Alright! I’m very happy to share this fanfic that my DAD wrote. Based on his own experiences working as a nuclear power plant operator (and even complete with inside jokes about his old coworkers), he imagined up this scenario, set right when the US government was crumbling near the end of WW3.
Enjoy it, as well as the notes afterwards from the Minervan researcher who is studying it ;)
“What was that?” asked Mark. As the only Control Room Supervisor left at Palo Verde Nuclear site, he felt he had to know everything.
—- The low rumbling he could hear through the thick walls continued —
“Whatever it is, it is not seismic related. We’ve got no alarms,” replied Tom, Mark’s last overworked and underpaid Reactor Operator.
“Give me a break, Tom. Those alarms haven’t worked since that last I&C guy got shot by those environmental wackos last year.”
“Oh, sorry man. Kinda hard to remember what does and doesn’t work around here,” explained Tom. “Man, don’t those wack-jobs use electricity for anything anymore? Who’d want to live in the Arizona desert without air conditioning? Can’t they just leave us alone? We’re down to just a small handful of craftsman left who are brave enough to keep coming to work.”
“Or simply alive and able to come,” thought Mark.
Just then the radio cracked to life. “Control Room, pick up Security 1,” shouted a female voice.
“This is Unit 1,” replied Mark picking up the radio. “What’s going on, Security?”
“Mark, this is Cat. Looks like warehouse #1 just got destroyed.”
“Damn,” said Mark. “I thought that you had a team out there?”
“We did. Current drone footage shows all team members down. Hostile trucks are scattering out of there like the cockroaches they are, taking equipment and stores with them. Warehouse #1 is burning like Hell’s own kitchen.”
“This is going to hurt us Cat. Hurt us bad. All those spare parts we’ve been scavenging from the remains of Unit 2 and 3 were kept there. Some of our guys died due to radiation sickness just getting some of that stuff.”
“Yeah I know,” replied Cat. “This attack has hurt security too. My ace team is dead. Our last remote armory was hidden in that warehouse. I’m afraid that is also gone.”
“What?” shouted Tom, butting into the radio comms. “Storing your ammo outside the double fences! What fool thought that was a good idea?”
Cat’s icy reply cut through the radio silence. “Mine, Tom. Think you could do better?”
Mark smirked. Captain Amy “Cat” Smith was tough, damn tough and Tom knew it. She had saved his sorry hide more times than he could count on his ham-hands.
“Sorry Cat, but I…” began Tom before getting cut off by Cat’s curt follow-up. “You just keep that turbine spinning and making power. Leave the security to me!”
“Keep us posted Cat. Control out,” interrupted Mark, ending the tense exchange.
Mark was worried. Tom was acting all sickly or something. That weight lifting ex-football player bulk was noticeably shrunken. Too many months of long days and bad food. Now Cat’s security force just got its butt kicked. How was Cat going to take this? Ever since her family got killed in that botched hostage rescue attempt a few years back, Amy just didn’t seem right. Could she handle this new stress? Hell, she was already living 24/7 in the basement of the security building with half a dozen or so stray cats. All she had left was a few roaming patrols and some surveillance drones deployed on that last 50 mile stretch of power line heading into the city. It was only a matter of time before Earth First! or some other fringe wacko group figured that out and came back for the kill.
Just like they did to Unit 2 when that modified diesel fuel oil tanker truck full of high explosives wiped out their safety rated switchgear. The core melted, and inside Unit 2’s containment building it was still a radioactive death trap. All of that coming on the heels of that successful terrorist attack on Unit 3 when those jets out of LA and San Diego made direct hits on its Spent Fuel Storage Building and containment. The resulting damage destroyed the fuel storage building and cracked the containment shell. Luckily, Unit 3 was already shut down and defueled. All of its radioactive fuel had been shipped off site for long term storage. So while it must have made all the wackos happy, there was only low to mid-level contamination spread all over the place from the massive fire the jet fuel caused. So much for off-site security. Too much inter-departmental incompetence at the crumbling state and federal levels. Too much fighting for money, manpower and weapons. Not enough concern for actual hard assets.
Tom’s coughing fit brought Mark back to the present situation. “Hey Tom, you OK?”
“No dude. I don’t feel so good,” Tom was barely audible, even from six feet away.
“What kinda rad-dose did you pick up last month when you did that emergency equipment salvage job?” asked Mark.
“Who knows?” Tom said. “We haven’t had working dosimetry here for ages, remember? Ever since that van load of Health Physic Rad-techs got wiped out in that “crash” six months ago.”
“Six months?” Mark said. “You’ve been getting unknown radiation doses once a month for six months? You nuts or something?”
“Yup” was all Tom could get out in between coughing fits. “Guess I am.”
“Tom, you’ve got to get out of here if you want to live to see another month!”
“Yeah, right. Out to where? It is too hot in Arizona, and there’s not enough water to go around. We’re in the desert remember?”
“Remember your buddy Mike? Didn’t he leave here a few years back? Took all his boats and campers up to the Rim-country to some mountain lake? You could go there.”
“My old buddy Mike,” Tom mused. “Yeah, I could go there. Or at least try to find what little lake he went to.”
“Got water and pine trees. Big guy like you should be able to find some work and food. Sure beats this place.”
“No kidding,” Tom smiled. “Now quit bugging me. Don’t you have a control circuit to rewire or something?”
Two weeks later, Mark stood watch in the control room by himself. Tom was gone. Just didn’t show up one day. Did radiation poisoning get to him, or did he just take off and try to reach Mike’s place. Probably would never know. All those vandals-turned-anarchists taking out the cell towers and stations was really screwing up communications.
Suddenly, a panic stricken voice came over the radio. “Mark, this is Cat. Pick up NOW!”
“Take it easy,” replied Mark. “I’m right here.”
“Take it easy?!?” shouted Cat. “Not with the pictures the drones are sending into HQ right now. I’ve got a column of home-made battle rigs full of guys with guns about 5 miles out coming straight for us!”
“Damn! Nobody we can call for help?”
“Nope. Not a chance,” Cat said sadly. “Too busy guarding the border or interfering in other countries’ business. Even if they actually answered the call, they couldn’t get here in time to do us any good.”
“How much time do we have?”
Cat sighed. “Hard to tell. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes.”
“You still got that security 4×4 truck up and ready to roll?” Mark was already making a plan.
“Always,” came the reply.
“OK. Tell you what. Grab whatever food, water, guns and ammo you can and come and pick me up outside Unit 1’s main entrance in 5 minutes.”
“Sure thing,” replied Cat. “But why 5 minutes? I can do all that and be there in 2.”
“No, I need 5. I’ve got to trip the reactor and start the emergency cooling systems. Got to start cooling the core before those bad guys get here and start screwing things up. Besides, gives you time to get supplies.”
“10-4. See you in 5. Cat out.” Radio silence.
With the reactor tripped and all the emergency pumps and diesel generators running, Mark exited the Unit 1 control room for the last time. Forty years of his life back and forth through these doors gone. Exiting the blast doors was a little rough with eyes full of tears and arms full of what emergency rations he could find and carry.
“What took you so long?” yelled Cat as Mark stumbled out the main entrance towards her truck.
“Food!” Mark smiled as he held up his arms full of e-rations. Throwing the box in the truck bed next to the gas cans, he jumped into the cab.
“Where are we heading?” asked Cat as they sped away from the approaching chaos.
“North. To Utah. I’ve got family there. Know a young guy about your age I can introduce you to,” Mark smirked. “Besides, all those crazy Mormons have been talking about the end of the world for years, so they have all kinds of food storage and stuff. We can live there.”
“What if we run out of food on the trip?” asked Cat as they bounced along across the desert floor, avoiding the roads.
“Guess we’ll just have to find some fresh meat to roast over a fire. You got your gun, right?”
“Yeah right. What are we going to shoot? Some bug infested rabbit or something?” sneered Cat.
“Nope,” Mark smiled and jerked his thumb backwards to the wiggling burlap bag she had placed in the back of the extended cab truck. “Cats.”
Glossary of Terms:
Control Room Supervisor – The person in charge of the operators that have the responsibility for operating the reactor. A senior license, or certification, is required. The main reactor control room is where the operators would monitor reactor parameters and start/stop equipment as needed to not only support keeping the reactor within limits, but also to produce electricity.
Reactor Operator – The person actually start/stopping equipment from within the main control room.
Seismic – All reactors built within the United States have to be built to withstand the maximum rated earthquake (seismic) condition forecasted for that area. Some reactors would have automatic reactor shutdown protection. Others would just have alarms that would signify the need to conduct an orderly shutdown and inspection. Earthquakes of significant seismic activity would necessitate activation of the emergency response organization to coordinate the follow-up inspections and possible repairs.
I&C – Instrumentation and Controls. Basically the hardware/software used in the control systems used to maintain the reactor and the equipment necessary to produce electricity. A I&C technician would be the person testing and maintaining that hardware/software.
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1, Unit 2, and Unit 3 – Palo Verde is a three unit nuclear site located approximately 58 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Each unit is separate and independent of each other and have their own control rooms, containment buildings, and auxiliary support buildings. They have two things in common. They share the same site specific electrical switchyard to provide electricity to the power grid. They also get the majority of their cooling water from the cities along the western edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area. An on-site water treatment plant cleans and purifies the cites’ waste water to use for cooling. An ingenious use of “waste water” in the American Southwest desert.
Comms – a short hand way saying communications.
Double Fences – All nuclear facilities have physical protection. Tall double fences separated by 10 to 20 feet of non-trespassing signs with lots of barbed or razor wire, with cameras and motion detectors and other security type stuff that I don’t know and don’t want to know about.
Modified Diesel Fuel Oil Tanker Truck – Each reactor site has some type of emergency backup safety grade electrical equipment. Most use some sort of diesel driven electrical generator. Since these diesels have to be run to prove operability every month or so, you have to order in diesel fuel from some outside vendor to maintain the required amount of fuel on site. So the fuel arrives onsite and is sampled and tested at an outside the double-fence location. It then goes to the security entrance for entry into the protected area (the area within the double fence boundary). Here security then does a thorough inspection. Including climbing up and opening each compartment and checking depth, color, smell – just about everything. So in this story, multiple barriers would have to be broken. The bad guys offsite somehow rigged a false compartment into a truck that they knew was heading to the nuclear site. They topped of that part with diesel fuel and jammed a bunch of explosives underneath. Then the on-site receipt and inspection would have to have been compromised. Then the security guys, never just one, doing their final inspection would have had to miss it. Finally the operator and the security guard in attendance at the truck when it pulled up to the building to unload would have to be neutralized. In reality, not going to happen. But in the world of Demon Archives, well, you decide.
Containment Building – The steel lined three to four feet thick re-enforced concrete structure that houses the reactor vessel and all the primary system support piping and components. The reactor core, or fuel, is within the reactor vessel. The reactor control rods, made up of material designed to stop the neutron chain reaction, are also inside this building. Once irradiated and used to heat the water used in the heat transfer process, this fuel must be kept cool at all times. If not, well, refer to the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster to see what happens to a core without cooling.
Spent Fuel Storage Building – The reactors have to be refueled every 18 to 24 months. The reactor engineers and analysis folks use some really cool, and expensive, programs to configure the best fuel enrichment and mix for each core to produce the maximum power safely within limits. So during the refueling periods, about 1/3 of the fuel rods assemblies are removed from the core and transferred into a separate adjoining building. There they are placed in specially designed storage racks to ensure they remain sub-critical (not able to sustain a chain reaction). All of this transfer and storage is under 23 to 25 feet of water. This storage pool as its own cooling system. Actually, two separate 100% capacity independent systems. While the storage pool itself is a thick concrete stainless steel lined massive thing, the building around it is usually just a steel framed metal covered thing. A direct hit from a jet would do considerable damage. Most nuclear sites take this into consideration when planning the site layout and place support buildings, cooling towers and warehouses in strategic flight paths to thwart the bad guy’s plans
Dosimetry – All nuclear plant workers have to wear on their person at all times some sort of device used to detect and measure the radiation exposure that they receive. There are national and international norms and limits. Extra monitoring, or additional dosimetry, would have to be worn when going into areas that have a higher, therefore more deadly, radiation field. These devices/dosimetry has to be collected, calibrated, and analyzed by those trained in that field. These are the Health Physics Radiation technicians. Some people call them RPs for Radiation Protection. You, as a public citizen, would be surprised at the dose, or amount, of radiation you receive just doing normal stuff like getting medical or dental x-rays, anti-cancer medications, international flight travel, and living in areas where certain natural materials give off radiation. You get more dose from those items, than the average nuclear plant worker receives on the job.
Trip (or tripping) the reactor – The process whereby the control rods, made up of material that stop nuclear chain reaction, are inserted to shutdown the reactor. Once shutdown or tripped, you still have to provide cooling to the fuel for an extended period of time to prevent a Fukushima, Japan type disaster.
– A very peculiar account. I found it in a book we received as part of our information exchange with the nation of Deseret, “Tales of the End: Surviving the Apocalypse.” The stories seem to be at least partially BASED on real life accounts, but have obviously been edited into a third person narrative, and given a glossary of terms to help uneducated readers. The account does corroborate some information I’ve been able to discover about this power plant. Anti-nuclear terrorist groups were certainly quite common at the time. While many other power plants around the world went on to full nuclear meltdown as governments withered, Palo Verde inexplicably did not. In fact, according to reports, that area is now one of Deseret’s most prosperous farming zones, specifically for its relatively lower radiation levels. So either the locals invented the story to explain the phenomenon, or perhaps there really was a brave crew of operators fighting to protect the land from ANOTHER nuclear disaster.