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There was a calendar on the wall behind the computer station desk in a surprisingly rickety-cheap wooden building between the concrete containment dome and the cooling tower of unit-2. It was two weeks after the accident, the TLD readers had just that day been moved from the Dosimetry trailer next to the Visitor's Center on the north bank of the river. Bringing the operation back onto the island proper made it more convenient for the utility honchos who had been reduced to go-fers running badges back and forth for the HPs in charge of sending an endless army of day laborers into the auxiliary building for a few minutes at a time before they came back "burned out" by doses measured in whole rems.

In they'd go and out they'd come two by two, entering every five minutes in cumbersome full-over bubble suits with sight-blurring plastic windows in the hoods, dragging air hoses behind them. At the end of the parade over a period of hours the bubble-men could manage to replace one of the dozens of big refrigerator-sized charcoal filters that hadn't been filtering the radioactive air since just minutes after the accident began. At that rate the job would take weeks, so having the TLDs processed right there on the island saved a little bit of time in a situation where little bits of time were all anybody had to work with.

The calendar still displayed the month of March, no one had bothered to turn it to April because no one had been in the building since the meltdown. The picture on the top half was black and white, a steaming cooling tower photographed lovingly as if it were some kind of sculptured art. On the left side were big black letters running vertically from top to bottom: T M I. Next to the letters someone (who, no one could guess and no one admitted) had added more letters in black Magic Marker…

T hey
M elted
I t

…and scribbled at the bottom in the same hand it read: "Like Ice Cream In The Sun."

Now, it's true that the utility and the government 'watchdogs' (who neither watched nor were dogs) didn't bother to tell the public that the reactor had melted. They were still pretending to the world that nothing really happened at all beyond a minor burp and enough broken equipment to keep the plant shut down for awhile. It was three years before they reported what everyone at the island knew all along - They Melted It, like ice cream in the sun. And even then they claimed it wasn't all that bad and only some of the fuel had melted. Some of it, they explained, had merely crumbled into dust and got out with the coolant into other machinery and pipes in other parts of the plant. Some of it was still attached to the topside assembly rack (though the rods ended abruptly some inches down). They didn't say much about that void in the center of the core to the public, of course, as they were quite stunned to find that 20 tons of reactor fuel and the rods that once contained it had gone missing completely - they never found it, anywhere. Just gone, as if it had never been there at all.

Really not so bad, they told each other and the public that no longer cared. Just a 5 on a scale of 1 to 7, not even bad enough (they insisted, even though it was never true) to move people out of the path of the plume. Just a few thousand died over the decades. And all of those could be blamed on coal dust left over from the Filthy Fifties, no one would ever be the wiser.

Then came Chernobyl in 1986, all the way to 7 on that handy scale. It doesn't get worse than that, we were told, and lots of people who no longer cared believed it just because it sounded good and it had happened to those pesky Russians. Who deserved it for being so dad blamed Communist.

It does get worse we now know, not even 90 days later this time. Like ice cream in the sun, multiplied by 3. Perhaps someone should ask them now, before the next bombshell of news comes out, if they know where their reactor cores are now, and how much time the people still cowering beneath the plume have to get out of the way…

Originally posted to Joieau on Tue May 24, 2011 at 12:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Nuclear Free DK.

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