A Frigga Syndrome
To: "The Glow in the Dark Brigade"
Subj: When Physics Fights Back.
As everybody knows, Fusion reactors can't explode. At least, that's been the assumption.
The ARSC report into the Incident on 77 Frigga has now at last been made public, and boy does it make for amusing reading - at least, as amusing as it's possible to be in a nuclear group such as ours.
6 Months ago, the S.S.C.S Challenger was conducting a routine survey mission of the asteroid belt, when it encountered a pocket of intense radiation. A sample was taken - containing activated Iron, Scandium, Yttrium, Isotopes of Lithium, Chromium, Caesium, Iodine and a dozen other trace elements. It was immediately clear that the radiation was not natural in origin.
Isotopic decay indicated that whatever incident that had created the radiation trail, had occurred three months prior.
"Naturally it raised eyebrows. Radiation fields like this just don't happen naturally away from planets. My first thought was that somebody had been testing something they shouldn't have been but that didn't really fit either. It wasn't until we analysed the radiation that we found out it was potentially something far more innocent, or far more deadly. The shuttle's hull protected us of course - and I didn't need to worry too much. My curiosity had been piqued, so we moved along to investigate.
We found evidence of multiple short releases of intense radiation. It did not take much to determine they followed an orbital path, and were released by a rotating object, such as an asteroid. It took five minutes for the navigator to pinpoint the origin of the radiation. The time and orbit and rotational periods matched perfectly.
After an hour, we reached the largest and final radiation field. Inside, we found actual debris - hot fragments emitting lethal levels of radiation. Some where hot enough to be physically glowing. Others were more substantial - pieces of equipment, wreckage.
We found a single motoroid, so intensely radioactive we determined it must have been placed inside, or near, the core of a deuterium fusion reactor. Grappling it with the arm pegged the radiation monitors in the payload bay. We left it drift until someone more qualified could pick it up.
Finally we found four contaminated fire engines. Also, intensely radioactive - but not to near the same degree. The radiation seemed more to concentrate in the engine's pump units.
What sort of problem would involve pumping highly radioactive water, result in an irradiated motoroid, and leave such a debris trail? Something that damaged the reactor, and created a situation dire enough that required a motoroid to be used inside a nuclear reactor, which meant somebody had to pilot it in there. Which meant a situation dire enough for someone to take that risk and probably die in the process. A situation which continued for days.
A loss of coolant, or a pump failure? They must've had to use the trucks to pump the reactor coolant. If it'd failed, they might've used the motoroid to make a running repair. Which didn't explain the intensity of the debris. I thought maybe the cooling pumps had failed at first - or maybe a broken coolant line inside the reactor that had to be repaired. Serious, but nowhere near a Chernobyl.
But, given how serious that could've become, why wasn't there an alert put out? Or an evacuation request? None of the things you'd normally expect.
None of the pieces really fit right. I remember thinking, I love a good mystery." -Shizuka Hayama, Engineer, SCSS Challenger.
This was the first anyone in Fenspace knew of the incident on Frigga.
Six months prior, Lun Alekseeva picked herself up from the deck of the ship which bore her name.
"There was no warning. In one instant, it felt as if the entire ship jumped up, like it was slapped from beneath. It threw Pirrie - the crewman with me - to the deck. I saw lights fall loose from the ceiling of the hangare and plummet to the ground below. A moment after, the main lights in the hangar failed and the emergency backups switched on." -Lun Alekseeva - Navigator, SC Lun. Speaking with Maico Tange.
In the hangar bay, seperated from the reactor turbine halls by a concrete containment wall, the effects of the explosion are immediately obvious. Debris has fallen to the floor. Glass lights have shattered. The blast is powerful enough to shift the containment wall, throwing the gantry crane supporting S.C. Lun off its tracks. Thousands of tons of steel drop onto the top of the reactor containment wall.
The reactor control room is over ten kilometres from the core - far away from any sound or shock. In the control room, there is pandemonium. A dozen different alarms blare a dozen different tones. Hundreds of annunciator lights pulse, begging for attention. Above all else, the fire alarm sounds out a shrill, warbling tone.
Above all the errors, warnings and failures, one signal message cannot be avoided; Fire - Reactor Chamber.
Something has happened, but nobody quite knows what. There is no video feed. There are no maintenance staff in the containment area to investigate.
"Our first thought was an electrical surge, caused by the coils being destroyed. It explained the fire alarms, and explained why we lost all our monitoring. An electrical fire could knock it all out. We still had to handle the decay heat so we just pushed as much water into the core as we could, to keep the reactor from boiling dry. We'd have a disaster if it did." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation
Nevertheless, the fire has to be dealt with. And dealing with it means figuring out just what was triggering the alarm.
At 2:05:10 DCAMS maintenance logged a request for an Exocomp to be despatch to investigate the reactor chamber
It will take fifteen minutes for the Exocomp to reach the reactor chamber through a dedicated passage. The Frigga Volunteer Fire Brigade has been waiting onsite for ten minutes. They wait outside the reactor chamber airlock, on the safe side of the containment chamber.
"We knew about the guys at Chernobyl. That was in the back of our minds of course. We sort of knew how dangerous this thing could be, if the unthinkable happened and the core was burning. But if we needed to go in there, like, absolutely needed to - we agreed we would. To stop this thing in there getting out - if we thought we could do anything we decided we wouldn't hesitate. " -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
"Even still, we thought it might've been a broken condenser pipe at worst. The reactor never entered anyone's mind. It just had to be intact. Fusion reactors can't explode" - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
At 2:21:19 the despatched Exocomp suffered a catastrophic failure. It lasted less than a minute after entering the reactor access passage.
At 2:21:48 DCAMS maintenance logged a second request for Exocomp despatch.
It takes another fifteen minutes for the Exocomp to reach the reactor chamber. The video feed from this Exocomp records its compatriot spinning on the ground on its side, out of control. It investigates. It moves on. The unit succumbs before reaching the reactor proper. The recorded video can be viewed here.
All that static?
That's hard radiation striking the exocomp's video sensor and overwhelming it.
At 2:40:33 DCAMS maintenance logged a third request for Exocomp despatch. The Exocomp hive rejected the request.
"That could happen if they knew they we're doing something dangerous because they were sot of emergent like that. They had a sort of sense we trusted. We sort of knew something bad had happened but we didn't know what." -Anika Daini, computer systems operator, statement to ARSC investigation.
"Somebody had to go in there and see what the hell was going on. We couldn't do anything until we knew. Jet ordered the fire department to investigate." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
The outer hatch to the airlock can be opened by hand. It takes five minutes for the Friggan Volunteer Fire Brigade to force open the inner hatch.
"The pressure in the turbine hall was so high, a hydraulic ram had to be set up to open the door." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, tatement to ARSC investigation.
"The hatch cracked and a blast of hot, smoky air rushed out. Khayone thought he could test metal. I could feel it prickling on my lips and on my tongue, even with the BA. After a moment, my dosimeter started to scream. I looked at the guys. A second dosimeter alarmed -then a third, a fourth, a fifth in the space of a heartbeat. Bambam screamed at us to run. I shouldered the ram off the door and it slammed shut - then I ran.
That door was open for less than thirty seconds. And I still got sick. I got a burn down the side of my body facing the door, and on my hand holding ram. If I'd stood in front of the door rather than the side, it might've killed me." - Kim Hyung-Jung, FVFB, tatement to ARSC investigation.
The firefighters who had tackled the fire at Chernobyl reported a metallic taste. With full positive pressure breathing apparatus, radaway and protective clothing the firefighters on Frigga reported the exact same effect. It was the taste of hard, lethal radiation. It was the taste of death itself.
Kim Hyung-Jung saved lives by shutting that door. He would recover from his radiation injuries, with an equivelant whole body dose of just over 1 Sievert. The firefighters report their radiation levels to the control room and withdraw.
"It was immediately clear that more than an electrical panel was burning," -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, tatement to ARSC investigation.
"The feeling was indescribable. I remember being angry at the local operators for suggesting the test continue past the abort point. I remember being angry at the equipment for not fully reporting the information we needed to make the decision. Most of all, I remember thinking, this was just the beginning," - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, statement to ARSC investigation.
"I didn't think a person could go that white." -Anika Daini, computer systems operator, statement to ARSC investigation.
Radiation alarms sound in the access tunnel, triggered by contaminated smoke.
Levels are meassured simply as 'in excess of 5 Sieverts per hour'. The monitor - designed in the 50's for measuring fallout - does not read higher. Levels were estimated at being nearly twenty times this.
Average levels in the tunnel, are just above 1 Sievert per hour.
A fatal dose is Five Sieverts within Five hours.
Radiation alarms sound in the main hanger as the Fire Brigade withdraws and decontaminates. Radiation in the Hangar proper reaches 36mSv per hour. Not great by normal measures, but nowhere near as terrible as what is contained within the reactor.
"Standby. Standby. Standby. This is an Emergency Action Message issued by the New Birmingham City Board of Directors. All Employees to Evacuate to designated Shelter Decks in Accommodation Block and await further instruction. All Employees to Evacuate to designated Shelter Decks in Accommodation Block and await further instruction. Company Stores will remain closed. Employees who remain outside of Shelter Areas do so at their own risk and no claims will be entertained." - TITANIC Automated announcement, control room VDR
"It surprised the hell out of us. What we thought were blocked vents in the ceiling coughed out puffs of dust and then started warning us to stay inside." - Gabriel Ermine, Prop. 'The Rock and Hard Place', - statement to ARSC investigation.
"Parts of the system still date back to the original mine. There're still individual server blocks doing dedicated tasks and they're cross-connected in ways that don't seem related to what they really do. We don't always know what they do or why, but completely unrelated things stop working when we take them out." - Anika Daini. Online post Here
At 3:00:00 the fire has been burning for just under an hour. The Fire Brigade is again called up to ram the hatch open. A crude secondary airlock has been jury-rigged to keep them safe. This time, a heavy motoroid is brought up to protect the operator. The armour of the motoroid and the sealed cockpit are expected to keep out the worst of the radiation, but even still, it was far too dangerous for a human being to go in there
" I was scared. If the radiation knocked out the motoroid they'd have no choice but to leave me in there and I didn't really know what radiation would do to me but it seemed like the best idea because I had some radiation hardening built in and we needed to know what happened before we decided what to do," -Anika Daini, computer systems operator, statement to ARSC investigation
At 3:14:27 the hatch was opened for a second time. Compressors forced fresh air from the hangar and access shaft into the airlock to establish positive ventilation. Two firefighters exceeded their radiation limit and were withdrawn. Anika Daini stepped inside the turbine hall.
"The steam pipes from the reactor feeding the turbine had collapsed onto the top of the turbines. A glow - not like a fire but something more like a massive electric spark shone through. I remember wondering what it might've been - that maybe it was an electrical fire in one of the field coils and we'd get away with it. Then the pressure vents in the ceiling opened and dumped to space. A column of fire roared out - looking more like a firework throwing bright sparks splashing across the machinery. The viewscreens in front of me washed out with static - I could feel it flow through me. A human would have been dead." -Anika Daini, computer systems operator, statement to ARSC investigation
"That's a bloody metal fire!" - Mackie Jaguar - Nekomi student - on control room VDR.
"The reactor is destroyed. It's destroyed and burning" - Anika Daini - on control room VDR
You really need to listen to it to get the full effect.
"Nobody said a word. We just sat and stared." - Keisuke Morita - Operations Officer Dayshift, Frigga. Statement to ARSC investigation.
"Thinking we were preventing a disaster, We pumped our entire auxiliary water reserve into the reactor chamber. Onto a burning metal fire." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
"This was the worst of all possible situations. The reactor was destroyed and on fire. The fire was being fuelled by the water pooled in the suppression pools being drawn up by vacuum pressure each time the relief vents opened. If the chamber was opened to vacuum to extinguish the fire, all of the water would be drawn up to the remains of the core at once, resulting in an explosion which would likely destroy the reactor hall and kill everyone on the asteroid. If the fire was left to burn itself out, the remnants of the core would eventually melt through the concrete reactor floor, into the flooded suppression pools, with much the same effect." - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, statement to ARSC investigation
"Fuck me sideways," - Jet Jaguar - on control room VDR
The reactor cores on Frigga are old Lensherr-type Stellarators of the sort that were built everywhere in the belt just before the Boskone War. These 'First-Generation' fusion reactors were popular among the mundane groups as most of the power systems and support hardware could be bought from mundane sources. The turbogenerators, pumps and everything beyond the 'black box' of the core could be standard hardtech of the sort keeping the lights on in mundania for a century.
These reactors, unlike every other fusion core since, run on deuterium-tritium fusion - which produces a spray of fast neutrons the turn everything they touch into white-hot radiation. The net result of this being, that after any sort of lengthy period of operation, the reactor structure becomes hideously radioactive. The core of a recently shut-down Stellarator has been described as the 'single most intense man-made radiation source known' in one publication
Needless to say, most of these have since been decommissioned and quietly entombed in place to decay peacefully away.
Ten units currently remain in use in Fenspace, of which four were installed on Frigga. After nearly fifteen years of service, it was decided to run life-extension tests on Frigga's power-plant, to verify its continued safety. This test series was supervised by Lensherr engineers, and was coming to a close when the accident happened.
Stellarators rely on a precisely shaped magnetic field to maintain the fusion reaction. So long as the field is maintained and the core has fuel - the reaction runs. As soon as the field is removed, the reaction collapses and the cooling system is ramped down. In Lensherr Stellarators this field was maintained by superconducting magnets, cooled by liquid helium.
In theory, removing the magnetic field was achieved by heating the magnets to the point that they lost their superconductivity and collapsed the field.
In practice, it takes time for the liquid Helium to actually boil off once the heater coils are turned on - up to 60 seconds in normal use. After years of operation, the heaters and their emergency batteries started to degrade to the point where the time taken to quench the magnetic fields in the vent of an emergency SCRAM became unacceptably high, potentially leading to 'operating limits' being exceeded under certain conditions.
The final test to be performed on Frigga Unit 04 was a full power test of the reactor's ability to safely SCRAM. The test called for a simulated loss of grid connection, and for a reactor SCRAM to be triggered. The emergency generators would come on-line and keep the main cooling pumps in operation. The auxiliary generators supplied enough power to operate the pumps to meet the shut-down decay heat demand of the reactor.
They could not meet the full-power core demands. It was not thought necessary by the designers.
On Frigga, the question of what to do next is discussed. Beneath the reactor proper is a maze of feedwater pipes to supply coolant to the core. Surrounding the pipes is a suppression pool filled with water, designed to quench any steam leak from a burst pipe, before the pipe itself could be isolated. The reactor operators, not realising the core had been destroyed, attempted to pump fresh water into the core through these broken pipes. The effect, was to completely fill the suppression pools, which then overflowed to flood the drywell beneath the reactor core proper.
The remains of the core continue to burn. The heat and pressure generated by the fire is repeatedly opening emergency ventilation valves in the roof of the containment building, exhausting the plant to vacuum, and drawing more water up from the suppression pool and drywell to feed the fire with oxygen.
If nothing is done, the cycle will continue until the remnants of the core burn through the concrete containment, and drop into the pool, resulting in a massive explosion that would likely destroy the remaining three reactors, and kill every living thing on the asteroid.
The only alternative, is to vent the compartment to space to extinguish the fire. Drawing the water out of the suppression pools and onto the burning core - leading to a thermal explosion with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Disaster it seems is now inevitable. The reactor crew, disagreed.
"This Thing, terrifying as it was, was still contained. We'd had the worst possible accident - beyond anything anybody had thought was possible, but all of our safety equipment was still working. Nobody wanted to make the call too early, when the situation could still be saved." - Keisuke Morita, statement to ARSC investigation.
"We don't have a disaster yet. If we evacuate now, and that whole thing goes up while we're evacuating - then we just get a lot more people killed. We need a better plan." Jet Jaguar, Control room VDR
"We were told to rig charges on the main gate, and on any access shafts between the accommodation block and the hangar, and then open all gates to the mines, open chambers - anywhere with atmosphere that isn't inhabited," - Bao Chang, Frigga Third-Shift Engineering Team Lead, Statement to ARSC Investigation.
"Keisuke and I had to get Units one and two shut down, depressurised, and running on the isolation condensers. Three was already cold, so we started pumping the core down. With the reactors stopped and the emergency generators running, we could start draining the suppression pools. I remember saying it was too bad we couldn't just open the drain gates for four - the first blast had knocked out the power - and the manual valves were underwater." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
"I stood on top of the radiation shield of a shut-down nuclear reactor, still hot under my feet even through my rad-boots, manually opening valves to the isolation condensers because the auto-sequence wouldn't let us do it. It sounds insane, but we knew what we were doing. " Marco Ricci, - Second-Shift Engineering Team, Statement to ARSC Investigation.
"We had this accident. We needed to accept that. We bore some responsibility for it. It didn't matter. Now, we needed to save lives. If that meant doing in hours what normally took days, so be it. We wrote new procedures minutes before we needed them. The operators knew their own system well. We knew the physics behind the reactor well. We would argue with the operating team about what the system could do, and they argued with us about how to do it, but we could always figure out ways to make old machinery do new things." - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, statement to ARSC investigation
Their plan is to shut the remaining reactors down, drain as much water out of the system as possible, in the hope of minimising the damage caused by the fourth reactor's explosion. When the reactor explodes, charges will block the main tunnels, then blow the main gate, and hope the depressurisation would eject the majority of the debris into open space at escape velocity. The asteroid's residents would bunker down in the accommodation areas and wait for the station's natural orbit to carry them away from the radiation.
"It does sound crazy, but the logic was sound. The fastest way to evacuate Frigga would have been to use a Gagarin-class ship, boarding from the main landing bay - close to the reactor chambers. If the second explosion had occurred while the evacuation ship was in orbit, or boarding, everyone on the ship, and everyone on the station would be killed pretty much instantly. A long evacuation from the habitation blocks further from the core, would increase the time exposure to danger for all involved. Shutting the other reactors down would likely be of little benefit, but the distance between the habitation blocks and the reactors would be enough to protect the inhabitants from the initial blast, while Frigga's orbit would carry them away from debris. The eventual evacuation would then be slower, but could happen at leisure after the worst of the radiation had subsided. In Theory." James Floyd, ARSC lead investigator
In theory, it's impossible to blow up a nuclear fusion reactor, but here we are.
"About six hours after we got the shout, a call comes down from above and it's Jet, saying she needs to know what the levels are in the Suppression pool. I answered her half with a joke thinking she couldn't be serious, Bloody Lethal is what they are. And then, she asks me back How lethal? She says to me, I need to know if two people would live long enough to get down to the drain valves, and open them. And my body goes cold because she's fuckin' serious." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
It's a simple truth. No machine on Frigga could do it.
The equation is as simple as it is cold. After the accident, analysts suggested that, even sheltering in place, the inhabitants of Frigga would each have a 1 in 10 chance of death. That left a total of 47.2 dead by cold probability, assuming everything went as expected. Two people, sent to open the drain valves, would certainly die. But the explosion would be prevented, and therefore, the math said 45.2 would be saved.
But only if it is possible for two people to make it in the first place. So. A hole is drilled and sealed. A probe is inserted and the readings are taken.
"The first meter pegged, as far to the right as it could go. It stopped at a thousand. The second settled at Eight Thousand. Eight Thousand roentgens an hour. From just the reactor feedwater." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, tatement to ARSC investigation.
A thousand roentgen approximates 10 Sieverts per hour. 5 in 5 hours means certain death. 10, is beyond the ability of even Handwavium to save. 50 means almost immediate incapacitation.
"I told them up there what we were facing down here. and I remember her calmly asking me just how long it'd take me to get to the valves. I remembered how we'd taken the whole 'go to our deaths' resolution on the trip down and now there I was staring it in the face and - it scared me. Really, I didn't know. I didn't know what was under the reactor, in the dark. I guessed an hour or so - I couldn't tell you if that's an honest guess or a coward's. She told us not to try - we'd be toast before we made it." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
The Fire continued to burn, flaring off a new burst of radiation like hell's own geyser every five minutes. By now, the reactor on Frigga had been on fire for 24 hours. It had been burning its way through meters of solid concrete and metallic asteroid for an entire day.
"We needed to think outside the box. If we couldn't open the valves by hand, we'd have to use something a little more mechanical. It was time for the engineers to take over." - Bao Chang, Frigga Third-Shift Engineering Team Lead, Statement to ARSC Investigation.
Your bravery and quick thinking have turned a potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island," - Charles Montgomery Burns, Springfield Nuclear Power Plant
To compare this to Chernobyl, is to compare a breeze to a hurricane. In truth, the stakes and scale are infinitesimally lower. Hundreds of lives are at stake, but not millions. Even in the absolute worst case scenario, with Frigga a poisoned tomb, there will be no great effect on civilisation. No vast tracts of land will be abandoned. No governments will fall. No consequences would linger for decades beneath the soil. The dust and debris from the reactor will dissipate to the void of space where it will harm no-one.
So far, the only injury has been to a single firefighter.
But that's not what's important here.
The situation is explained to the residents of Frigga in the coldest of terms.
"The engineering committee has determined that the core will likely burn through to the water tanks within two days. .... Further evacuation is not possible in the time that is available to us. We cannot be reached in time by a suitable craft." - Announcement from Station Council on Frigga's internal bulletin system
Nobody panicked. When told the truth, the people accepted it. As much as they could accept such things.
"The Soviet Union is the only country to ever truly fight Godzilla. The failings of the system of the Soviet Union gave birth to it's Godzilla. The blood of the Soviet Citizen entombed him again. In the end, it may have brought about the death of the Soviet Union itself. But in the process, the Soviet Union saved the world. I saw the same courage again - not in thousands perhaps, but still.. We trusted the people. We told them the truth. We told them exactly how grave it was and allowed their bravery to shine" -Lun Alekseeva - Navigator, SC Lun. Speaking with Maico Tange.
"We might not have been saving the entire world. We were saving our own little one. That's what mattered." -Steinar Amundsen. Drill Team B Leader. Statement to ARSC investigation.
Some could draw on personal experience.
"I was worried, but I wasn't panicking. On Earth, they evacuated my home because of an accident. More people died because of the evacuation, than would've because of the accident." -Kotono Ito. Prop, Phitness Bee gym. Statement to ARSC investigation.
Others were more circumspect.
"We were told to close the bar. We kept it open. The Midoriyah stayed open too, along with half the shops on the Mezzanine. Sure the reactor might explode and kill everyone, but if it didn't, life needed to go on tomorrow. We couldn't do anything about it." - Gabriel Ermine, Prop. 'The Rock and Hard Place'. Speaking with Maico Tange.
"It was exciting! To have something to do. Something to challenge. Something to fight. Something to do. Life can get so monotonous out here sometimes, with the same schedule. It never really occurred to me that we might fail. We had a problem, we knew what the solution was, we just had to make it happen. We couldn't lose," -Nerima Tabby. Drill Team B operator.
There were a few dissenting voices, but they resigned themselves to their fate.
"I wanted to Evacuate. Some of us didn't have confidence in the whole 'shelter in place' thing. But we didn't have a choice, with the bay occupied, nobody could leave. Seemed like it defeated the purpose of sheltering in place if everybody was down there trying to stop the core exploding, when the core exploded." -Kim Deckman, resident. Online post.
There were those aware of the paradox of sending a hundred people into the teeth of danger to 'minimise the risk'.
"In hindsight, we knew it was bollocks. We just didn't want to sit around and wait." - Mirai Yashima -Drill Team B cutter. Statement to ARSC investigation.
A few were thrilled.
"Fuck it up and die. For us, this was Tuesday. Only now everyone else got to join in!" -Jake Applebee. Drill Team B operator. Statement to ARSC investigation.
The reality of the situation however, dawned. This was not a toy. It was not the big bad guy that existed just to be defeated. Inside that reactor lay the cruellest of deaths. And solving this problem meant making systems work in a way they were never meant to, on what was effectively a moment's notice.
"Nothing in reactor the system was made to do this. We had nothing capable of powering the sump-pumps. Which meant we needed to rig up something else. Which had to work. And keep working. Or else it would either have to be fixed by somebody who wouldn't survive the repair, or we'd have a radioactive disaster. We still only had an accident." - Keisuke Morita - Operations Officer Dayshift, Frigga. Statement to ARSC investigation.
This is a situation that leaves no margin for error. The price of any mistakes is obvious to those on the frontline.
"I had to cut the lines to the holding tank, blank them, then weld on the couplings which the brigade would hook their hoses up to. When I was told how much radiation would be flowing through that pipe, I decided I did not want to have to come back to fix that weld." Bao Chang, Frigga Third-Shift Engineering Team Lead, Statement to ARSC Investigation.
The fire continues to burn. The reactor core melts closer and closer to the water pool. At any moment it might break through. There is no way for anyone on Frigga to know how close they were coming to death.
"I tried not to think about it, in the end." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
"The plan was in motion. We had no choice but to see it through, to whatever end." - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, statement to ARSC investigation.
"Looking up at bare concrete, I remember thinking, on the other side of this is death. If we hit water, we'd get a lethal dose in minutes. If we didn't drown or boil first. Or if the core blew. I touched it with my hand and it felt warm and I wondered if it was the radiation or just my imagination. Our counter chirped to itself, telling us we had an hour or more at least to get set up. We set the drills in minutes, bracing them on the channel walls, then set the target depth. Hopefully we got the depth right." -Steinar Amundsen. Drill Team B Leader, statement to ARSC investigation.
It takes nearly eight hours to properly drill the concrete. Some tasks, such as planting and laying require extreme care and precision - best left to the hands of experts with years of experience.
"People assume that planting explosives is just a matter of sticking it in and hoping for the best. Yeah, and if they thought about sex the same way, it's no wonder their partner goes home disappointed. Demolitions is an art form. There're explosive that push. Explosives that shatter. Explosives that cut. Fast explosives. Slow explosives. The wrong combination - a bad shape on a charge or just teency bit too much brisance and instead of bringing down the wall, you bring down the entire building. Or instead of dropping the roof, I'd collapse the entire reactor chamber," - Minnie May Hopkins, operator of 'The Purple Kitten', and explosives and blasting specialist, speaking with Maico Tange.
Naturally, not everyone is thrilled.
"Watching little miss ekrixiphilia wire the entire thing to blow was the most unnerving part of the whole thing. Nobody should be *that* into explosives." - Name witheld.
"With everything ready to go, we began the long ride back u the tunnel, behind the emergency blast line. If the reactor went, we'd have a chance to blow it before the cloud of death caught up." -Hans Krömeier - Fitter, Reactor Team A. Statement to ARSC investigation.
33 hours and 30 minutes after the accident had begun, the button was pushed. The explosives detonate.
"This was the moment when we could do nothing but pray. To whatever Gods we thought would listen. Whatever happened, we would have to go in." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
Nobody had anything left to do but wait.
"We heard nothing. We felt nothing. The blast triggered a shock-trip on the remaining reactors, but they had already been shut-down. Then we waited." - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, statement to ARSC investigation
"The explosives triggered. And we waited for the big boom." -Anika Daini, computer systems operator, statement to ARSC investigation.
"The counters in the shaft went off-scale high. The water drained. We'd bought time. But, eventually the core would still reach the water." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
After half an hour, the hatches are opened.
"Jet told us to go. We went. I breathed a sigh of relief when my dosimeter didn't twitch." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
"We had at least five thousand cubes of water to pump. The Sabres could just about manage two and a half a minute, each in the best of conditions, giving us ten cubes a minute. I guessed it would take at least eight hours to drain it all - if nothing went wrong. " - Guy Montag, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
"We had four motors doing the pumping, leaving just one spare in case a regular ordinary fire started elsewhere. Those four, we filled the tanks with fresh water, then stacked some steel plates around the tanks and in the back of the cab to try and take the sting out the radiation. We could still only spend a minute at most, checking, or refuelling." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
The trucks, of course, would eventually run out of fuel. Running at full throttle drained the fuel tanks almost as fast as they could be filed
"Spend too long getting the diesel nozzle in the tank, and your arm'd rot off in a month's time. It encouraged you to be quick!" - Basil 'BamBam' Bambridge, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
"One of the motors overheated. We caught it before the head blew. The water was coming out so hot from its own radioactivity, it wasn't cooling the engine properly through the heat exchanger. We had to run them at a lower power, but that meant taking longer with that reactor still burning. The harder we pushed the motors, the more likely we'd lose one, or more of them. If we took it easy, we risked the core reaching the water." -Khayone van der Merwe, FVFB, statement to ARSC
A relay is set up, firefighters running in for a minute to check each engine, or start refuelling, then out before the dose gets too high. The hoses, the pump units, everything has begun to glow with hot radiation. The computer systems on the trucks begin to go haywire, generating false alarms, but the diesel engines keep running. The forty-year old engines are fully mechanical. The radiation doesn't affect them.
47 hours and 35 minutes after the core was breached the first of the engines stops pumping on dry run protection. Then the second. The third and fourth followed within a minute.
"That was it, no more water. We were done." - Guy Montag, FVFB, statement to ARSC investigation.
"We no water left to fuel the fire, all that had to be done, was to open the chamber to vacuum. The dregs boiled off and froze. The fire extinguished. The melt would remain hot and liquid. But it was contained - it had no way out. Everyone cheered. We had done it. We saved the station" - Keisuke Morita, statement to ARSC investigation.
"We Triumphed. And five hundred lives were saved." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
The report here is glowing, praising the collective effort of everyone on the station. Once the accident happened, it was dealt with 'exceptional skill, bravery and courage in the face of absolute danger.'
An accident occurred. But a disaster was prevented. That, on some level, must not be forgotten. Frigga came as close as it was possible to come to utter disaster. And Frigga saved itself.
The remnants of the reactor core would ultimately flood the galleries below. The molten steel, lithium, graphite and concrete mix would insinuate its way through broken steel pipes, bubbling and boiling off shallow pools of condensate, cooling as it diluted itself with more and more iron, steel, stone and concrete, before eventually coming to rest in a frozen glass waterfall, at the bottom of the blast-cut shaft.
The single most intensely radioactive object known to humankind came to its final resting place in its concrete tomb.
And that would be that. Or so they thought.
STATUS: CLOSED TO ALL NAVIGATION
REASON: REACTOR CORE ON FIRE
"We got the NOTAN just like every other ship in Fenspace. I actually checked the sequence to be sure it hadn't been missed. No date meant an immediate close. No end date meant an indefinite close. A priority rating of Emergency. And that reason, Reactor Core on Fire. I bet Lorca any amount of money that, whatever was happening on Frigga right now, wasn't a reactor Fire at all. The fire had happened months ago. It explained everything that we discovered - the radiation, the wreckage - all of it. Except for why they were only telling Fenspace about it now," -Shizuka Hayama, Engineer, SCSS Challenger.
Because, they had no choice.
A small leak in a storage tank containing the still radioactive coolant water had found its way into an access tunnel beneath unit 3, where it caused a radiation detector to read off-scale high.
An engineer went to repair the 'obviously faulty' detector. A nearby detector read zero. So he didn't bother bringing a geiger counter. He didn't pay any attention to the water pooled by his feet, until he replaced the defective detector with another one, which immediately read off-scale high. He checked the zero-reading one - to find it had long been replaced by a resistor to keep a fault alarm from sounding.
By the time he checked his dosimeter, he was already dying.
20 others would receive serious doses, stopping the leak.
The residents of Frigga knew they'd had a serious accident. Stellviacorp likely had an inkling that something had happened. At least as much as anyone living on the station knew. Fenspace as a whole still knew little - a mixture of embarrassment and shame prevented more than rumours making it out. Members of Frigga's Volunteer Fire Brigade were honoured in that year's honours list for 'confronting an extreme hazard'. Still, it seemed like those involved agreed it was best for everyone if the rumours of the accident remained exactly that.
The station's council was keenly aware of the effect a radiological panic would have on the station's economy. The culture of secrecy insinuated itself through the station. It became the thing that was never mentioned - like so many uncomfortable realities in fandom - it was consciously ignored.
"There is no truth in Fandom. Only stories - only the comfortable narrative. The same stories we always hear. You blow a reactor up and somebody has to be responsible, somebody has to be blamed. It’s a comfortable story. Fen love that. You get your heroes and your villains. No matter the reality, we'd be the villains." Tatyana, 'Tasha' Toptunov - speaking with The Quibbler.
Therefore, outside of those directly involved, the only people who had any concept of how serious the accident had been were the crew of the Challenger. From there it went to the ARSC, who went to the Space Patrol - assuming something far more sinister had happened.
With the Jordan Waide incident in full swing on the other side of the system, only a few cool heads prevent a disastrous misunderstanding.
Now is time for investigation.
The ARSC despatches its best people. They request help, from leading experts from Earth to assist.
"The Institute was requested to take part, as it had no political links to any organisation involved. We could give our scientific verdict without outside influence. There were still politics of course but they were a different sort. The institute is also the one place in the universe which had prior experience with this type of thing. Today, I am deputy chief administrator of T-27 reactor project. However, my first assignment with the Kurchatov Institute was in Ukraine, in 1986, as a student under a radiochemist. " - Elena Zhakarov , deputy chief administrator, Kurchatov Institute. Interview with Russia Today.
The Kurchatov institute, with its own fusion research program, provides a neutral voice in exchange for a chance to learn lessons.
The majority of the physical evidence is either intensely lethal, or has been incinerated. Thirty seconds in the reactor chamber proper is a lethal dose for an unprotected human being. Radiation hardened machines instead are used scout out the wreckage. The robot travels through the concrete ruins, crawling over collapsed standpipes. An exocomp is found deceased in a side passage, followed by another. Rats litter the passage - dead from radiation, then sterilised beyond decay.
The reactor's turbomachinery has survived mostly intact, but it contains no clues. Inside the reactor hall, the remnants of the steel torus shell of the core - inches thick - lies buckled and bent, warped by the intense heat of the fire inside. The core has collapsed into itself, crushed by its own weight in the heat. Little of the reactor lithium, or graphite, is found. One of the steam separators has fallen, breaking the steam lines to the turbine. The pressuriser tank has breached. The main coolant pumps still stand clear of the wreckage, scorched but intact. Little else is identifiable.
Only when the robots make their way into the formerly flooded galleries is the reactor core found, still shimmering hot with decay. It looks like black, smooth glass - more like frozen oil. It flowed like water, insulated by vacuum, finding its way through the galleries and steamlines beneath the core finally, finally hardening in the access shaft dug by Frigga's mining team, leaving a black glass waterfall, frozen in place. The robot managed to send one grainy photograph before expiring.
The glass waterfall is the single most radioactive object in the universe - an entire reactor's worth of radiation, concentrated inside a concrete and stone tomb. It will remain detectively radioactive for millennia to come. When the earth, the sun and the moon are gone, it will remain as an eternal monument to humanity's ability to fuck up.
This is where the report goes into fun territory. They have to start interviewing every single person involved in both accidents. And this, is where the recriminations and finger-pointing begin. Nobody wants to be left holding this hot potato. Nobody wants to be the person who blew up a nuclear reactor that was, supposedly, impossible to blow up.
"Those involved felt they would be held responsible for a disaster which, in their minds, they had actively prevented. The incident wasn't anybody's fault, but they'd be the ones to take the blame for it, and everyone would be punished in the court of misinformed public opinion." - ARSC report on the reactor core breach at Frigga 77.
Lensherr blames the operators.
"The operators had no real concept of the physics behind the reactor, or it's limitations, or why those limitations had to exist. Over the years they had simply figured out what worked and what didn't, regardless of whether to procedure had been approved or not. The core should have been shut down when it was clear that the magnet heating was not happening, but the operators overrode the company test procedure specification, based on their experience of the core. The failure was unexpected, but the test was continued long after it should have been stopped. It was the fault of the operators." - Kurt Meier - Nuclear Commissioning Engineer. Lensherr Power Systems GmbH, Tagesschau, Das Erste.
The Operators Blame Lensherr's system or the core itself
"Nothing seemed strange. Everything looked normal. The pressure sensors on the coils always stuck if the reactor had been running for a long time. The sensors always froze with the cold. This had happened a dozen times without ever causing a problem. We had O2 sensors to give a depletion warning in the vent compartment - they triggered later but were more reliable" - Keisuke Morita - Operations Officer Dayshift, Frigga. Statement to ARSC investigation.
"It's the system's fault really. When we tried to take manual control that second SCRAM from DSS kept forcing us to override on each command. If we managed to get control of the pumps, even a few seconds earlier, our accident, would've just been an annoyance. The system didn't let us do what we needed to do to save the core." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, statement to ARSC investigation.
Frigga, Blames the Parliament.
"We proposed it as a budget item last year, but the Parliament shot it down. We had to keep the lights on. We had to meet production for Bristol, or they'd just use that as more leverage against us. You can't have a mine without power to run the machines. You can't have a settlement without Power. So we had to keep the cores running. We didn't have a choice." -Jet Jaguar, speaking with Maico Tange.
Meanwhile, the Parliament blames Frigga.
"The cost of rebuilding the Power grid on Frigga - compared to the value generated by the settlement was just too high to consider. How am I supposed to explain to my constituents in Tokyo that their government is spending this much of their money on an asteroid settlement that, quite frankly, has openly opposed the government on numerous occasions? There were more important things we could do with it. The cost of delays due to possible breakdowns on Frigga seemed insignificant" - Yuko Arimura, MP for Minister for Social Justice, speaking on VBC's 'Prime Time'.
The situation is beyond toxic, and begging for something to happen, somewhere. Eventually, something had to catalyse it. The investigators focus on Frigga itself and the mindset behind the test.
One common theme on Frigga, however, quickly emerges. In every interview, one line emerges in some form or another.
"We've always done it that way, or, that's always happened, and it never caused a problem before."
This may sound familiar to a lot of people out there familiar with the history space exploration.
"Safety procedures did exist, but were routinely bypassed or outright ignored based on 'operating experience' or 'operating necessity'. Known risks would be taken once, in a situation where maybe the consequences of not taking the risk would've been potentially worse. But then it'd happen again - and again after that, until eventually the risk became routine and was taken as a matter of course while forgetting it was ever a risk in the first place. Each time nothing happened further proved this was safe method." - ARSC report on the reactor core breach at Frigga 77.
This right here, is normalisation of deviation. It is insidious, and it is cancerous. It's either a consequence of complacency, or something, somewhere is driving it to happen. It's built into the culture.
"They started a test which relied upon an indicator they knew to be faulty. This is foolish! The test has already failed before it has even been begun if the one indicator it depends upon is faulty. The failure to understand this one basic fact is the root cause of the accident. The second, is that they embarked upon this test to see what would fail - rather than as an exercise in proving a system believed to be in good order. They knew they had problems and they started anyway." - Elena Zhakarov , deputy chief administrator, Kurchatov Institute. Interview with Russia Today.
"That's just the way things are here. We're ten years behind everyone else. And we've two years to catch up. We're running on a fraction of the budget, while trying to expand to meet next year, and the year after that, fighting infrastructure so old, parts of it aren't even made anymore. It means you need to think on your feet and figure out what works, and what'll keep working to get you to the next milestone. We don't have time to think about things like that - if it works, do it. Otherwise we fall behind." - Tatyana 'Tasha' Toptunov, speaking on VBC's 'Prime Time'.
"Find a Part. Find a Body. Make it Work." Bao Chang, Frigga Third-Shift Engineering Team Lead, Statement to ARSC Investigation
We have all the conditions for a fully developed case of Go Fever. Someone, somewhere has to put the brakes on it before disaster strikes.
Instead, we have Baron Frigga.
"Sometimes, when you're in real danger of being left behind, and everyone else is spending as much on one thruster assembly as you are on the entire bloody program, sometimes you need to fool nature to have a chance at being successful. The only people who complain are the ones who don't need to do it anymore." -Jet Jaguar. Baron Frigga.
This was Jet, speaking after being caught running a full oxygen atmosphere in the RF-47 at a race last year. The warbirds class the RF-47 competes in requires competitors to maintain standard atmospheric pressure in the cockpit. It didn't specify the composition - since they assumed nobody'd be reckless enough to run pure oxygen at atmospheric pressure. Until Jet and Asagiri gave it a go, to remove the Nitrogen circuit from the RF-47 and save a hundred kilos of weight.
It's the first time in the series' history that a mandatory technical change was introduced between races. She was very nearly asked to leave because of it.
- Frigga exceeded its ore production targets by 25%. To the point where the surplus could be sold on the spot market, to feed back into the station's budget.
- Frigga moved up Three full points on the Federation's Planetary Development Index - the largest single move since the index was established.
- Frigga expanded from a population of 26 - including catgirls, to a population of over 500.
- Frigga had the smallest budget overrun of any Millennium settlement - as a percentage of total budget allocation.
"Progress on 77 Frigga has been remarkably quick since accession to Crystal Millennium. If this continues, 77 Frigga and Eleanor City (Formerly New Birmingham) are on course to grow into a major waystation in the Main Belt within the next few years. The local economy is beginning to flourish. Active trade is reducing import costs, while major infrastructure projects such as the Starlight Express, or tourist attractions such as the artificial hotsprings, raise the quality of life, while drawing a steady stream of curious visitors. That this has been achieved on the meagerest of budget allocations is all the more worthy of praise." - Federation Travel Times.
Not said, is that in the same period, Frigga had more accidents resulting in injury than most similar sized settlements would have in five years. With hindsight it now seems likely that a lot of important corners were being cut in the process. The rust has been painted over, rather than repaired.
"She's the person flying along between lanes on a motorcycle at full speed when all other traffic has stopped on the motorway, trying to catch up to the front and hoping nobody tries to change lane before she makes it." - Comment on Maico Tange's article.
You very quickly end up with an organisation where running rough-shod over the normal basic considerations of safety and security becomes the normal. You get to the point where nobody realises they are taking a risk at all.
Enough data is recorded to reconstruct the accident sequence.
At the time of the test, Keisuke Morita is at the Reactor desk. He is responsible for operating the reactor core - setting the power and regulating the fuelling, ash content, diverter setpoint, neutral particle injection and primary field geometry. Tatyana Toptunov is working the cooling desk, solely responsible for maintaining a regulated flow of water through the core, maintaning balance between power in the reactor and steam generated in the turbine. At the Turbine desk is Kurt Meier, an engineer from Lensherr power systems, responsible for governing the turbine and its grid connections for the duration of the test.
Prior to commencement, everything is normal. Proceedures and contigencies are clearly briefed. At the beginning of the test, there are no deviations.
At 14:00 station time, a grid switching fault was simulated which resulted in a loss of grid connection at the turbogenerator.
- 14:00:03; the station's automatic control system triggered a SCRAM as per expected Turbine Trip procedures. Steam inlets to the turbine were closed. Divert valves to the condensers were switched to direct. Fuel injectors were closed leaving the core running on internal fuel. Diverters shut down to prevent ash removal. The emergency generator start sequence was begun. Cooling pumps began to slow. The field coil heaters were activated automatically.
- 14:00:20; The emergency generator fails to correctly sequence and is tripped. This was logged as an abnormality, but within the expected bounds of the test.
- 14:00:25; An operator switched reactor cooling pump power supply back to the coasting turbogenerator. Sufficient excitation voltage remained to operate the cooling pumps at a reduced capacity for another thirty seconds if needed. The reactor continued to operate at full power. Core temperature began to increase as coolant flow dropped.
- 14:00:40; The emergency generator was manually switched on-line. No appreciable heating had yet been achieved in the superconductors. Helium pressures showed no sign of boil-off.
- 14:00:45; With indication of magnet heating yet to be achieved, the TPS specified that the test be aborted at this point. Instead the test is continued. With cooling pumps operating at reduced capacity, core temperature increases rapidly.
- 14:00:58; An oxygen depletion alarm sounds in a vent shaft. This is understood by the operators to be an indication that boiloff is happening as expected,
- 14:01:03; Core feed water boils at an increasing rate. Steam pipe pressures increase within the core. A low water alert from the steam seperator system triggers a second automatic SCRAM from the Differential Shutdown System. The reactor control system now has two seperate SCRAM commands from two seperate shutdown circuits in effect.
- 14:01:15; Pressure sensors on the magnets begin to indicate expected values. Increasing temperatures and pressure in the core result in an increased thermal power output as the fusion reaction accelerates.
- 14:01:20; Core temperature exceeds limits. The test abort sequence is begun.
- 14:01:27; An attempt is made to switch steam flow back to the main turbogenerator and regain power as prescribed in the proceedure. This is rejected by the control system due to the still-active automatic SCRAM from the low-water alert.
- 14:01:36; The safety valve on the top of the steam generators opens to relieve system pressure. Radiation alarms sound in the reactor hall.
- 14:01:44; Core temperature is now 20% above maximum permitted. Core pressure is maintained at maximum by the relief valves.
- 14:01:50; An operator is able to sequence full power to the cooling pumps from an external circuit using an unnaproved proceedure. Cooling pumps achieve full power. Automatic control commands maximum revolutions from the pumps.
- 14:02.01; Reactor cooling pump 1 starts to over-rev followed by pumps 2, 3 and 4. A commanded trip is overriden by the an operator. Vibration alarms sound. It is thought that this is due to cavitation in the pump, caused by the high temperature of the feedwater. All coolant flow stops. Core temperature spikes. Water in the reactor rapidly tuns to steam.
- 14:02:09; Magnet temperatures have still not yet begun to rise. Based on current draw data it is estimated that less than 50% of Helium coolant has boiled at this point.
- 14:02:13; An attempt is made to manually reduce pump RPM and achieve flow. This is overridden by the reactor's Differential Shutdown System system commanding maximum pump RPM due to a zero-flow condition
- 14:02:15; Core temperature is now 50% above redline. Temperature sensors reach their limit. Temperatures above this point are not recorded. Core power still remains at maximum. Water levels in the steam seperators begin to increase as liquid water is pushed from the reactor by expanding steam.
- 14:02:20; A second attempt is made to manually reduce pump RPM and achieve flow. The DSS system is overriden with a patch cable. An operator takes manual control of the cooling pumps and reduces power.
- 14:02:25; Coolant flow is restored, but only at low levels in three of four circuits. The fourth circuit remains locked.
- 14:02:33; Water levels in the steam seperators reaches the relief valves. Liquid coolant begins to flow from the seperator circuit into the reactor chamber. Wetwell water levels begin to increase.
- 14:02:33; With the reactor going beyond control the emergency coil destruct button is pushed, triggering explosive charges on the field coil supports to destroy the magnetic field coils as a last ditch attempt to shut the core down. It will take ten seconds for the detonators to charge.
- 14:02.35; An increase in flow into the core on circuit four is recorded by the control system. This is taken by the crew as an indication that the pumps are working. A steam line has ruptured.
- 14:02.37; Alarm signals are generated within the master control program. "Power Rate Increase Warning. Sector 270 to 290". "Neutron Rate increase Warning. Sector 270 to 290". "Sector power exceeding maximum: Sector 270 to 290". "Global power exceeding maximum: 10GW." It is theorised that damaged sensors are giving false readings as cables short-circuit. The steam tears graphite panels off the inner liner of the reactor, exposing the lithium breeder circuits.
- 14:02:39; Chamber pressure exceeds atmospheric. Steam and Lithium begin to react. A flash fire ignites within the reactor chamber.
- 14:02:41; The pressure cannot be contained. The overheated core ruptures. All remaining water in the reactor flash-boils to steam, blowing the remants apart. Liquid water pours from the headers tanks down through broken coolant lines, further fuelling the inferno in the remants of the reactor. Control system reports loss of signal from 275 of 292 functioning sensors in the reactor chamber, as electrical circuits and cableways are destroyed by the explosion.
- 14:02:49; Fire Alarm. Reactor 4 Turbine Hall. Reactor 4 Chamber.
The investigation ultimately concludes that the most likely cause of explosion was the fracture of a water pipe within the reactor due to a combination of age, metal fatigue, neutron embrittlement, overpressure and thermal expansion. The straw which broke the atomic camel's back was likely a water hammer from the recovering circulating pumps fracturing a water channel. The fractured channel damaged the inner liner enough for reactor water to reach the lithium breeder blanket. A flash lithium fire fuelled by coolant water destroyed the core.
The report concludes after this, that the accident was ultimately the consequence of:
- A reliance too much on past experience, rather than on present examination to determine if a course of action is safe. (It's never caused a problem before...)
- A culture that fed off of 'Go Fever' to get results and reach milestones, without considering the real risks being undertaken. (Otherwise we fall behind...)
- A crew who had no full understanding of the physics of what they were operating, or formalised operating procedures. (They had simply figured out what worked...)
- An assumption that incidents and accidents could be handled before the situation got out of control. (We've been doing this for years...)
- A reactor design that left little margin for error in the first place, with monitoring systems prone to ambiguity and error. (The sensors always froze...)
- A political situation that prevented the necessary funding for maintenance and upgrades being released.(There were more important things we could do with it....)
- A management culture that openly favoured risk taking to achieve results (Sometimes you have to fool nature...)
In the end, nobody realised they were taking the biggest risk of all. One basic assumption, shared by the designers, builders, operators and politicians, has just been proved false - that no matter what happens, no matter what actions the operators may take, or what mechanisms may fail, a handwaved fusion reactor cannot explode.
But if we live in a world where doing the impossible is routine, how are we surprised that the impossible happens?
The political consequences of the accident as still playing out.
Somebody after all, has to be held responsible for this.
Motions of censure for 'hazarding a settlement' and 'orchestrating a cover up' have already been proposed for many of those involved at next year's convention. It seems likely most will lose their voting privileges for a few years, along with the usual disqualification from Convention high office. The Frigga Volunteer Fire Brigade - and many of those involved in works to control the reactor, have been proposed for this year's honours list. Some names manage exist on both lists. Such is the way with heroes and villains.
Whatever else was done wrong, one thing was done absolutely right - and one thing only ever needs to be done right to prevent disaster.
"The approach to nuclear safety, which also, in my opinion, applies to any technologically complicated or potentially dangerous object, must be made up of three elements:
-The First; to make the object, for example a nuclear reactor, as maximally safe as possible.
-The Second, to make the operation of the object as maximally reliable as possible, but 'maximally' can never mean 100 percent reliability.
The philosophy of safety demands the introduction of a third element, which admits that just the same, an accident will take place. " - Valery Legasov - Chief of Chernobyl Accident Commission. Dictated Memoirs.
The impossible accident happened. The reactor containment survived the explosion and withstood the fire. Radiation was vented harmlessly to space. Radiation - in dangerous quantities - never intruded upon the inhabited spaces of Frigga. Whatever mistakes were made, this one critical thing was done correctly.
The accident was contained for long enough for it to be stopped. And it was stopped not with another handwave, but with careful, competent thought, measured risk and daring action.
There is no Frigga disaster. No tomb of ghouls. There will be no memorial wall to the dead. What happened remained an 'accident'. The nearest of near misses - of the sort that most people would normally take as a learning experience.
However, there is one conclusion that cannot be escaped; nothing that was happening on Frigga, would be unusual in Fenspace. Outside of the really big places that've attracted people who might actually know what they're doing - there're many still winging it with a wave and a prayer, relying on the ability of Handwavium to suspend the laws of physics and insulate them from the consequences of their own ignorance.
We live in a society that's grown used to the assumption that reality can be cheated with a handwave. The difficulties nature throws our way can just be vanished and dealt with at the consequence of an inconvenient quirk. We're used to dealing with black-box systems that are at times unfathomable, but whose compliant performance must be assumed because our lives depend on it. It breeds a sort of arrogance - an assumption of our own mastery of a world and powers we don't really understand but that we've just sort of figured out.
And when those powers stop insulating us from reality and the limits of our own capabilities - where that handwaved safety net tears wide open - there will be consequences.
"I'm alive. But they had to replace everything in the process. Everything. My body. Half my mind. Even my face is just a replica on a biomimetic substrate. In some ways, I'm a ghost - an android built from a dead man. I remember my life - but it doesn't really feel like I was the person to live it anymore." - Marco Steelwing - Panzer Kunst Gruppe. Formerly of Frigga Second Shift Engineering team.