Yes, that’s Theramore, again. This is going to be a very personal post – if you want happy entertainment, I suggest you skip this installment.
This scenario continues to bother me on a very personal level. I’ve done this already. And, not that I’ve done it during the pre-Mists update, that’s not what I mean. Most of us did it then, it was the first fresh content in a while.
I mean, in real life.
This is going to take some explaining, I realize. Hardly anyone else has ever heard this before – I usually stay dead silent on the subject. Give me a little room, and I’ll try to explain.
I was born in the mid-seventies, in Philadelphia. I barely remember living in an old Victorian house on a corner in Ridley Park, PA, just outside of Philly. My father was a nuclear engineer, he had hard hats and geiger-counters and cool science stuff.
Then, Three Mile Island (TMI) happened. If you’re unaware, Three Mile Island is a nuclear power plant on the Susquehanna River (we nicknamed it the “Suck-A-Banana”), just south of Harrisburg, out in central Pennsylvania. In 1979, there was a nuclear meltdown at that power plant. At least, that’s how it happened to most of you. That’s not how it happened to us.
No one knew what had happened, when it actually happened. The agencies involved in running TMI had to put together a “research team” to go into the reactor and find out what occurred. My father was put on that research team.
Some of what I’m going to tell you is what my mother could tell me later, some of it is what I vividly remember, and some of the details happened to have emerged only in the past five years during therapy. So, if my storytelling here wanders off the path a little, I apologize.
Being on a team to go into a reactor that had an “event” was a horrifyingly stressful situation. People had to walk into the reactor wearing lead suits, point flashlights around, and try to make a diagnosis, and figure out what to do next. That’s what the research team was.
They were awake, running 24/7, for weeks. The research team members eventually took to drinking alcohol in order to try to get some sleep. They were terrified. There had never been a nuclear disaster in the history of the US prior to this event – they didn’t know what could happen. Was there going to be a crater, like in the above picture? How many people were going to die?
At one point my father told me that one of the engineers on the team stripped his lead suit off and tried running straight into the reactor. My father had to hit him in the back of the head with a pipe and drag him out. In turn, my father also took his glove off while inside, and held a fuel rod – that’s the uranium that’s having the nuclear reaction – in his bare hand because he was trying to kill himself.
My father had given my mother instructions that if he called and told her that it was unrecoverable, that she should do the following: she should load the shotgun, and shoot my brother and I in the back. The pellet spread was bound to get us in the hearts, and she wouldn’t have to see our faces when we die. She was instructed to overdose on pills afterwards. He didn’t want his family to have to live through a nuclear apocalypse. That’s how scared they were.
He did, in fact, call and tell her it was unrecoverable. Thankfully, she didn’t follow orders. I want to be very clear, I love my mother.
We moved out to the area near the reactor. At that time, it was diagnosed as a meltdown, but it was undecided whether or not they should “contain” it. So, let me give you a quick run-down on a reactor – they’re pretty simple, but you’ll need this to understand the context. Nuclear fuel rods are uranium. They emit radiation, small particles from the atoms. Put enough radiation into a vat of water, the water gets hot. That becomes steam, which is used to turn turbines and generate power. That water then goes out to the “cooling towers” – the giant curved cylinders, to become less hot, before being pumped back into the reactor for another go ’round.
The rods don’t actually touch the water. At least, they’re not supposed to. In a meltdown, the tubes that the rods go into, well, melt, and now the rod touches the water. If there are any nuclear engineers reading this and would like to correct me, please do, but I think I’m basically getting it right.
If the rods touch the water, the water is then contaminated. Containing that contaminated water, then, is what “containment” means. Instead of going to the cooling towers and evaporating away, and thereby creating a nuclear cloud that carries over the east coast, they lock it all down in cement, and turn it into a nuclear waste storage facility. If containment couldn’t hold, however, it would blow up. I don’t exactly know the details on that, I think the rods continue to heat and contaminate the water, until you get a nuclear detonation.
At this point my father was an alcoholic, understandably so. Unfortunately, he was a mean alcoholic. My parents fought a lot, I remember bottles being thrown at me, tables being thrown at my mother, my brother stepping in before I got hit by my father, etc. When I heard the garage door open, I’d run and hide, so I wouldn’t have to put up with him. Things were hard.
Sometime during all of this, I remember one Saturday afternoon my father brought home a gigantic notebook. In it were 8.5″ x 11″ sheets, three-hole punched, with numbers. There were literally hundreds of pages. On each page, numbers were spaced in an array, maybe 12 digits in each number, 6 or 8 to a row, and I have no idea how many rows to a page. It was a lot of numbers.
We had an IBM PC, the kind with the dual-floppy drives in it. He explained how I was supposed to read the numbers from the page, and type them in on whatever program it was. I was 5 or 6 at the time. I vividly remember him setting down a large plastic cup full of ice and coke in front of me, slapping my shoulder, and saying, “Son, don’t make a mistake, or you’ll blow up the entire east coast. I’m going to bed.”
Yes, I’m pretty sure that was the data that was used to determine whether or not they should attempt containment. I don’t know that for fact, though. It could have been his sick sense of humor – but I do know he had been awake for days on end, and he was reluctantly asking me to do it because it needed to be done, I was smart and good with numbers, and he desperately needed to sleep. He wasn’t going to be able to do it himself, and of everyone else in the house, I was the most likely to get it right.
If you’ve gone and done your wikipedia research, you will have learned that containment was deemed not viable. It was decided that it would eventually blow, and that they needed to “release” – yes, the contaminated water was going to be allowed to evaporate into the atmosphere, and contaminate the land. The release was done slowly, it took over five years to completely evaporate, before they could dismantle that reactor. I am pretty sure I handled that data. I am concerned that I made mistakes.
I realize this isn’t a good way to see it. I was the same age as my daughter is now – and I would never, ever, ask her to not blow up the east coast. I love her, I have a lot of faith in her and she’s very smart and caring – but c’mon, no parent should ever do that to such a small child. It’s completely insane.
I’ve tried finding any evidence of what harm that release may have caused. There are no direct deaths to my knowledge. Quite a lot of cows got some sort of cancer or tumor in their throats. Central Pennsylvania is dairy country, there’s a lot of cows there. The piece of data that worries me the most, though, is that consistent with the release was a dramatic spike in local miscarriages. Something like 1100 mothers miscarried more than usual.
My mistake(s) may have cost 1,100 unborn children their lives.
This is guilt that I carry, and can’t seem to shake. My parents eventually divorced. My father went on to marry a woman that was on the research team. There was suspicion that he was having an affair with her prior to the meltdown, and that perhaps he made that phone call as an “easy out.”
At some point prior to the divorce, he abducted me for a week, kept trying to convince me that I should live with him and this other lady. He only took me – he didn’t take my older brother. I kept trying to explain that brothers should be allowed to grow up together. I guess I became so despondent that he took me home. I know I wasn’t over 10 years old at the time, I was probably more like 7 or 8.
My father and I no longer talk to each other – I didn’t see a point in it. Once the divorce occurred, he only called once a year, and almost never sent child support. I had to tell him it wasn’t worth the effort, and that my life was a lot better once he was out of the house – I was maybe 14 at the time.
So, I’ve already unwittingly participated in a nuclear disaster. You’ll excuse me if I don’t queue up for Theramore ever again.
This has been bothering me since the Theramore scenario was first released, actually. I haven’t had the nerve, or the time, to sit down and write it all out, mostly because this isn’t stuff you share. Honestly, I know that. From years of sharing bits and pieces, I’ve learned that everyone has some pile of darkness in their past they’d rather forget about. I’ve even been avoiding blogging for the purpose of trying to get away from feeling like I have to write this out. But, I did have to write it.
This also finally answers Ambermist’s Meme and gets that off my chest. Now before you go off feeling horrible, please remember, that was my childhood, not my entire life. Since then, I have worked extremely hard at being good at what I do, being a loving father, a good husband, and enjoying my life. Things are much better for me, now.