Warning signs covered the door in front of them, which included signs with an exclamation point forbidding entrance into the room without a helmet. A yellow triangular sign cautioned about a working crane inside and yet another sign appeared to ban ringing cell phones.
Lila, Joe and Ian put on the helmets and long sleeved white outfits provided by their hosts and began a circuitous tour of the reactor building. “I look like a chef,” Lila murmured to Ian.
“As long as we’re not the ones cooking in there,” Ian said a bit sarcastically.
The company guide gave them a warning look and Ian and Lila subsided into silence. Apparently they weren’t taking the tour seriously enough. A little levity was always a good thing when dealing with Armageddon, Lila thought.
They entered a cavernous multilevel space filled with yellow and white painted rounded objects and followed their guide down to the control room in which two men, wearing the ubiquitous white outfits, reclined in cushy chairs in front of an entire wall covered in monitoring equipment.
As their small group filed past, the worker on the left reached for the telephone situated next to his elbow, and Lila heard him speaking softly into the microphone. “Да,они здесь.Я недумаю, что онизаметили.” [“Yes, they’re here. I don’t know if they noticed.”] The man’s eyes followed them closely as they walked toward a door posted with even more warnings, this time in yellow lettering on a black background. They finally made their way into the Central Hall, an area at the heart of the reactor.
They walked toward a section demarcated with bright yellow and red radiation symbols posted on floor signs, wound around with white and red caution tape.
Joe gestured effusively to the open pool in which they could see the submerged rods. “Very safe, as you see,” he said in cheery tones. Pulling out a pocket Geiger counter, Joe showed Ian and Lila the numbers registering. “Only 2.67 sieverts. That’s a little more than half of what you’d get from a dental X-ray.”
“Um, great?” Lila responded.
“That is!” Joe continued enthusiastically. “You may not know this, but in the early 1960s Russia designed a couple of mobile nuclear power plants to provide energy to remote areas like this. There were two versions, one on tank treads and one on regular wheels. Pretty nifty, as it’s tricky to transport fuel to isolated areas. The mobile versions could even power themselves to get places using Radioisotope Thermal Generators, the same power source used by deep space probes. Unfortunately, after Chernobyl, Moscow scrapped the whole program.”
“I saw a photo of the mobile versions in a museum,” Lila interjected. “The wheel variety looked like a semi truck, and the tread type reminded me of a tank made into a school bus. Pretty interesting.”
“This power station was planned back in 1965 and finished in 1976. Quite a marvel.” Joe pointed to the area from which Lila could see protruding rods. “Look closely at this section.”
Lila focused on the area toward which he gestured. She could see something that appeared to be steam rising, which then turned into fantastical shapes that coalesced into… Sergey.” She heard his voice inside her mind.
Look over toward that nearby section of the wall.
Lila saw piping running in vertical lines across the wall. A green haze began to appear over the left section and she could see a crack forming. She thought a question toward Sergey: Is that real?
No, but it soon could be. Mention it to your host.
Lila turned to the man monitoring them on their tour and waved toward the problematic piping. “So, this part over here. What does that do?”
“It’s part of the cooling system. This is the only nuclear power plant in operation that still has ordinary water cooled graphite as a neutron moderator, which is what preserves the nuclear chain reaction.”
“So what would happen if those pipes cracked and burst?”
The man spontaneously began to sweat. “It would be a very bad thing. Of course, this will not happen,” he hurried to reassure her.
“How often are those checked?” Lila asked carefully.
He looked at her suspiciously.
“Just curious.” Lila shrugged. “I imagine it’s a lot of work keeping up on everything here,” she said in her best dumb girl voice.
“We manage,” the man said gruffly.
“Still, do you mind if I take a closer look? I’ve never seen so many pipes in one place.” Lila batted her eyelashes at him.
“You may, but be cautious.”
Ian walked next to Lila as she stepped closer until she was directly in front of the section that Sergey had indicated. “Is it supposed to look like this?” She pointed to a pipe that had glowed the brightest green in her vision.
“Like what?” Their host stepped toward the piping and peered closely. He blanched white and quickly told her, “There is nothing here. It looks fine. Please continue your tour. There is much to see in our city.”
Lila’s raised her eyebrows in disbelief and looked over at Ian, who nodded almost imperceptibly at her.
“Yeah, let’s go,” she said to Ian, who waved Joe over to them.
“Is the tour over?” Lila asked Joe.
“This was the last part on it. Ready?” Joe asked them offhandedly.
“I think so,” Ian replied. Lila nodded her agreement.
They exited from the building after walking through what appeared to be another set of metal detectors.
Walking briskly to the car, Lila asked Ian. “Mission accomplished?”
“I guess we’ll find out,” he said quietly.
Joe unlocked the car doors and they all climbed in, shivering from the cold air outside.
“Turn on the heat!” Lila called out to Joe, rubbing her hands together and blowing on them.
Suddenly a yellow light filled up the car and Lila felt herself drifting through space, sound echoing in her ears as though she was underwater.