Nuclear Romance: Excerpt 5

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just a few miles north of the news room, the Daily Suburban was spread open to Lou’s story on the large oak desk of Bob Stalinksy, the head of communications for ALLPower, the company that owned the nuclear power plant. His top-floor office in the eight-story glass tower had a panoramic view of the Hudson River. Two windows at the back looked out behind the building at the plant’s raw industrial sprawl. An opaque gunmetal window shade muted the outlines of the nuclear power domes, the generator building, and the structure that housed the fuel pool holding radioactive waste.

Bob leaned forward in his mahogany-and-leather chair and studied the picture of Kaylee, his brow furrowed. His phone intercom buzzed.

“Bob, it’s your wife. You want to take this, or should I give the usual excuse?”

He bit his lip. What did he forget this time?

“I’ll take it.” He plucked up the phone.

“Hey, Babe. What’s up?”

His wife, Morgan, cackled on the other end.

“Did you remember about the fund-raising dinner tonight? I’m the chairwoman pushing this one. It’s black tie. You do remember, don’t you?”

He looked at his desk calendar. It said “Basketball game—ALLPower Trophy.”

“Oh geez, Babe. I didn’t forget, but the boss just asked me to stand in for him tonight and award a trophy at a high school basketball game. We sponsor them, you know. It’s great for the company’s image.”

He heard the long, frustrated inhale. Then she said, “The image I have of you right now makes a gorilla shitting in the woods look appealing.”

The woman had a way with words. He winced. Here we go, he thought. He leaned back and started to rock in small, quick movements. In just another minute she would slam down the phone. Just count to ten.  

Bob had been working at the plant for five years. When he started he was thirty and newly married. Now, at thirty-five his temples were peppered gray, contrasting his cropped dark brown hair. His soft stubble beard was a hint of scruff, slimming his paunchy jowls. Dark, bushy eyebrows framed his gray, squinty eyes, like gashes that sparked out from a pasty complexion. Square built, he struggled to keep his heft under control.

Bob possessed an affable charm and a winning smile. He was good at promoting the company, and his work was highly valued by the ALLPower top brass. He was rewarded with substantial yearly raises. The science of nuclear power wasn’t exactly Bob’s forte, but he understood the basics. He reluctantly majored in Communications in college, a suggestion that came from his overbearing mother, Stella. Out of habit, he’d balked, then acquiesced. Even though she was his mother, she was usually right. By the time Bob graduated college, the country was demanding green energy, favoring nuclear over the dirty coal-fired plants that spewed nasty particulates into the air. For Bob it was a no-brainer: coal was dirty, nuclear was clean and didn’t pollute the air. The nuclear industry was here to stay, an easy sell right now, and in the future. You have to believe in what you sell, right?

But a lot could go wrong at a nuclear power plant. Devastating accidents at Three Mile Island and a few years later at the Russian plant in Chernobyl shook the world and severely marred the reputation of the nuclear power industry. Panic over doomsday meltdowns fed a skittish level of fear. Movies like The China Syndrome pushed that fear to front and center, and anti-nuclear, grass-roots groups cropped up all over the country, waging a war against the dangers of nuclear power, feeding fear about the increasing accidents at aging plants.

The reputation of the nuclear power industry was seriously marred and in need of a new PR campaign. Bob changed tactics and honed the fine art of spinning bad news into good—how ALLPower was different from other plants in the country. He would sweeten the plant’s image and reign in the skeptics, a challenge he liked. 

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