Nuclear Romance Excerpt 3

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

The deep pool of water is still. An aqua glow emanates from the bottom, where a jungle of steel racks and metal hardware are submerged like a sunken ship in a remote corner of the sea.

Forty feet down and under the weight of thousands of gallons of water, the racks are illuminated by glinty points of light that pierce the water and bounce off long, thin tubular pipes. Inside these brassy vessels are the skeletons of atomic fission, parts that once moved in an unwieldy dance of atoms building to a feverish rhythm, then to a burning heat. Heat that bears an endless energy. Now these submerged bundles of long, thin, gold-colored pipes are filled with used, irradiated fuel, fuel that still holds a raging heat to be slowly cooled in the watery tomb.

Somewhere under the pool are layers of bedrock. While solid to the touch, this stratum of the earth’s crust shifts at random, subject to a geological whim every now and then. One early spring day the bedrock layers yielded to a subtle heave and quaked slightly. Hairline cracks developed, sending fractured tendrils along arbitrary paths of least resistance, tiny tunnels that would carry water laced with toxic radioactive isotopes out to the world.

The undetectable tremor caused a brief, curious ripple on the blue, glassy surface of the nuclear plant spent-fuel pool. It might have been cause for concern had anyone seen it. But workers monitoring the pool were changing shifts, and the subtle vibration went unnoticed. Luckily, the vessels of used fuel were left intact. But deep below the sunken tubes, a weak spot in the pool wall cracked, and a new conduit connected to the veins in the bedrock. Contaminated water slowly seeped out into the ground and into the river. Eventually it would wash up on the sands of a popular recreational beach.

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