A Eureka Moment In Time

Chapter 10

Zachary Smith used a stolen password to remote login to the computers over at the experimental power plant. He uploaded a daemon into the control firmware that would be activated if the reactor exceeded 65% power in operational mode. Smith then issued another command to wipe the computer memory and disk drives of all evidence that he was ever there.
"Well, I'm all done over here, time to make tracks!" he thought to himself as he left the Nuclear Engineering facility for the last time. The sun would rise in a few hours, and he would be long gone from Eureka before the first light.

Deputy Andy had a good night's rest and was fully charged by the morning. He felt great, clearly whatever Dr. Tenma might have done during his examination hadn't been a bad thing. Andy got dressed, and after leaving his room, closed the door behind him. He sat down in the Sheriff's office behind his desk and waited for Carter to show up. The sun was out, it looked like a great day in Eureka. Across the street he could see Henry's garage just being opened up for the day. Henry pulled up in his old truck and parked it in the usual spot. Dr. Deacon then walked down Main Street toward Cafe Diem for his breakfast. Andy decided to join him for a cup of coffee, and left the police station building, locking the door behind him.

By the time Andy had locked the door behind himself, Henry Deacon was already almost to the door of the eatery. Andy ran to catch up, but in his haste he had forgotten to tie his shoes and he tripped over the laces as his right foot hit a low spot in the sidewalk. As Andy started to fall, his right shoe fell off followed by his left. Suddenly, instead of landing face first on the ground, he found himself zooming over the sidewalk. He passed Henry, who had just opened the door to the Cafe. Andy blasted through the open door and landed in a heap by the counter. He wondered if this was how Arther Dent had felt the day that he had fallen, became distracted by a lost carry on bag that suddenly reappeared, causing him to miss the ground.

Dr. Alan Putzburger and Zane Donovan got an early start in the experimental power plant, readying the reactor for operation. They made use of the robotic equipment to load the starting fuel into the reactor, standing behind the thick leaded glass shielding during the operation. Once the reactor's inner vessel, a double walled spherical chamber was sealed, the upper part of the outer cylindrical enclosure was lowered into place by an overhead crane. The space between the inner and outer reactor chambers was filled with the heat exchanger and inner cooling jacket. This space was then filled with a liquid metallic fluid, an alloy of Gallium and Mercury with a boiling point of over 4000 degrees F. Under the pressure inside of the reactor vessel's double walled outer vessel, this boiling point was even higher. The coils of the heat exchanger pipes were filled with a similar metallic fluid which conducted the heat to a boiler in an adjacent building through heavily insulated piping. It was in this adjacent building that the steam turbine and dynamos were located, they were the actual electrical generating portion of the power plant. A secondary heat exchanger was located within the reactor building, it was air and water cooled, and could vent excess heat out of the building via a huge fan. The reactor was some twenty feet tall, and about ten feet wide, and weighed about twenty tons. The outer vessel was screwed down to brackets sitting on four five foot high concrete pillars.

Zane started the initial power up of the reactor and watched as the temperature inside the vessel rose. As it reached the preset trip point the cooling fans in the heat exchanger came on and the temperature stabilized. Cooling water flowed through the vanes of the heat exchanger, the heated water was piped up to the roof where it was cooled by evaporation and condensation before being pumped back down to start the cycle again. The boilers next door had not yet been activated, they would not come on line until the reactor reached operational power; right now it was just running in idle not even having started the breeder cycle.

"So far it looks very good." Putzburger told Zane. "We'll leave it running at idle level for a few hours and make sure that the temperature remains stable. If all looks good we can try running at the minimum breeder cycle level after lunch for a few hours. Once that is proven, we can increase the power output to the point were we put the turbines on line."

"I've got those operations already programmed into the control computer." Zane replied. "I'm ready to go whenever you give the word."

It had been several weeks now since the incident of Kevin's rocket and the town had actually been rather quiet. Alan Putzburger had reported the strange disappearance of Zachary Smith from his position at the Nuclear Engineering lab to Jo Lupo. Smith's assignment had been completed with the fueling of the experimental power plant, but Putzburger had planned on giving him another task to work on. Why had the young man quit and walked out without even handing in his notice? Lupo had investigated and found that nothing had been stolen nor sabotaged in the lab where Smith had worked, so she just attributed it to the instability of an eccentric geek.

The experimental power plant had been put through all of the planned tests; except the full power up, on line operation of the facility. Now that the plant had been deemed ready and safe for general operation, the final test would be done in the presence of the town's officials, and the press.

Dr. Tenma bent down to straighten Tobio's bow tie. His son's advanced physics class was going to be present at the unveiling and first full power up of the experimental power plant later in the day. Dr. Henry Deacon would be presiding over the event in his capacity as Mayor of the town. The press would be present to witness the event, and not just the Eureka news media either. The experimental power plant was a civilian project of Global Dynamics, even though parts of it had been assembled by the military division of the company. Since it was a civilian project, the national news media had been invited and all of the TV networks were sending news crews. Dr. Tenma thought that Tobio should dress up in a suit for the occasion.

Jo Lupo was ready for anything. It seemed that every time some GD project in Eureka got major attention something would go wrong. The disaster would usually be just a nuisance, but too often she and Carter would have to save the town, and sometimes the entire world, from the brink of destruction. Andy and Carter were in town keeping an eye on things, Jo blended in among the spectators that were just beginning to show up at the power plant for the demonstration.

The press would be assembled in the upper story of the power plant's control area, which was really a balcony overlook facing the reactor room. From here, behind a thick glass wall, they could get a good look at the reactor as it was powered up. They would be able to hear what was going on below them through the intercom speakers mounted on the rear wall of the room. At the moment however, the crowd was gathered outside the building where several tents had been set up with tables of food and refreshments. The students from the High School advanced physics class were among the crowd having a free lunch with everyone else.

Dr. Tenma walked over from his office in the GD main research building. By now most of the food was gone, but he managed to find enough left over to build himself a sandwich and pour a cup of coffee. Zane slapped him on the back.
"Glad to see you old man!" he yelled.

"You seem to be in a rather good mood. I guess it's because your project here has gone rather well during the weeks of testing." Tenma replied, giving Zane a mock punch in the shoulder.

"I don't believe it. The two of you are ALMOST being civil to each other!" Dr. Fargo laughed behind their backs.

"Hello Dr. Fargo! Well, unlike others, I won't make a scene in public. I would defend myself in public if necessary however." Dr. Tenma remarked.

"Same here, Douglas," Zane added with a smile.

Dr. Deacon walked up to the podium and tapped on the microphone to verify that the PA system was working. He cleared his throat before speaking.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, students, and my fellow townsmen, welcome to the inauguration of Eureka's experimental power plant. This facility will hopefully be the model for future power plants throughout the country that will provide safe, cheap, and green power without adding to global warming. I'd like to introduce the two gentlemen who designed the heart of this system, Dr. Alan Putzburger and his assistant Zane Donovan. Dr. Putzburger has been with Global Dynamics for over twenty years now with our Nuclear Engineering division, while Dr. Donovan is a brilliant newcomer to our community who has already made significant contributions in many fields."

Dr. Putzburger and Zane Donovan both stood by Henry's side and smiled. Then both then quietly walked back into the building.

"I will now invite the members of the press to please follow Ms. Lupo, our lovely head of security, into the building where you will be able to witness this historic occasion from the safety of the overlook. I understand we have some more refreshments available for you upstairs" Henry continued.

Jo Lupo raised her hands to get the attention of the press personal, and she escorted them to the second floor of the control building. Henry motioned to Robert VanAllen that he could now bring his students into the building where they would be able to watch from the floor of the reactor room. Dr. Tenma followed Henry into the building after the students had entered.

The reactor itself was located in the back of the building. The rear wall of the reactor room was a large heat exchanger that was both air cooled with huge fans located on the outside of the building, and liquid cooled by a second unit on the roof with water pipes connecting the two. The reactor was connected to the heat exchanger by two well insulated pipes carrying a liquid metal heat conductor. Two additional well insulated pipes diverted some, or all of this heat through an adjacent wall which separated the reactor room from the power generation part of the plant. Here a boiler converted the reactor's heat into steam to power the turbines and dynamos the generated the electrical power.

At the front of the room was the reactor's computer control panels where all of the operational parameters of the reactor were monitored. A thick wall of lead glass separated the reactor from the control area and allowed the student spectators to observe the operation safely. A single door provided access to the reactor from the control area. Dr. Tenma walked over to the students and stood next to Tobio and Dr. VanAllen.

Dr. Putzburger picked up a microphone connected to the PA system.
"We will now start the reactor up. This is a three stage process. The first stage essentially preheats the reactor by starting a small chain reaction using U232 starting fuel. Once the reactor has sufficient free neutrons and thermal energy the Thorium breeder process begins. Here the normally non-fissionable Thorium is converted into fissionable U232. Then the power generation process is initiated, which consumes the newly created U232. Part of this energy keeps the breeder process going, the rest generates the heat used to drive the turbines in the next building." Dr. Putzburger explained as he started the first stage of the reactor.

"We've gotten this far with the reactor's power up many times before earlier in the past two weeks." Zane explained, reaching for the microphone. "The reactor will reach the breeder process phase rather quickly now, in another fifteen minutes we will have that running."

Up in the overlook area the press crew were taking notes and a few TV cameras were capturing the action taking place down below. The students were divided between looking through the glass partition at the reactor, though there really wasn't anything happening there worth looking at; and the computer controls, which displayed the various parameters of the reactor's internal processes.

Back in downtown Eureka not much was happening. Those citizens that had not been invited to attend the startup of the power plant were either in Cafe Diem watching the news coverage of the event on the large screen TV, or were not interested in the event and were about their normal routines. Andy had taken a call from Dr. Fargo's grandmother to assist her getting her kitten out of a tree. He had performed this service several times, and suspected Grandma Fargo was staging these emergencies just to get Andy over for a spot of tea. When he arrived however, he discovered the cat had chosen a different tree than usual, and the ladder Ma Fargo kept in her garage wasn't going to be quite tall enough. Andy looked up from a few feet away at the wayward feline who was perched at least thirty feet high on a wobbly branch.

Andy couldn't figure out what happened next. He had got the crazy idea that maybe with his increased strength, he could jump high enough to grab the cat. He took a running leap and suddenly found himself floating twenty feet above the tree, suspended by what appeared to be jet exhaust emulating from the bottom of his legs. His police boots were gone, blown off by the thrust. Andy manged to descend under his own power, grab the surprised cat, and lightly touch down on the ground. He walked back barefooted to Grandma Fargo's door. She didn't see what had happened as her glasses were in her pocket, and there wasn't anybody on the street thanks to the happenings over at the power plant, so Andy's new ability remained his secret.

Dr. Putzburger now announced to the crowd that the reactor was running in the breeder mode and that they would be able to bring it up to full power in another half an hour. On the large monitor screen hanging in the back of the reactor room above the computer panels, the level of U232 fuel was slowly rising. What nobody noticed was the indication of a small amount of Pu239 contamination, that was also slowly rising.

Of all the students, Kevin Blake and Tobio Tenma were standing the closest to the computer panel. They both had the highest grades of all of the students in the advanced physics class and totally understood the operation of this new kind of reactor. Tobio, with his superb vision, was able to read all the indicators from where they were standing. He was the first to notice that something wasn't right. The temperature was somewhat higher than the physics predicted.

Putzburger decided that it was now time to demonstrate the power generation. He ordered the computer to withdraw the control rods from the power generator portion of the reactor core. Some of the liquid metal coolant was diverted into pipes leading to the building on the other side of the concrete block wall. The boiler in the generator room instantly started generating steam pressure and the turbines started to spin. As the electrical power output increased, the computers in the generator room switched the output of the dynamos onto Eureka's power grid. At the same time the substation at the edge of town disconnected itself from the state power lines. Downtown Eureka was now running on domestically generated nuclear power.

There was chorus of cheers from the press gallery upstairs accompanied by the popping of champagne corks. Zane monitored the reactor's output as it reached 85% power, the level they had decided to limit it at for the first full power run. They had planned to add a second unit to the plant later when this first reactor had finished a few months of operational study.

Tobio pointed at the panel and tapped Kevin on the shoulder.
"Does that look right to you?" he asked.

"I don't think so." his friend answered.

"Dr. Putzburger?" Kevin yelled out. "Tobio and I think the breeder cycle is running away on you. Isn't the U232 level rising a bit too fast?"

Suddenly, as if to agree with what the boys had noticed by themselves, the system fired off an alarm. Several red lights started flashing and the room lights dimmed to make the emergency indicators more visible. Up in the press booth, wine glasses were being dropped to the floor and the TV cameras were turned back on and directed at the control panel. Dr. Putzburger looked at the indicators and made a few adjustments. He franticly ran between several control panels dialing in more adjustments. He then looked around the room and spotted Jo Lupo, and ran over to her.

"Jo, I think we need to evacuate the building quickly. I don't want to start a panic here, so tell everyone that we have a small problem and need to make some quick adjustments. Tell them some of what we may need to do is top secret or something, but get the press and the students out of here!" Putzburger had an ashen look on his face.

Jo Lupo whispered in Dr. VanAllen's ear and he nodded. The teacher gathered his students together and told them that the demonstration was over for them and that they needed to get back to class. In a few minutes the control area of the reactor room was empty except for Zane Donovan, Dr. Putzburger, Dr. Tenma, Dr. Deacon and Tobio. Tenma had remained behind and had pulled his son over to his side, away from his classmates.
"Listen carefully to what the engineers are saying, Tobio. I need to know exactly what is going on." Dr. Tenma told the boy. Tobio cupped his hand to his ears, which could now hear a fly phart from a mile away.

Once the press core had been driven back to town by the waiting buses, Jo Lupo grabbed Zane and pulled him aside.
"What is going on?" she demanded.

"Once the reactor passed 75% power, the percentage of U232 in the core started rising faster than it was being consumed. We just tried to scram shutdown the reactor. The power core is shutdown, but the breeder core isn't responding. We tried bringing the power core back up to consume the U232 but it makes no difference. If we can't shut down the breeder cycle, eventually there will be enough U232 inside the reactor to reach critical mass though out the core." Zane explained.

"So what does that mean in layman's terms?" Jo asked.

"It means that the reactor will explode." Putzburger injected.

"Wait a minute, I thought that a nuclear reactor couldn't go off like a bomb," Jo cried.

"Technically that is correct." Putzburger explained. "If you try and bring enough fissionable material together to reach critical mass, it will produce a burst of energy that will force the material apart. That's why an atomic bomb requires an explosive force to crush a sphere of nuclear material in an implosion, it's the only way to force the material together long enough to produce an atomic explosion. The material then fissions so completely that it is all consumed in a huge chain reaction that lasts only milliseconds. That's not going to happen here. However the density of the U232 will increase until a rapid chain reaction starts that will burst the reactor. The reactor vessel is strong enough to contain the force long enough for the reaction to consume a great deal of the fissionable fuel. It won't be an atomic bomb, but it might as well be. Everything within twenty miles will be destroyed."

Tobio's face turned white. He whispered in Dr. Tenma's ear what he just heard. His father face palmed and sighed.

Jo Lupo picked up her cell phone and called the Sheriff.
"Jack, it's worse than the China syndrome over here. You and Andy need to start an evacuation of the entire town. I'm going to get word over to GD that they need to get the hell out of Dodge, pronto. I don't know how long we have, but everyone needs to get at least twenty miles away from the power station. It's going to explode."

Zane tapped Jo on the shoulder.
"Ain't enough time. We've got maybe twenty minutes before she blows. Theres only one road out of town. You simply can't even organize a mass exodus in the time left, let alone execute it." he said.

Tobio looked at the reactor. He grabbed the handle on the door in the glass shield and forced it open. Tobio walked inside and looked up at the reactor. It stood twenty five feet high above his head, sitting on four concrete columns. Dr. Tenma followed the boy through the door.

"If we can't get the town's people twenty miles away from the reactor, then we have to get the reactor twenty miles away from the town!" Tobio sighed.

"Are you sure you want to try this? That reactor weighs over twenty tons!" Dr. Tenma told him.

"I have the strength, don't I dad?" Tobio asked.

"Yes. You have more power in you than several reactors that size, son!" Tenma said.

"Then I don't have a choice. If I do nothing the town will be destroyed and hundreds of people could die." Tobio sighed.

Zane Donovan had noticed Tenma and son standing next to the reactor.
"Are you two nuts? Get the hell out of here, that thing's going to blow in about 15 minutes or so!"

"Zane, if you wanted to remove this reactor from the building how would you disconnect it?" Tenma asked.

"No, you can't be serious!" Zane looked down at Tobio, who had a look on his face that could turn someone to stone. "My GOD! You ARE serious! Well, you'd have to cut those two pipes carrying the liquid metal coolant, but watch the hell out because the 2000 degree liquid inside is going to turn to metallic steam once the pipes are cut. Then you've got about thirty seconds before the reactor over heats and melts down inside. That will only accelerate the processes, and she'll go super critical in about 20 seconds after the cooling fails."

Tenma scratched his chin. "Lets see, assume 15 seconds to reach 120,000 feet, that's about Mach 8. My design was good for at least Mach 10. Reasonable safety margin."

Tenma undid Tobio's bow tie and removed his jacket and shirt. Tobio slid off his pants and stood in only a tight fitting pair of briefs that looked like they were part of his body. That, a green metal band around his waist, and the red boots were all he now wore.

Tobio raised his left arm above his head and pointed it at the ceiling. His hand folded back and the arm morphed into some kind of cannon. He then blasted a 15 foot diameter hole in the roof just above the reactor.

Tobio's arm returned to near normal. His index fingers sprouted laser beams which he used to cut though the bolts holding the reactor down to the four pillars.
"I think everyone better get out of here before I make the last two cuts." Tobio advised.

Zane was already moving. He grabbed Dr. Deacon and Dr. Putzburger who both were making a last ditch effort to command the computer to shut the reactor down, without any luck.

"Good luck Tobio", Tenma said.

"Call me Atom now." the boy answered. "We've just crossed over the line, and we can't go back."

"You're right son. Good luck Atom!" Tenma said and he gave the robot a hug.

Atom waited until the four men left the building. He cut though the two pipes with his finger tip lasers and the room filled with a hot silvery fog. Atom got under the reactor and grabbed onto the bottom of it. He blasted upward, pushing the atomic menace though the hole in the roof. He quickly accelerated through the sound barrier and kept on going. The sky rapidly turned a darker blue, and then an inky black, as he left most of the atmosphere behind him. Within 15 seconds he had reached the edge of space. He pushed the reactor to the west, out over the pacific ocean. At the very last instant he released the device and he continued flying up higher, faster, and further away; hoping that he had left himself enough distance for his own safety. Five seconds after he let go of the reactor, it exploded behind him.

From outside the power plant building Zane, Tenma, Putzburger, and Dr. Deacon saw a cloud of metallic steam escape from the roof of the building followed by what looked like an enormous shell blasting out of a huge cannon. A second later the air was shattered by a sonic boom. They followed the reactor with their eyes as it flew toward space, pushed by a fusion powered nine year old boy.

Jack Carter and Deputy Andy heard the sonic boom from Main street and had little difficulty spotting the source. Andy, with his newly acquired telescopic vision was able to see what was pushing the reactor skyward and he didn't believe it himself.

Fifteen seconds later there was a brilliant flash of light in the sky followed by a thunder clap from the explosion.

Night fell. The clean up crew in the power plant had mopped up all of the liquid metal coolant. Dr. Deacon, Dr. Putzburger, and Zane Donovan were going through the computer trying to figure out why they had been unable to shutdown the reactor.

Atom hadn't returned. The boy known as Tobio was missing. Dr. Tenma sat at home in tears. It was the second time he'd lost his son.

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