Green Power

Prologue

Prologue

March 28, 1989

            Flashing red lights on the control panels and the annoying intermittent deafening blast of the buzzing alarms startled the technicians in Rancho Seco’s control room. Trained eyes zeroed in on the numerous gauges and banks of indicator lights. A supervisor burst out of his glassed-in office and yelled, “OK people! What do we have?”

            Confusion broke loose as numerous responses overwhelmed the bewildered supervisor. He raised both arms up with palms out and shouted, “One at a time! Sam, you go first.”

A short, slim balding man in glasses yelled back, “John, we’ve got a big problem! If these readings are correct, the main feed water pump for the reactor coolant system has shut down.”  Before he could continue, the room vibrated forcibly knocking coffee cups to the floor. More red lights on the many indicator panels started flashing.

“I’ve got an overload on turbine one! We’ve got automatic turbine shutdown taking place,” a technician reported.

The significance of this event triggered John’s analytical mind as he asked one of the female technicians standing in front of a wall of gauges, “Cindy, what’s the primary system pressure looking like?”

“ It’s rising, but the indicator light for the pilot-operated relief valve is green.” She replied. “It should be correcting itself, but I am still getting a reading for rising pressure.”

He turned to yet another technician and asked, “How’s the core temperature holding?”

            “It’s approaching critical,” he answered.

Another voice interrupted. “I’ve got high radioactive reading for vented gases!”

John had enough information to know that a meltdown was imminent, but he was puzzled by why the automatic SCRAM (Safety Control Rod Axe Man) had not initiated the shutting down of the nuclear reactor. Therefore, he gave the order, “That’s it, let’s shut her down!”

            With that order, technicians immediately went into an automatic mode themselves. This wasn’t the first time they had gone through this scenario. Each knew their role as they toggled switches into position. A manual SCRAM had to be initiated so that the control rods could be lowered into position starting the shut-down of the nuclear fission process.

            Rancho Seco was once again off-line.

    

    

Main Characters

Chapter One

June 3, 1989

Professor Ray Pendleton led the restless mob of approximately fifty demonstrators toward the colossal twin cooling towers of Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant.  The stirring delta breezes tousled Ray’s long brown hair and full beard into a wild mess giving him the appearance of a Viking leading a raiding party. Two giant chain link gates separated the impending confrontation.

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With an explosive volcano about to erupt, the towering blond headed six-foot-five figure of Dirk Hendrickson rounded the corner of the cinder block guard house to the left of the gates. As head of security, Dirk knew that it was his responsibility to take control of this situation. As he approached the gates, the two baffled guards joined him, one on each side. Dirk unsnapped his long, heavy night stick and held it high with his right muscular arm, pointing it toward Ray.

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As he returned to the guard house, Dirk Hendrickson’s thoughts brought back the memories of the peace marches of the late sixties. After his final tour in Viet Nam, he was appalled to return home and hear anti-war protesters shouting, “Baby killer!”

Dirk remembered his time in Viet Nam. At first he had been just a regular grunt enlisted man. He had excelled in firefights and killed numerous enemies and received medals of valor. He soon found himself promoted to sergeant status. Because of his leadership abilities he was accepted into Officer Candidate School. He signed up for a second tour in Viet Nam as an officer. Again he stood out and soon found himself promoted to First Lieutenant.

            But the war had changed Dirk. As a lieutenant, he had led reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory searching out villages that harbored Vietcong. At times he had to resort to cruel tactics in order to obtain information proving that certain villages were supporting the Vietcong.

            Viet Nam  Nam had hardened Dirk, and he had become a trained warrior.

Still, he felt upon his return home that his government had let him down. What had he been fighting for? Feeling like a foreigner in his own country, he had searched for those like himself. He found them in the Delta Valley Militia and became a member.

            Today’s demonstration paralleled yesterday’s anti-war protest. Rancho Seco and his job were both worth battling for. This Ray Pendleton bastard had to be stopped. Sure, someone else would do it for him, but he’d be the one with the knowledge of how to handle it. He had no lack of self-assurance; none at all. That’s why he had placed a call briefly stating his needs to fellow militiaman, Victor Rosio, asking to meet him at the Sportsmen’s Bar in Lodi. Vic’s reply was, “No problem, I’ll bring Gordon Lynch along. How’s six o’clock sound?”

            “Great!  Gordon’s the muscle we need to take care of this hippie asshole.”

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The following day, Ray rode his ten-speed bike along Old River Road below the levee bordering the Sacramento River. He often took this route out of Woodland for his weekend endurance exercise. His mind was on the previous day’s demonstration and the upcoming primary election with the ballot measure to close Rancho Seco. His thoughts jumped back to the month of March, the month Rancho Seco came close to a nuclear disaster. And he also remembered that on March 24th, there had been the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. He wanted to clear his mind as he took in a deep breath needing only to inhale the beauty of the day. Then he recalled the explosion on March 25th of this year at the Tosco Oil Refinery in the Bay Area that had killed one worker. He tightened his grip on the handlebars of his bike. That event triggered the painful memory of the loss of his father in a similar accident in 1965 at another Bay Area refinery.

Ray was only eleven years old when he saw his mother, Sarah open the front door to a uniformed police officer who said, “I’m Reverend John Kingston, chaplain for the Martinez Police Department. May I please come in? There’s been an accident involving your husband.”

As both Ray and his older brother, Eric, stood by their mother’s side, she froze and was speechless. Finally, Eric responded. “Is my dad okay?”

The chaplain could see that Sarah was in shock and knew from experience that it would be best for all of them to be seated before he let them know of the tragic accident. Again, he asked. “If I may please come in, I think it will be easier to tell you all what occurred today at the refinery where Mr. Pendleton works?”

Sarah still didn’t respond as Eric opened the door and led the chaplain into the living room where they all took seats. Ray sensed something terrible had happened, but his father had to be all right. The chaplain took in a deep breath and said, “I’m so sorry to have to come with bad news.” He was looking directly at Sarah. “Your husband died in the refinery explosion today.”

Ray recalled hearing the screams of his mother that day. He remembered his first thought after the announcement. It can’t be true. His father couldn’t die.

The only one coping with this tragedy was Eric. He was embracing their mother who was sobbing uncontrollably.

The chaplain reached out and had a hand on both Eric’s and the mother’s shoulders as he asked, “Is there a close relative I can call to come over?”

Eric again was the one keeping his cool as he turned to Ray and said. “Ray, get Aunt Jenny’s phone number. It’s in the card file by the phone.”

As Ray tried to find his aunt’s index card, the reality of his father’s death finally sunk in and he began to cry. With tears flowing down his cheeks, he could barely read the names on the cards. Eventually he found the number and wiped away any sign of weeping from his face. Ray returned and handed the information to the chaplain. The chaplain placed the call and compassionately explained the situation to their aunt.

When Aunt Jenny arrived, she immediately went over to Sarah and embraced her. Ray realized that his mother needed her sister at this dreadful moment. But he couldn’t help but remember how strong his brother had been that day and how much he looked up to Eric.

Ray wasn’t aware that he’d stopped his bike on the side of Old River Road. The vision he had just experienced was as vivid now as it had been back then. He missed his father, but the loss of his brother ended the family he once knew. He shook his head, as if he could ever erase those memories. Making sure his helmet was secure; he took off with a burst of speed. Suddenly, his helmet mirror focused in on a large black pickup truck bearing down on him. It was driving into the bike lane and closing in on him at a high speed. Ray recognized the dirt road leading up to the top of the levee and made a sharp left turn up the road. He watched as the truck went further down the road. He heard the brakes of the truck squeal to an abrupt stop. As he looked down, he saw the truck turn around and head back. It climbed up the dirt road after him. He headed along the dirt road that ran along the top of the levee. The truck was gaining on him. He jumped off his bike and started to run down the side of the levee back toward the road below. Again, the truck made a quick stop right beside his abandoned bike, as a dust cloud surrounded it. He was able to make out two ski-masked figures emerge from the stirring dirt. One was running down the levee to cut off his escape back down the main road, while the other ran down at an angle in the opposite direction so as to cut him off from advancing up the road. Ray was trapped.

 

Action

            Ray looked like your usual hazmat worker as he went over to the lagoon and carefully started to unzip the covering. As the professor swung quickly around to his right to get a sterile flask, Vic fired. There was a silent pop like the uncorking of a champagne bottle. But all Vic viewed through his telescopic scope was a small burst of soil right next to Ray’s left foot. Before he got off his next shot, the professor was sprawled out flat on the ground. Sure enough, another puff of dust exploded inches from Ray’s right side. Since Ray had only slightly unzipped the lagoon cover, there was still enough gas to raise it to a height so that he could roll behind it. Therefore, Vic shot a hole into the lagoon cover so gas would escape and do away with the professor’s protection.

As Vic waited to get Dr. Pendleton into his sights, Ray ran in a zigzag pattern toward a tractor not more than twenty yards away. Again, Vic fired a number of rounds that resulted in numerous burst of dust around Ray. When Ray reach and hid behind the tractor, Vic opened fire again. Finally, one of the bullets hit the tractors gas tank. Ray was able to escape the engulfing explosion and dashed for cover in a barn.

            Vic cussed at himself realizing that he hadn’t killed or even hit the professor. What the hell was wrong with his marksmanship? He never had this problem before. As he quickly packed his rifle and gear, he convinced himself that he needed more time on the firing range. He raced for his motorcycle and mounted it, stirring up a cloud of dust as he made a run for the front gate. By then a number of dairy workers had exited the barn and were helping Ray to his car. One of the workers yelled. “I’ve called 911 and gave a description of both the Harley and that leather jacketed thug. The sheriffs are on their way.”

            Vic looked down at his speedometer and it read 85 MPH. As he looked back up, he spotted the flashing red lights and heard the sirens of two approaching sheriff’s cars. He saw that there was an open unfenced field to his left. He slowed down just enough to head into the field. The sheriff’s patrol cars tried to follow but the terrain was too rough and one of the sheriff’s vehicles bottomed out and got stuck. The other patrol car kept bouncing as it tried to catch Vic.

            Vic felt like he was riding a bucking bronco as he bounced on and off his saddle seat, but he was losing the sheriffs far behind. He spotted a barb wire fence just ahead. He crouched down and braced himself as he smashed down one of the small wooden fence post supporting the barb wire. Finding himself on a dirt road, he could see a paved road far ahead. But he also spotted another sheriff’s vehicle turning from the paved road and heading up the dirt road toward him. To make things worse, this vehicle appeared to be a Ford Bronco and chances were that it was four-wheel drive. Vic prepared to smash through a wooden fence this time. As splinters burst all around him, he headed still across another field. Sure enough, the sheriff’s Ford Bronco was four-wheel drive and had no trouble chasing Vic across the field. Vic increased his speed and tried to outrun the Bronco. He seemed to be making progress and, to his luck, he spotted a dried out deep creek bed ahead. He carefully eased his motorcycle down one of the banks. The dried out creek bed wasn’t wide enough for the Bronco to maneuver in and was too wide for the sheriff’s vehicle to jump over. The Bronco raced parallel to the creek bed, still in pursuit. Vic raced down the creek bed looking for a way to escape up the other side. He spotted a slightly angled bank ahead and was able to make his way up as he looked back and saw the Bronco screeching to a halt in a cloud of dust. Vic knew he had gotten away for now. He raced toward the paved road ahead that headed toward Lodi. So far he didn’t see any more sheriffs’ vehicles on that road. When he reached the paved road, he glanced both left and right. It looked like he was in the clear as he made his way home.

 

Romance

            After a casual stroll along the Merced River, they came upon a plush meadow. They both lay down on the soft grass away from any possible picture taking groups and enjoyed each others presence. No words needed to be said as they held each other and kissed. Ray was enjoying the moment and wondered how Linda felt as their eyes met and she said, “Ray, this is so perfect.”

            Ray wasn’t sure if she meant the surroundings or their new found relationship as he said, “This canyon is something. Isn’t it?”

            Linda gave a slight laugh and said. “Yes, Yosemite is beautiful. But my remark was about us.”

            Ray’s arms brought Linda close again as he said, “I thought that’s what you were referring to. I feel something special just being here with you.” He kissed her again. The warmth of the sun and Linda’s body excited Ray. He hadn’t felt like this in years. Because of his respect for Linda and the awareness of where they were, Ray regained control of himself and enjoyed nature’s beauty.

Detective Story Twist

 

When Dirk opened his door, Ted was amazed by the size of this man. He presented his credentials. “Mr. Hendrickson, I’m Agent Cosgrove. I need to ask you a few questions in regards to some cases involving a Dr. Raymond Pendleton.”

“I’ve already talked with detectives from both the San Joaquin County and Yolo County Sheriff’s offices about that. If you talk with them, I’m sure you’ll get all the information you need.”

“I have already talked with both detectives. And I’ve reviewed their reports. So I’ll skip questions they’ve already asked. It appears that you had good alibis. However, there are some loose ends that need to be tied together.”

Dirk let Agent Cosgrove in and led him to the living room. They both sat in two lounge chairs that swiveled so they could face each other. Dirk got defensive as he asked. “What more do you need to know?”

Ted caught Dirk off guard as he asked, “Are you a member of the Delta Valley Militia Group?”

Dirk hesitated and then asked. “Why do you want to know?”

Agent Cosgrove didn’t like Dirk’s attitude as Ted took control of the interview. “Mr. Hendrickson, I’m asking the questions here. Now again, are you a member or not?”

Dirk’s jaw tightened as he answered. “Yes, I’m sure you’ve already checked that out.”

“Did you serve with the armed forces in Viet Nam?”

“Why do you keep asking me questions that I’m sure you already have the answers to?”

Ted was like a lawyer in court as he said. “A yes or no answer will do.”

“Okay, I was a first lieutenant in the army.”

The next question just popped into Ted’s head as he asked. “Are any of the members of the Delta Valley Militia former comrades of yours from the Viet Nam War?”

Dirk was really upset. “Maybe, but we prefer that the names of our membership be kept confidential. You seem to have information on our group already since you asked me if I was a member.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Come on. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know you Feds keep records on us.”

“Maybe we do. All I’m trying to do is substantiate that the information we have is correct.”

“Well, I’m not willing to help you prove if it is or not. I prefer not to answer any more of your questions.” With that, Dirk got to his feet and pointed to the door and said. “I think you can find your way out, Agent Cosgrove.”

Ted stood up and looked at Dirk with dagger eyes. “That won’t be a problem. However, I can assure you that we will be talking again.”

 

Methanobacterium omelianskii

            Dr. Pendleton covered the history of researchers like H.A. Barker in 1940 and M.P. Bryant in 1967 working with Methanobacterium omelianskii and their findings. Ray chuckled as he said. “I guess the cold war has touched our field of microbiology. Methanobacterium omelianskii is now renamed Methanobacterium bryantii here in the United States.”

            Ray then explained that this bacterium was first observed by a Russian bacteriologist with the last name of Omeliansky. He went on to discus how this scientist was involved in studying the Clostridium group of anaerobic bacteria. But since he had already named another Clostridium after himself, he decided to come up with a new genus called Methanobacterium since this newly discovered bacterium appeared to produce methane.

            He again went to the blackboard and used formulas to show how Bryant and his coworkers proved that another bacterium had to be present so that Methanobacterium omelianskii could use the acetate breakdown products from ethanol to produce methane. He then explained how there had to be a symbiotic relationship between the methanogene and this second organism that Bryant referred to as the “S” organism.

            Dr. Pendleton explained how these reactions can occur within the digestive tracts of some animals. He reported that Methanobacterium species have been isolated from the first stomach of dairy cows. He went on to explain that this is why they are capturing the methane gas from manure to power many dairy operations in other countries.    

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