The Valiant Officer
The Valiant Officer27 mins 269 27 mins 269
“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.”
Date: 26th April,1986
"Mom, what happened?" a young Nikolai saw his teary-eyed mother and asked her.
"Niko, the Nuclear Reactor has exploded, and it is now sending out all the Radioactive substance in the atmosphere." his mother said as she packed her things. The Russian Military had ordered immediate evacuation of the city.
"I'll meet Bori and come back," Nikolai said. He and his friend Boris were good pals.
"There's no time for it, son...We need to hurry up...!"
"Where's Dad?" Nikolai asked, looking around.
His mother sobbed but never replied back.
The next day, Nikolai came to know that his dad, a fire-fighter, had died in the fire that broke out inside the Nuclear Reactor.
Date: 26th December, -20° C
Outskirts of Yakutsk, Siberia in Russia
Officer Nikolai Dimitrov took his keys and entered in the Nuclear Reactor Plant. Securing himself in his faux fur coat, he opened the main reactor plants door.
He was appointed as a Security Officer for guarding this nuclear plant. This plant was owned by the Government and was a major supplier of electricity for the entire city of Yakutsk and to some of the nearby cities. Recently one of the Private companies; Xytron’s Powerush had accused the Government of using degraded material for generating Power. They also accused that this was causing pollution in the environment, resulting in a tight legal battle. About two days ago, the court had ordered to shut this plant down. The city of Yakutsk was temporarily receiving electricity from another hydro-electric plant.
Nikolai entered the plant. It was totally vacant, with everything closed. His duty was to check the usual power supply to the coolant water pumps, 6 times during the nights, every two hours. Being a Nuclear plant, Uranium was used to generate electricity. Cool water is supplied inside the reactor vessel which contains Uranium Powder. Through ‘Nuclear Fission’, tremendous heat is generated, which is used to boil the water. The resultant steam is pumped into turbines which then generate electricity. The boiling water is then pumped out of the reactor with the help of a coolant pump and then taken to the condenser and at the same time, the coolant pump sends in more cool water inside the reactor. This circulation of hot and cool water is important and therefore, electricity is continuously required for the coolant pump to function rightly.
Cadmium rods are used to control the ‘Nuclear Fission’ inside the reactor. When the rods are totally lowered in the reactor, no fission takes place, resulting in the closure of the plant.
Even though the reactor was shut down, Uranium was still present inside, generating heat and boiling the water producing steam.
Therefore, the coolant pump was required to keep the hot water circulating and to remove the heat generated.
Today, the weather forecast said a huge snow storm will hit the city by 00:30 hours. Nikolai entered the plant and went to the power grid display panel. Everything was as usual, with the coolant pump at the exact temperature with proper electric supply. As a daily procedure, he recorded the readings and radioed them to the Main Control Station, about 30 km away in the main city. He followed the same procedure every day. The electric supply was checked daily by a technician, who submitted his readings and observations to the Main Control Tower.
With the storm slowly rising, he locked all the gates and came back to his cabin. As he sat down, he saw his handwritten note pasted on the notice board. "One day I'll make Mother Russia proud" it read. He smiled to himself as he read it.
A red blinking light on the main display caught his attention. It was the light next to a tab labeled 'Incoming Panel Voltage.' Probably some sort of warning by the system, he thought.
Suddenly, the power supply cut off. Stunned, Nikolai looked at the readings he had noted down. They all were intact, with every reading matching the previous day's one. Had something gone wrong? He thought. Nevertheless, he decided to wait for some time. Previously, it had happened that the power supply got cut off, but re-started again after 15 minutes.
After waiting for more than 15 minutes, getting impatient, he came out of his cabin. The entire reactor plant was dark.
Using his torch, he reached the main control room. The entire plant's controls and working could be accessed from here.
He entered inside and checked the display. The backup generators had automatically started, supplying power to the main coolant pump. Even though the generators were working, the main power grid was off, which was quite a concern. Finally, Nikolai decided to radio the Main Control Station.
"Control Base...this is from the plant...repeat..this is from the plant...." he used the wireless from his cabin to call. Outside the snowstorm had started, with cold winds howling loudly.
"This is the Control base....how may I assist you...?" A female voice answered.
"This is Nikolai from the plant. The Power Grid has shut down. Could you explain to me the possible reason for that?" Nikolai replied back.
There was a long pause at the other end.
"Did the electrical guy check all the wirings and voltages...?"
"He had said everything was working fine and good. " Nikolai replied back, checking the reports that the engineer had submitted.
"Officer....I would request you to please keep an eye on the Diesel Generators. Meanwhile, I'll see if I can connect to the engineer. "
Nikolai, still concerned about the power backup, sat down and checked the Diesel quantity in the generators. The quantities were sufficient to run the generators till the morning. All the digital display in the room was also supplied by the electricity from the generators. There was a Display board with 3 LED’s on it. Currently, the LED next to the Backup Generators was green, specifying that they were running.
“I somehow connected to the Electrical Engineer.” The lady radioed back to him. “He said he had checked everything and all of it was fine. But unfortunately, he can’t come back due to the storm. I assume the generators have enough fuel to run till the morning. Tomorrow I’ll send some technician to have a look there.”
“OK…” Nikolai said and disconnected the radio. Outside, the temperatures were already below -20°C.
As he turned away, suddenly all the digital displays turned off. The entire room was dark again. As he searched for the torch, he saw a red light blinking with a faint beeping sound next to the generators, indicating they had stopped working.
Terrified, Nikolai radioed back to the Main Control Station.
“Listen... Ma’am. I think the generators have stopped working. All the displays are off, and I can only see a Red light blinking next to the ….”
His words were cut short as all the displays suddenly turned on. He then observed the board, and saw that the LED next to the word ‘Backup Batteries’ was green, which showed the batteries were now on, supplying electricity to the cooling pumps.
“Hello….Nikolai…you hear me?” the lady’s voice brought him back. “I think the batteries have started working…….” And then there was a long pause.
“Ma’am, is everything OK?” Nikolai somehow felt something was wrong.
“Nikolai, I want you to go down and check the generators. The batteries can only provide power for not more than 3 hours. We have to somehow make the generators run again. Please understand, if the coolant pump fails due to lack of electricity, the boiling water will cause the Uranium to melt, resulting in a huge catastrophe.” She again paused for a while, thinking of the consequences.
“I request you, Nikolai…please make the Generators run somehow…..”
Nikolai was just a normal Security officer. He was totally unknown to the engineering of the Generators. However, understanding the consequences, he decided to go downstairs.
Keeping a satellite comms radio in his pocket, he took the torch and headed for the door.
The generators were located in the middle of the facility. In the freezing storm with -30°C, Nikolai started walking towards it in very low visibility. Somehow finding his way, he finally reached the generators.
The generators were placed in the open air. There was a thick layer of ice on them. He reached for the switch board and checked the power switch. It was already on. Removing the ice on it, he tried tripping it off and on.
The generator didn't start.
He tried again, two three times, but the generators refused to start. Unfortunately, these were diesel generators. The diesel content indicator showed the tank was full; however, somehow, the main engine was not receiving the propellant. This was indicated on the main display panel placed on the generators. The freezing temperatures had caused the diesel to turn into a gel, forcing it to block the fuel supply to the main engines.
Nikolai again desperately tried to start, but the generators refused to budge.
Why can’t they use petrol engines? He thought as he called the Main control station.
“Ma’am….the generators are not starting.” Nikolai screamed to make his voice clear in the freezing blizzard,” The storm and reduced temperatures have caused the diesel to turn into a gel. I don’t think it may start…!”
The lady paused for a long time.
Finally, she said, “Nikolai….in that case, we have to do something. The batteries will fail in some time, resulting in the coolant pumps to stop working. This will result in water boiling continuously inside the reactor. The steam generated will cause the Uranium to melt and also will cause the reactor to explode, resulting in the radioactive element to expose in the outer surroundings….!”
As the lady spoke of this, Nikolai understood the dangers. The power plant was surrounded by major cities on all sides, with populations of more than half a million. A radioactive catastrophe will result in a major disaster in all of these cities, killing many people and all the generations to come.
I have to do something, he thought. I have to save the lives of these people. Somehow, I’ll have to start the power grid.
“I’ll have to start the electric power, ma’am.” Nikolai finally spoke and took the decision. “Please guide me on how to do that. The lives of many people are at stake. I don’t want another Chernobyl to happen in my country…! I am ready to do anything to save this plant and thereby save the lives of many people…!”
The lady answered after some time,” OK. Go back to the control room now and get the toolbox.”
Nikolai reached the control room. The display panel was still on, indicating power supply to the coolant pump from the batteries. He took the toolbox and as he was about to exit, he saw something on the display panel. The readings showed a Red ‘Danger’ light blinking next to the tab ‘Meter Room’. Terrified, he took the Night Vision Binoculars and checked the Electric power Room through the window, about half a kilometer away. Straining his eyes to see clearly in the storm, he froze.
“Ma’am, the electric power station is on fire…..!” Nikolai almost screamed on the phone as he saw a thin line of smoke rising from the roof of the station.
“But the electric consultant said every reading was fine..! How did this happen?”
“I need to go and check the scenario.” Saying this, Nikolai took the tool box and started towards the electric power station.
The room was filled with wires of different colours. In one end was the Distribution Panel. One of the bunch of cables were burning with sparkling noise. The fire had spread to other parts also, resulting in black smoke being produced.
Suddenly, his radio buzzed. It was from the Main Control Station.
"Nikolai....what happened...?" the lady questioned him as soon as he answered.
"The interiors of the power station are on fire....!" Nikolai answered back, "I think a short circuit happened here.....But some hours ago.....the electric guy from Xytron’s Powerush had come to check this. He had verified...."
"Wait..." the lady suddenly made Nikolai stop, "What was the name of the company to which the technician belonged.....?"
"He belonged to Xytron’s Powerush....." At once Nikolai understood. The technician belonged to the same company who had sued the Russian government for using degraded materials.
"It was not the same guy today. Some other guy had come to check the readings and the supply to electric pumps...." Nikolai answered as he remembered the Technician.
"Nikolai ....listen to me...I think there is some conspiracy being plotted down by some people. They want to destroy this plant and blame the government for the wrongdoings...!" The lady answered back. "We must right now inform the Russian Armed forces. They'll reach ASAP and take down there...."
"The climate is totally bad here. The armed forces won't be able to reach here in time. By the time they make it here in the morning, the entire plant would have been destroyed." Nikolai looked at the fire and said, "We have to stop this from happening...! Whatever conspiracy they're building, we need to stop it...! The fire is spreading fast. We need to re-start the electric supply immediately to avoid further damage...! I'm ready to do anything to save not only this plant but also the lives of many people in the cities....! Together we can stop this from happening..! I won't wish to have another Chernobyl in Mother Russia...! I'll do anything for saving this plant, even if I have to sacrifice myself for it...!" Nikolai confidently answered back.
The lady was silent for a long time.
Finally, she spoke, "OK. Let's do it together. First, we need to douse the Fire. Use the extinguisher placed inside the equipment room in the other part of the building to put it out. Remember, it's quite heavy. You'll have to get it here on your own..!"
Nikolai immediately headed for the other building. The equipment room was on the ground level. Without finding the keys, Nikolai broke the lock with a hammer. He entered inside the dark room and using his torch, found the extinguisher. Nikolai tried lifting it, but it was too heavy and there was no time for finding a support trolley. He somehow dragged and lifted it on his shoulders.
He then started running towards the Power Station. The storm was still blazing. The extinguisher can be quite heavy, but he couldn't afford to lose time. Exhausted, he ran with all his might.
Suddenly he lost balance and slipped. The ground was wet with snow. He twisted his right ankle and fell down hard. With the extinguisher on top of him, he couldn't budge. The pain in his ankle was unbearable. Still, he got up and took the extinguisher.
Limping, he finally reached the Power station. The fire had now spread to the nearby wooden table and ceiling. They were burning heavily now, creating huge fumes of black smoke inside.
The power station was a closed room. With no electricity, the ventilator fans were not working. This resulted in smoke getting accumulated inside the room. Nikolai somehow entered inside. Even though he was suffocated due to the smoke, he fired the extinguisher on the cables. With a big hissing sound, the extinguisher ejected out gas onto the fire. Within minutes, the entire fire was out, leaving fumes of smoke inside the room. The fire had caused the roof to tear open, and a big hole had developed in it, letting in all the outside snow and cold.
Exhausted, Nikolai sat down. The smoke was totally suffocating and the pain in his leg was unbearable. Still, somehow he stood up and radioed the lady.
"I extinguished the fire anyhow. But now how should I start the power?"
"First, check where exactly the fire had started. We need to check the polarity of the wired system. "
Nikolai went in and checked the damaged area. Inspite of the smoke, he brushed aside the precipitate from the extinguisher and checked the wires. The cables ran from ground to the distributor panel. They were a thick bunch of three different colors, inserted in the sockets of the same color. Nikolai then saw that two of them were still giving out sparks.
About 45 kms away at the army base, a Rapid Taskforce team was getting ready.
"The climate's too bad in that area. The storms reduced the visibility to almost zero." Commander Ivanovich replied as they got an SOS message from the Main Control Station. "We'll have to wait till morning. None of the helicopters are capable of flying in such winds. The storm's quite strong, and will continue to be so for some more time." Eyeing the SOS panel, he said, "I've sent an emergency call to the Coast Guard. I'm sure they'll assist us...!"
"One of the wires has worn out, and I think that caused the fire," Nikolai said, as he observed the sparks. Abruptly he remembered the reading on the display panel. The red light....the electrical load......
"Nikolai...the short circuit was not caused by that. A sudden increase in the incoming power caused the wires to burn, resulting in the insulation to go out. This caused the short circuit, and ultimately the fire happened...." she suddenly stopped in between.
"Nikolai....the batteries are losing power....." she said slowly. The display panel on her table indicated that very less power was available in the batteries, which would be dead soon.
Nikolai knew this would eventually happen, "Please tell me...how should I start the grids....!"
The girl paused for a long time. Finally, she said, "okay. First, go to the Outdoor transformer ....and check the controls. There will be a red circular switch attached on the Control cord. Try flicking it on..."
In pitch black darkness, Nikolai went outside. His ankle was paining badly due to the cold. Not able to walk, he still crossed the live electric lines. Using his torch, he reached the control panel on the transformer. There was a red switch, already turned on. He switched it off and turned on again.
He again turned it off and as he turned it on, suddenly a he got a high voltage electric shock. All of it happened so suddenly that Nikolai never got time to react. The shock flung him behind and he banged his head onto something. A pain shot up in his head and he lost consciousness.
A faint sound woke him up. With blurred vision and feeling dizzy, somehow he tried getting up, but his body was totally numb. Using all his power, he finally sat up. He then realised his comm. the phone was ringing. Then he saw his right hand and was shocked to see that the woollen glove, the sweater andthe jacket on his right side had fully burned out, and he had received multiple burns. His first two fingers had dislocated andhis entire right hand was exposed. As the numbness disappeared, he felt the outside cold on his hand. Grunting in pain, he finally received the call.
"Nikolai...what happened? Did you start the grid? The batteries are running out fast..!"
"NO...! The switch is not turning on...! I tried multiple times...but it's giving back zero response...!" Nikolai added, feeling anxious.
The lady paused again. “Nikolai, I am assuming the short circuit happened because the transformer suddenly gave out a huge surge of current. Do one thing....check the left side of the transformer. Just above the Red switch, you'll see an Incoming Voltage Meter. Can you give me the readings?"
Still feeling the numbness in his body, Nikolai went to the left side and checked the meter. As he noted the readings, he was stunned.
"Ma'am, I feel something's wrong. The incoming Voltage is set to much more than required by the Power Grid to start....!"
The lady did not respond for a long time on hearing his answer.
"Nikolai....." she finally spoke, “Now I know why the power grid went off. The technician purposely changed the incoming voltage, which resulted in the transformer pulling in more power and ultimately increasing the heat in the wires. This caused the insulation to melt down, causing the current to expose triggering the short circuit, resulting in auto- shutdown of the transformer coils...!"
"Tell me how to repair this.." Nikolai asked, cutting her explanation in between.
"OK...Nikolai, first check the voltage control gear below the meter. Bring it down to the required level and start the RED switch...!" Nikolai immediately obeyed her commands. He first turned the meter to the required level and then using a wooden rod, re-started the RED switch.
This time, the transformer started with a humming sound.
Nikolai felt delighted. My works done finally, he thought. He received the incoming call to give the lady this good news.
Forty-five kilometers away, Commander Ivanovich summoned up his Rapid Task Force Team.
"The coast Guard is unable to help us. The storm's quite strong in the sea. In that case, we need to help the guy stuck at the power plant. I got a message from the Main Control Station. He's desperately trying to get the power turned on. “Getting his jacket and safety gear on, he said, "Get the best helicopter we have in our fleet. Prepare a team of 10 soldiers. We are going there right now....!"
"But sir....." one of the attendants said as he read the climate data on-screen, "The copters can't fly in that area. The winds are so..."
"In spite of the cold weather, when one guy, without any military training, is putting his life at risk just to start the power to avoid another Chernobyl incident in our country, why can't we do it...?" The commander replied back angrily.
"Nikolai, the power has started, but still there's work to be done...! Go to the distributor panels in the power station and re-adjust the power settings to these Voltages...!" she then gave him the required voltage range.
Gathering all his strength, he started walking towards the Power Station. The freezing temperatures were taking a toll on his health. The pain in his ankle was growing every minute. The burns on his right hand were exposed to cold. Still, ignoring all of this, he continued further ahead till the stations. His right hand was slowly developing frostbite. Ignoring the pain, he opened the door and went inside.
As advised by the lady, he adjusted the power buttons on the LT panel. The sparks immediately stopped, but still, there was a danger of the wires again coming in contact with each other. Seeing this, he went to the nearby tool storage and pulled out an insulation tape. Using the safety gloves inside, he covered all the exposed wires with the tapes. He then called up the lady in Main Control Station.
"Ok. Good job Nikolai. But still, we need to adjust the incoming power in the Coolant pumps. Now please return back to the Main Control Room as fast as you can. The coolant pumps are fitted with a relay switch. Currently, they're still running on the batteries. They'll only start when they get the required power so that they won't blow off....!"
Nikolai then started heading back towards the Main control room. His right hand was now totally numb. It had swollen in many places, with blood still oozing out from wounds. He could feel the swelling in his right ankle. He put his exposed hand inside his jacket and started jogging back to the Control room. The climate was still bad, with the storm surging at full speed and temperatures still well below -25° C.
Jogging lightly, he reached the base of the tower. The main door was about 30ft above, with a steel staircase to access it. Still grunting in pain, he gripped the handrail and started pushing himself up.
The steel handrails and the steps were quite slippery, with snow accumulated on them. With his leg swelled, Nikolai found it difficult to climb the staircase, however, he still had a major task to fulfill. Trying to gather strength, he kept climbing the steep stairs.
A sudden gush of cold wind caused the snow to enter his eyes. He tried to remove it out using his right hand, but his exposed fingers had already given up. Still trying to balance himself and rubbing his eyes, he kept climbing.
Suddenly he missed a step. Trying to balance himself, he brought down his swelled right foot hard on the tread but missed that too. His right leg slipped and he fell down on face on the stairs. He banged his nose hard on the stairs. The impact caused him to slip further down the steps. He tried to grab anything that came to his hand. But everything was wet and slippery. He kept falling down hard with each step. At one point he felt his head bang onto something hard. He lost consciousness, but still, he could feel himself falling down and down.
Finally, everything was silent.
How much time had passed? Why am I seeing blankness around? Why can't I move? Something is vibrating. It's earthquake....no.....I think the reactor....yess...the reactor......oh no.....the reactor...did it....explode...?
At once Nikolai opened his eyes. He looked around. His vision was totally blurred. A sharp pain shot up in the back of his head. Wincing in pain, he held his left hand in that area. Feeling something, he checked and found that his hand was covered in blood. He turned and saw in his diffuse vision, more blood on the ground. He then saw the stairs and came to know that he had fallen down, injuring his head. He felt something vibrating. Then he understood it was his cellphone. The call was from the Control tower.
"Nikolai..are you okay? Can you hear me...Hello...?"The lady enquired, as she knew something was wrong.
"I..I'm..f...fine...."Nikolas answered back. He tried to stand up but fell down again. He was feeling totally dizzy. Still trying to balance himself, he stood up.
"I'll reach the Control room and I'll call you back..."
As he was about to disconnect, the lady said, "The batteries have lost power....."
These words suddenly brought Nikolai to his senses. Without worrying about himself, his wounds, the snowstorm, he ran towards the stair with his full might. Grabbing the rails, he started climbing the stairs. His ankle was paining, his right hand had already developed frostbite, and he could feel tremendous pain in his right side head. Ignoring all this, he continued going up.
Finally, with a lot of exhaustion, Nikolai reached the control room. As he entered inside, he saw the electric display. The LED light next to the tag 'Batteries' was flashing in red color, clearly indicating that the batteries were out of power. He rushed to the main display panel and checked the reactor temperature.
The temperature inside was 125°C and was continuously rising. Water had already started converting into steam. This temperature was sufficient for Uranium to melt. However, the major concern was boiling water. There were about 100-200 tonnes of water inside. Excessive boiling could result in steam, which if not circulated, could rupture the core of the reactor, the same which happened in Chernobyl, releasing radiation in the atmosphere.
With blurred vision, Nikolai checked the temperature of the water inside, he was shocked. The water was already above boiling point.
Suddenly a rapid blinking red light on the display control caught his attention. He checked it and almost gasped in terror.
The Uranium inside had started melting and was giving out harmful radiations.
About 25 kms from the Nuclear Plant, a Rapid task force from the Russian Military was approaching the plant, flying as fast as possible.
"We need to reach fast...!” Commander Ivanovich screamed at the pilot, "The guy might've collapsed. He is totally alone inside......!"
With shaking hands, Nikolai radioed called the Control Station. His eye had swelled from the fall. With excruciating pain in the right hand and right ankle, he felt blood oozing down from behind his head. He felt he is losing consciousness. Slowly his eyes started closing.
No....! He screamed at himself, I must keep going....must save my country.
"Hello...Nikolai....?" the lady's voice brought him to his senses. At once he got up...
"I'm in the control room....." he anxiously replied. Gasping for breath, he said, "Tell me what to do...!"
"Do you see the three control buttons on the front panel?" The lady replied," Rotate them slowly in clockwise direction....!"
Nikolai immediately did it.
"Now you see the red steering wheel on the bottom of the panel? Rotate it slowly ....that will start the coolant pump.....!"
With all the strength that was left inside him, Nikolai turned the heavy steering.
As he somehow stood up, he saw the readings on the display panel. The coolant pump finally started. Nikolai saw the water slowly circulating in the reactor. The temperature inside finally started cooling down. The steam generated, was now being condensed and was circulated towards the cooling towers.
Nikolai finally collapsed down. I did it, he thought with a smile. I saved my mother nation.
Thinking this, he fell on the ground. His slowly started passing out. He couldn't hear anything. As his vision further faded, he saw someone entering the room from the main door. He faintly heard thuds of heavy boots. Someone shouted his name.
And then there was darkness.
Nikolai slowly opened his eyes. Where am I? He felt something soft underneath. He was on a bed. He tried lifting his right hand. But it was covered in a bandage. His right foot was plastered, and he felt there was a bandage on his head too.
Then he understood he was in the hospital.
Then he suddenly remembered the plant. What had happened there? Was everything alright? Was the plant running smoothly?
"Hope you're feeling good....!"He heard a voice and saw a person in a white coat enter. He was Doctor Eric.
"You were brought here by the Russian military. They brought you here on time. Thankfully we could save your right hand from gangrene. An immediate surgery saved your vision and your brain. Nothing to worry about your ankle. Don't worry, you’ll be fine. You are awake after more than 4 days. Also, one lady by the name of Ignes is very much thankful to you. Commander Boris Ivanovich is very proud of you......"
"Boris....? As in...." Nikolai answered in surprise.
"Yes....your childhood friend Boris. That’s what he said. He's a commander in the military. And by the way..." he turned and smiled, "You are already famous for saving our country from another Chernobyl....! Congratulations.....you did a wonderful job...!"
Nikolai later understood that Xytron’s Powerush was planning to destroy the Nuclear Power Plant, totally exposing the Russian Government and taking away all the authorities of the reactor and starting a new one on their name. The technician belonged to them, who worked according to what they said. This created big news in the national and international media, instantly making Nikolai a Hero and publishing how bravely he saved the country and other nations from a major catastrophe.
The next day, Nikolai picked up the newspaper on the table. It was an international newspaper and on the very front page, was the headline in bold letters:
"Young security guard makes Mother Russia Proud internationally by saving a nuclear reactor from blasting...