The Shaking

Seismic terror is about to strike...

Maverick geologist Brian McLean was ridiculed when he warned London and south east England were at imminent risk of suffering a major earthquake. But when the unthinkable happens buildings collapse, power grids crash, transport is gridlocked, and high-tech life grinds to a shuddering halt.

In the stunned aftermath courier Ryan Buckland journeys through a shattered city to be reunited with his family, Deputy Prime Minister Stuart Pullman sees the emergency as his chance to seize power, while nuclear engineer Alan Carter desperately tries to avert a far greater catastrophe. If he fails, destructive aftershocks will be the least of our problems...

A homage to penny dreadful natural disaster potboilers, The Shaking will rock you to your very core!

A 103,000 word novel. Rated PG 16.

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10. Chapter Ten

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.

The senior management of the Dungeness Power Station had gathered in the control room. There were representatives from the operating company and even a junior energy minister looking on from behind the bulletproof glass of the visitors' gallery; it having been closed to the guided tour groups as per standard operating procedure during a startup: Were some technical hitch to occur again it was best not to have coach parties of the unknowledgable general public become unduly alarmed by the sudden appearance of warning lights along with screens filling with red script which could be generated by even a minor fault; they wouldn't understand and would only go away with the wrong impression.

Once the cause of the vibration - the minor earthquake which had struck the Kent area - had become known Carter's life had become a lot easier, even though the critical areas of the plant which might have been affected had to be reexamined; either manually or remotely by robotic camera where it wasn't safe for humans to venture. The staff had worked incredibly hard over the last few hours to reach this point where Reactor One under the supervision of Paul Glover was back up to 75% capacity, while Reactor Two was running at 200 megawatts and ready to be moved up to the next level.

Alan's presence was superfluous; he could monitor the process remotely from his office if he wanted to, but it was part of his job to be seen to be here, especially by the brutish balding little runt of a junior minister wearing a severely cut dark suit.

Before he'd given the politician who'd never been here previously the tour of the complex - Madden, his name was - Alan had tried to explain to the obnoxious fool the reasons why bringing a complex yet temperamental feat of engineering which had passed the end of its planned operational life years ago up to capacity was so difficult: No doubt it had all gone over the minister's head as it had on previous occasions when he'd dealt with these career incompetents. Bullies like Madden were only concerned with getting the job done, no matter who got bruised in the process. Still, this was likely to be the last time he saw the man or whoever replaced him in the endless cycle of "suits full of bugger-all" as the political comedian Ben Elton had so eloquently put it long ago, so Carter had felt confident enough to stand his ground that much more determinedly when the minister had tried to dump the blame for the delayed restart personally on his shoulders.

Michael Williams, the chairman of Dungeness' operating company Potentia Energy - also in the office at the time - didn't look best pleased when Alan had stood up for himself, but then he'd not had the guts to come to Carter's aid, so sod him: Williams could toady-up to Madden later if he wanted to. As far as Carter was concerned, the end of this assignment and the day he began to draw his pension couldn't come soon enough; in fact he might even decide to retire slightly earlier if he could arrange it... But for the moment such thoughts would have to be put aside. The hot seat of a nuclear power plant was no place for wool gathering.

"Is everyone ready?" asked Alan. He received thumbs ups and confident replies "OK: Commence ramp to Normal Operating Capacity."

Maybe this time, hoped Carter as he watched the readings increase. Get the plant up to peak output; hold it there for as long as it took to satisfy the onlookers in the gallery; then ease it back down to a more comfortable and sustainable level. Once that was done he'd go back to his office and enquire about the state of his pension; if he'd only lose a few pounds a week by leaving early he'd have his notice of resignation drafted by the end of the day. He'd discuss the decision with his wife Jane of course, and sleep on it overnight, but he saw no reason to drag out the final months of his working life here, this was too much of a pain in the arse and anyway Paul Glover was more than capable of taking over. So, just get this bloody thing working and leave on a high note...

An alarm pinged quietly. Oh shit! Not now with them looking on!  thought Alan. At least it wasn't a critical issue by the sound of it. Quickly his eyes searched for the problem until they saw the control rod matrix displays. One of the green lights on the diagram had turned red, indicating a problem with one of the many boron alloy rods which were used to regulate the reactor's activity. This had happened before; it was caused the intense heat of the nuclear reaction slightly warping the tight tolerance channel in which the rods was raised and lowered by just enough to make it stick in place slightly. The computer, sensing something was not quite right, had thrown up a caution message.

As a technician cancelled the warning as having been seen and noted Carter breathed a silent sigh of relief. Once the VIPs were out of the way they could fix the glitch by raising and lowering the rod for a few cycles until it moved freely; that had worked in the past.

Alan looked up at the viewing gallery; the gaggle of suits seemed unperturbed. Either they hadn't noticed anything amiss or Williams had been able to skilfully distract them as he explained the procedure to the disinterested group: Thank heaven for small mercies.

"Continue ramping." he ordered. The operators resumed the process. If there were no more niggles in the works the reactor should reach its full capacity in a few minutes.

There was an air of relief when Reactor Two reached the 490 MW limit without further problems. Carter gave a thumbs up sign to the gallery as none of the observers were carrying a plant issued personal radio transceiver, and mobile phones were not permitted to be used in the control room. Williams nodded and gave a forced looking smile in reply: Maybe now the message had got through he'd hustle the VIPs along and the bloody nuisances would all get out of Alan's hair...

Then - just as it looked as if things were beginning to go right at long last - all hell broke loose.

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