The Nuclear Reactor

I wake up on a Thursday. It is one week since my birthday when I was twenty years of age. I go downstairs and have some corn flakes with gold top milk. Then my Mum comes in and says

“Are you going to the job centre today? It’s about time you got a job; you left JJB ten months ago! Will you pass me the milk please?”

“Yes (munch, munch) I will go down there on me bike soon,” I reply. Then Dad comes in, puts four slices of bread in the toaster and says

“Get down that job centre lad and get a friggin job.”

“Yes I am going there today, just got to fix that puncture,” I reply.

“Good,” say Mum and Dad at the same time.

I am in the shed fixing the puncture on my bike when my friend Bob knocks and shouts my name. I tell him I will meet him at the playing fields later to have shots (he has some new gloves) and I hear him bouncing his ball down my drive as he leaves. Then I set off to the job centre to hopefully get a job, as I am running low on funds for going bowling and laser quest. And I want to move out and get a flat of my own.

On the way there I take unnecessary risks on my bike, like going round blind corners at speed when another bike could be doing the same, and crossing crossroads when the lights aren’t on green and not looking in a certain direction. When I get to the job centre I lock my bike up and go in past the locals who are smoking, probably as their partner or friend etc is signing on.

The smell in the job centre is familiar. I eventually get to see a person who sits behind a desk. He asks me my details, then asks what kind of work I am looking for. He taps his keys some more and I reply

“Anything. I was hoping for a job on the railway but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Are there any new jobs in I could apply for please?”

“Well there are a couple of gardening jobs” more tapping “But you need experience. Then there’s this – ‘nuclear reactor night watchman’. But it’s up in Northumberland… I could fax your application for that if you fill it in over there?” he points to a desk where two large women are sat.

“Er, ok yeah, thanks,” sounds interesting.

I fill out the form, which takes ages, and then go home. At home I tell my Mum what happened over a cup of tea, then I go and meet Bob and Craig at the playing fields and play headers and volleys.

At home when it’s dark I have my tea (veggie burgers) then go up and switch my Xbox on. I play Fallout 3. I have been searching the Capitol Wasteland (in the game) looking for all the locations. I have been having fun for hours over the past few days exploring and doing quests. I am on the lookout for bobby pins as there are a number of doors and safes etc that I can unlock as my lock-pick skill is now 100. I sell some scrap metal to Walter and trade some fingers for caps. Later I switch off the Xbox and go to sleep.

Three days later I get a letter from the nuclear reactor people; they want to see me for an interview up in Northumberland! I am excited and go and see Mum who is in the lounge. I show her the letter and she reads it quickly.

“Great. Great news. You could go and live by the sea and I could visit!” she says.

“Yeah, sounds good. I could get an attic flat and have fish and chips all the time ha ha.”

“Oh ah ha ha ha,” she sounds like her eldest sister.

A few days later I put on my Marks and Spencer cotton white shirt and my trousers and shoes. The shoes are clean and I feel good.

I go to the train station and buy Edge magazine. On the train I read it and lookout the window as the Pennines then Yorkshire go past. And eventually I arrive in the small seaside town where I will meet my potential employers.

They are waiting in a pub called The Dolphin as stipulated in their letter and I am on time. There are two of them and they are wearing smart suits. We shake hands then go out and get into a black car. No one says anything until we drive onto a boat at speed and as we brake to a halt the one in passenger seat turns and says smiling

“We get a boat from here, and then we will show you around the reactor. It is not functioning yet; it has only just recently been converted from coal to nuclear. It has all gone to plan. Ha ha.”

“Ha ha ha,” I laugh genuinely. Out the window I look back and see the harbour receding. Soon there is a strange mist around the boat, which chugs on. The mist makes me feel slightly uneasy as it is a colour I have never seen mist be before. Then, probably a few miles out, a small island with looming building becomes visible. The building is imposing. Concrete walls reach up a hundred feet high.

There is a path leading up to a metal door and the boat is left behind bobbing grimly in the calm water. I look up at the odd towers that are enveloped by the creeping mist as we walk.

“Just this way and we will show you around. Watch your step,” said the same man who had spoken in the car. We enter the metal doors and the rubber at the top of the door is coming away. There is a coke machine and a few doors in the drab reception area. Not much is said as we look in rooms that have a kettle, a battered ping pong table and stacks of old chairs etc. One room has a sofa and an ancient TV on a wooden table. There are no pictures or flowers, everything is grim.

Eventually we pass through a larger space that has some sort of turbine, which is not spinning. High above the turbine is a large window in the roof with dirty glass. We go through a set of depressing doors and into a massive space with a very large vertical cylinder made of bronze coloured metal. The two men approach it and we gather round three dial things, two the same and one different. They are attached to pipes that lead up the cylinder. Behind us are many machines with most of their lights not illuminated. Just one or two flash green or yellow. The same man explains what my duties would be, should I be offered the job. I would spend ten hours in the reactor, overnight. Every hour on the hour I would have to be in this area to check the dials. The one on the left and the one in the middle have small leavers underneath that look old and simple. I would adjust these two left or right so that the dial on the right (that has some sort of steam engine display on it) would point its hand never above 4 R (radiation) on the reading. If it goes above 4 R that means there is too much radiation being generated. The radiation levels in and around the reactor are only safe for humans if this dial reads below 4 R. I and the day workers, and most likely even the people on the mainland coast, would be affected if it goes above 4 R even for one minute. The radiation poisoning would lie dormant for weeks, and then one day… ZANG – you become violently, very seriously and eventually (after intense pain) fatally ill. If the reading on the dial stays below 4 R that means the radioactive waste levels are acceptable and it will go into storage for removal. The human body can cope if the reading stays below 4 R and there would be no ill affect the man tells me. I nod along. I would be allowed to go into the lounge area between readings but I must check the dials on the hour.

We go out of the large area through the doors that we had entered and I run my hand along the rails above the turbine. We go outside where it is windy now and is still misty.

“How do you like the place?” asks the same man.

“Yes I like it a lot. I think I would be happy here,” I reply quickly.

“Can you start next Monday night?” says the man who had not made a sound all day.

“Yes I can.” We shake hands and return to the mainland in silence.

After things have been signed in the pub the two men show me my boat. It is a small wooden rowing boat that looks a bit dodgy but is probably fine. I am to be on the island by 8 PM next Monday night, there will be a clipboard in office reminding me of my duties. The trip across to the island should take about an hour and a half they tell me. We shake hands again and they drive away.

I find the nearest phone box and ring Mum. She is happy and I put the phone down feeling like I am on an adventure. My Mum has advised me on the phone to start looking for a flat right away because if I don’t I would have to either get a train every day which would take ages, or go in a bed and breakfast which would cost more. First I find a seafood shop and buy a mixed selection of seafood. Then I sit on the sea wall and look out in the direction of the island, which can’t be seen.

I knock on doors and look in the post office window and speak to very friendly locals. Eventually I knock on a door of a lovely old cottage that is tall and grey with flowers growing in front. It is about two miles from the harbour on a quiet bit of road. The old lady that answers asks me what the trouble is. I explain and she seems delighted to tell me I could have the attic room.

We go up a very old and steep staircase that climbs the walls of the house. The attic room is small but has a bed, a small tele, a large decorated mirror and a view across woodland. It is perfect. And only twenty pounds a week. So I snap it up right there and then. The old lady seems happy.

I go home on the train and by next Monday afternoon I am settled in my attic room that overlooks the lovely harbour with boats sounding their horns. I have not brought much with me and put it away in a large heavy box that has somehow found its way up to my room since last I was here.

I take a look around town. There is a second hand bookshop, a café with cheap food and a shop that has a good selection of stuff. I am well pleased and walk along the beach with the tide coming in.

By dark I am nervous about my first night at the reactor. It starts raining a bit at 6 PM and I set off in my boat out of the harbour in a raincoat. The old lady in our cottage had wished me luck. But the rain is not heavy and I row out into the sea. It is tough going but I get there in the end.

The reactor is now running and the turbine is spinning, sounding well oiled. The large area with the dials and cylinder and machines is up and running as well. The machines click and bleep and lights flash. I check the steam gauge like dial and it is at 3.5 R so I leave to go and put the tele on.

It only has one channel with very poor reception! So I attempt to watch the news for a bit then go to the turbine room and lean on the rail. At intervals I go to the lounge and read with the tele off. Then I go and check the dials are not above 4 R then go and lean on the rail in the turbine room and back again. At 6 AM I am in the turbine room when the first normal day worker enters and motions with his thumb

“Time for you to get off bud,” and then he goes through the doors into the dial room. I leave quickly and row back to land where I have fish and chips.

This goes on similarly every night for several weeks with Mum visiting twice. We have very good meals out locally and she is pleased for me.

Sometimes the sea is rough and sometimes the sea is calm. I stand in the turbine room and feel very responsible about the dials and kind of like it. I read books. Sometimes I fold half the ping pong table up and play alone. The dial almost always reads 3.5 R. I do not turn the tele on much.

Then one day it is raining torrentially after work. I tie my boat up as usual and start the walk up the country lane towards home. An estate car pulls up next to me and a man shouts out of his wound down window

“Can I give you a lift pal?”

“Yes thanks mate!” He explains that he is from London and is visiting the area on holiday. As we set off he says

“Oh, I haven’t put this on yet. I won this thing at work, ha ha, it measures radiation,” and he presses the ‘on’ button on a small black device, which is stuck to the dashboard. It lights up and after a second, with the rain beating down on the car, it reads 1.5 R on its green digital display. The man’s expression becomes warped and terrified I notice from a sideways glance. He says quickly and loudly

“1.5 R! WE’RE DOOMED!” I am puzzled but say

“But it should only be dangerous if it’s above 4 R.”

“No! Anything above 1 R is deadly!”



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