the drug runner. It was better if knowledge of the Soviet spy and his connection with the problems at
“Good morning.” Liz managed a smile. “Thanks for coming. Have you heard about
“Yeah, on the radio.”
“Any idea what's going on out there?”
“Not really. But something's gone bad. They've got an evacuation out by the plant.”
“The State Police just said Brixton’s being cleared out too. Everything up to ten miles downwind.”
“Oh.” Paul’s shoulders slumped. “Did they say what happened?”
“It sounds like radiation got out.”
The young engineer grimaced. “How much? Anybody give a number?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Things really have to be screwed up to go for ten miles,” Paul said. “That’s the limit for the emergency plan.”
“Should you be helping?” Liz asked.
Paul shook his head. “I'm not on the team. If Brixton is getting cleared out, I'd be evacuated like everyone else.” He sighed. “It’s just as well I’m here. I guess I can’t go home. What do you want me to do?”
Liz glanced around the empty lot. “I'll be able to tell you in a few minutes. We should have some company soon.”
Amidst the hectic activity of the staging area,
Carol fidgeted in the truck as Marty, at the payphone in the deserted campground, reached through the front of his jumpsuit to dig out change. For the first time, Carol noticed a low, droning sound in the distance. The sirens. The second team reported the plume had reached the one mile mark, and the radiation level was only a third of what Carol had recorded beside the site fence. In the cool spring wind, the invisible cloud was spreading out and its heavier particles were beginning to settle on the ground. An air sample had revealed more good news – the iodine content of the plume was low.
Marty paced with the phone, waiting for someone to answer. Carol saw him hang up and try another number. At least she and Gary didn't have kids to worry about and their families were back in
Marty ran back to the truck, his chubby body looking even more ungainly in the loose anti-c’s. “No one home,” he said, slamming the door. “Not at our place or her parents.”
“They've gotten out then. It's all fine.”
“I hope so,” the driver sighed. “You sure you don't have anybody to call?”
They soon reached the point two miles downwind of the plant, near a darkened farmhouse. The plume had not yet arrived when Carol climbed back in the truck after seeing if anything had stuck to it during the first encounter. The radiator grill showed minor contamination. Waiting now, probe in hand, she stared out at the blackness, the thick grass edging the roadside bursting in and out of view in time with the truck’s flashers. Ahead, she knew, was a flat, open plain, broken here and there by stands of trees, that reached on into Brixton.
Lights briefly came up from behind and then sped into the distance as a car hurtled past.
“Damn!” Marty said. “How fast do you think he was going?”
“Eighty, maybe ninety. He’s a scared boy.”
“Hard not to be …. Cop.” Flashing blue lights appeared up ahead.
Shoot. “I’ll talk, if we have to,” Carol said, her mouth pulling tight in a frown as the county police car pulled up alongside.
“I guess we have to.” The deputy rolled down his window and Marty did the same.
“You’re from the nuke plant, right?” the officer asked, examining the occupants of the Hoosier Electric truck in their yellow suits, orange gloves, and skull caps. “What the hell is going on?”
Carol leaned across Marty’s lap toward the window. “There’s been a small release of radiation, and we’re keeping track of it.”
“Oh, God,” the deputy responded. “That’s what the dispatcher said. How bad is it?”
“It’s not much,” Carol said, trying to sound reassuring. “Not enough to hurt anything.” That’s the best I can do.
“Is the place gonna blow up or something?”
Carol studied the man’s face. He had a look of concern, rather than fear. “We don’t know much about what’s going on inside,” she said, tilting closer to the window, “but from our radio reports, it sounds like things are getting better.”
“Where’s the radiation that got out? Here?”
“It’s closer to the plant. A little cloud drifting along the ground. With the wind.”
“God.” The deputy’s voice was heavy with disgust. “Well, keep an eye on it.” Throwing his car into gear, he sped away.
Vitaly bit into a cookie and listened to the radios atop the steamer trunk that served as his coffee table. The police scanner was tuned to the county sheriff, while the local FM station beside it alternated between music and tense updates. From a third radio, tuned to Hoosier Electric's frequency, he was learning more details. It's all there. A release. An evacuation. Panic. When he returned home to his wife and child, Vitaly Kruchinkin would have done his duty to the fullest.
And his co-workers at
The phone startled him, but Vitaly quickly regained his composure. Call out, he guessed. He looked at the clock. About right. He turned off the radios. “Hello?”
“John Donner, please.”
“This is John.” Vitaly spoke as if suffering from a cold.
The caller was Cervantes’ secretary. “We have a real mess at the plant,” she said.
“What's going on?”
“I'm not really sure, but they're calling in everyone they can.”
“Oh, shit.” Vitaly cleared his throat and coughed. “I'm sick as a dog. How bad are you hurting for operators?”
“We’ve got some people coming but we'll need relief crews in a few hours.”
“Maybe I can do that, if I sleep this off,” Vitaly said. “I can hardly breathe right now, and I've got a fever going.”
“All right. We'll contact you later. Stay by your phone.”
John Donner would be well enough in a few hours to work, Vitaly knew. The Hoosier Electric employee would be tired and coughing, but also very determined to make a contribution. Donner was a good operator. He would do what needed to be done.
End Post 32
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
“I’m driving east ‘til I hit