Nuclear Romance: Excerpt 7
January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Excerpt 7 from my new ebook NUCLEAR ROMANCE, a novel about an anti-nuclear movement in the New York metropolitan area (available at Amazon, Kobo, Nook).
The second half of this excerpt is based on a radioactive groundwater leak discovered at Indian Point in 2005. The leak was from a crack in the unit 2 spent fuel pool and tested positive for high levels for strontium 90 and tritium. (photo courtesy of Riverkeeper)
When he got to the high school, throngs of kids and parents had crammed into the gym. The popular team was one of the best in the area and promised an exciting game to a hyped crowd. Lou found the staff photographer who would later shoot a picture of the kids getting awards, an image that later would be ubiquitously cut out of the paper and framed by several proud parents.
As he watched the first half of the game, his eye kept drifting to the ads for ALLPower. In two-foot-high letters their motto screamed out, “Your Power Plant: Safe, Essential, Local.” Lou thought about the cryptic phone call from the unnamed woman who insinuated that Kaylee’s death might have something to do with the plant.
At halftime, when the awards were announced, Lou barreled over to the small makeshift platform to interview the lucky kids and their parents. Holding two gold trophies was a beaming Bob Stalinsky. He leaned into the microphone and sharply cleared his throat, a signal for fans to hush.
“Aren’t these kids the greatest?” he sang out.
“We at ALLPower think they should be awarded with these!” Bob waved shiny gold trophies in the air. More applause.
“And although these are pretty to look at, these kids also need the green stuff to get them to college!”
He handed the two players the trophies and pulled two checks out of his suit pocket. The crowd loved it.
Lou edged in to interview the kids and their parents, who were thrilled to claim their minute of fame. When he was done, Bob sidled over to him.
“Hi. I’m Bob Stalinsky with ALLPower. Great that you’re covering this, Mr. Padera. These kids are the best, aren’t they?”
“They are. Can I ask you a few questions, Mr. Stalinsky?”
“Hey, call me Bob.”
“How long has ALLPower been giving these awards and how much do you actually give each kid?”
“We’ve been doing this for years. Can’t really say when it started—it was way before I began working for the company. It’s our way of appreciating the community and being a good neighbor.”
“Yeah. And how much do the kids get?”
Bob pulled a tiny bottle of antibiotic hand gel out of his pocket, and a sharp whiff of lemon stung the air.
“Altogether, we give students tens of thousands every year. ALLPower is a very generous company, Mr. Padera.”
“Right. But how much were the checks you gave out tonight?”
“Oh.” Bob scratched his chin. “Well, those were small awards compared to what we usually give.”
“A thousand. Each.”
Lou jotted a few notes down. A question lurked, not about the trophies. Before Lou could switch gears and muster a question about the plant, Bob leaned in to him.
“By the way, that was some story you wrote about the little girl. Touching piece. Really. Got my heartstrings. Poor thing.”
“Oh, thanks. Actually, can I ask you something about the plant, Bob?”
“Is there any chance that something leaked into the river that could have made that little girl sick?”
Bob’s smile faded as if he had peeled off a mask. He assumed his corporate role, primping for an earnest-sounding answer.
“Absolutely not. We’re monitoring the plant all the time. You should come and take a tour of the place, see how safe it is.”
Bob reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to Lou.
“I can set up a special plant tour for you any time. Just give me a call, Mr. Padera.
“I just may do that. And you can call me Lou.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It looked like a small stream bubbling up from underground. Six construction workers peered down at the small, unexpected geyser that gushed out right after a backhoe accidentally gauged out a chunk of earth. Hurriedly a phone call was made, and an NRC inspector was on his way.
From the muddied ditch, the foreman looked up at the pristine, ALLPower glass tower, hoping the pause in ground activity wouldn’t be noticed by a random executive surveying from the comfort of an air-conditioned office.
The men had been working for the better part of the day, digging down into the ground to shore up the foundation of the transformer building. The dig wasn’t anywhere near the vast infrastructure of thousands of underground pipes. So where was this water coming from? And was it radioactive?
Two hours later Bob Stalinsky was staring woefully down at the pit. The inspector said there was a good chance the leak was radioactive, but just how much? Tests would be run to make sure. Worse, the source of the leak was unknown. Bob dragged back to his office. There were a few ways he could play this thing.
As the group dispersed, Larry Hines lingered at the far end of the ditch. He pretty much knew every inch of the intricate underground network, which pipes were the oldest, which ones couldn’t be reached or monitored. Some might be rusted, and you’d never know it. His eye ran an imaginary line from the ditch to where he estimated the old fuel pool was, where spent fuel was stored for the oldest reactor that had been closed for decades. That’s the culprit, I bet, he thought. But tracing it would be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Because it could get worse, Larry felt obligated to share his thoughts with the powers that be. He would urge them to check out every possibility.
Back up in his office, Bob worked on his PR game plan and talking points for his boss, Mike O’Brien. Public officials would have to be alerted and a press conference called, soon—maybe within twenty-four hours. The company had to sound responsible, honest, and upfront. Bob would make sure Mike had the key words down—words of assurance—that the leak was contained, and there was nothing to worry about.
He tried to keep O’Brien’s comments short and easy to remember. The man’s true passion was out on the fairway with a five-iron, and when it came to speaking to the press, he was known for rattling off plausible facts that were difficult to substantiate. For now, the leak would be played down. The NRC would issue a press release late on Friday, a time that newsrooms were winding down or closed for the weekend. The report would be lost at the bottom of the pile by Monday.
Although they were the federal oversight agency, Bob knew the NRC wouldn’t nag the company about the leak. In fact, the federal agency was more friend than foe. No matter what went wrong at the plant, the NRC would issue its own public statement acknowledging the situation. If it was something really bad, they might slap ALLPower with a fine. But the fines were minimal, never over $50,000, which hardly made a dent in the multibillion-dollar corporation’s revenue base.
In fact, the feds were more an asset and less a regulator. The NRC was autonomous, and the only way to change their lofty status was by a vote in Congress, a process that takes years and the right political climate.
Right now, everything was very cozy. If ALLPower failed an inspection, the NRC would lower their safety rating a notch and demand they get their act together. The company, wise to this charade, promised timely repairs, adding exponentially to the backlogged fix-it list. Bob would diligently issue press releases, dumbing down a complicated problem and reiterating that the plant was a safe, reliable source of much-needed electricity.
It was all about keeping the business looking good and the shareholders happy. The two working reactors on the shores of theHudson Riverraked in over one million dollars a day from selling electricity. It would be a big loss if the plant was ever forced to shut down.