Category Archives: Blog

The Anatomical Vampire

This week we are joined by virologist Dr Roland Lambert from the School of Industrial Chemistry in our very own Paris. The young doctor provides an intriguing dissertation of a popular urban myth – but is there more to the Vampire than legend?

-Henri de Parville, ed.

vamp3

The year 1905 has witnessed an almost unprecedented tally of disease fatalities. Influenza, pneumonia, cholera and tuberculosis remain the blight of damp suburbs and dense housing everywhere from Africa to America, accounting for 34% of all deaths. Our own beloved Paris has lost 21 700 of her citizens this year alone to infectious disease. By December’s end that number will be over 29 200.

But even as we strive for cleaner drinking water, improvements in treatment, and limitation of disease spread, there rises a new enemy, one not seen on these streets in centuries. One which stalks in daylight and kills in darkness. A silent, violent killer. One whose human form disguises the appetite of a monster.

I speak, of course, of the Vampire.

Through use of a field agent, the indispensable M. Hannibal du Noir, and my own research in the laboratory of infectious disease, I have spent this past year compiling all known facts on the creature known as Vampire. You will notice I say facts. All too often the vehicles of urban legend scuttle fact and throw fate to the wind. My model is built from the ground up: only that which can be reliably observed has been included.

What, then, is known? To begin with, Vampires are real. They are among us. They are hunting us.

They operate in packs, most likely family groups. Two such family groups have been observed in France. The first from the south, consisting of a dozen or so members who bear a strong familial resemblance in their dark hair, dusky skin and thin faces. The second flow between the borders of France and Germany on the Rhine. This intelligent band have disguised themselves among soldiers and citizens both, and so prove nearly impossible to describe. However, conservative estimates put their numbers at thirty.

A dozen, thirty – perhaps forty two Vampires in France. It is of no apparent concern for a population of 38 million. Thus my second point: their appetite.

Vampires are obligate haemovores. They must feed on blood, and have not been observed to supplement their diet with any other form of protein. Blood, as Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed can affirm, contains very little nutritious content. To sustain itself, the individual Vampire must drink upwards of 20 litres per sitting. He will do this four or five times in a week.

Pause to consider that number. 100 litres of blood to sustain a single vampire for a single week. That would empty the veins of twenty adult humans! Suddenly even conservative estimates show that 840 French men, women and children (and they are often women and children, as the Vampire is a coward) per week must lose their lives. Within a year with these fiends will strip 43, 680 French souls from their bodies. And as we are unprepared, in denial of their very existence, nothing is being done. Should these creatures reach our city, next year our death toll will reach 120 000.

I urge you, reader, to subscribe yourself to La Nature. M. de Parville has been gracious enough to offer me space in his journal to detail to you these creatures and their behaviours. It is my hope they will educate you on the means of their detection and in the protection yourself, and your loved ones.

If survival is your inclination, I will join you in a fortnight.

Dr. Roland Lambert, Head of Research, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, School of Industrial Chemistry of the City of Paris.

Dr. Roland Lambert is acting Assistant Head of Research in the  laboratory of infectious diseases for the School of Industrial Chemistry of the City of Paris.

***Though he doesn’t know it yet, Roland is about to star in my upcoming novella, My Father’s Death, out October 31st. Until then he’ll be here. How exciting~ ***

Extreme Science: Pacific Rim – Imperial Edition

PRimperial

As soon as I saw a jaeger, I said to the guy sitting next to me in the movies, “I wonder how much that thing weighs?” However, it wasn’t until the book landed in my clammy nerd hands that I finally had a means of finding out.

BEWARE: MATHS AHEAD

pr0

*You might get some funny numbers by replicating these figures. End totals reflect the original metric rather than my rounded up feet and pounds.

Preliminary stuff:

According to the book, Gipsy Danger is 265 feet tall. Taking this measurement, we can gauge GD’s width at about 98ft and breadth at 49ft.

265 x 98 x 49 = 1 287 220ft3, or Gipsy Danger’s volume. However, because there are places GD is less broad and less tall, I cut the volume in half.

1 287 220 / 2 = 265 225m3

We also need to know the surface area of GD’s feet. Assuming her feet are flat, we get:

98 x 49 = 4844ft2

or 2422ft2 per foot.

Easy, right?

Gipsy Danger’s volume: 265 225ft3

Gipsy Danger’s bottom-of-foot surface area: 4844ft2

Let’s get down to business.

SHE FLOATS LIKE A FEATHER

screenshot_6_17_13_9_32_pm1

If you’re anything like me, this scene is one of the most iconic in the entire movie. Gipsy Danger flies over a stormy ocean carried by eight powerful helicopters. Majestic – but feasible?

We’re obviously not dealing with lightweight machinery here. My estimates for GD’s weight were between 1200 and 6000 tons, and perhaps up to 12 000. Pacific Rim is set in the current day and therefore doesn’t have technology that is not yet at our fingertips. Meaning – can eight modern day helicopters carry a load of 12 000 tons?

Short answer: no.

The Mi-26 is the world’s strongest helicopter, able to carry a load of up to 22 tons.

So 8 x 22 = 176

If the helicopters are to be believed, Gipsy Danger weighs 176 tons.

But wait a minute. A cubic foot of seawater weights 64lbs. Cast iron weighs 425lbs/ft3. Gipsy Danger’s hull is made of iron, so she should be at least 125lbs/ft3, even with extra leg room.

If we take Gipsy Danger’s weight – 176 tons – and convert it to pounds– 352 000lbs, then divide it by her volume, we can find her weight per cubic foot.

352 000 / 265 225 =0.5lbs/ft3

0.5lbs/ft3

This means Gipsy Danger has a density about that of a heavy gas.

Oxygen weighs 0.09lbs/ft3: Gipsy Danger is only six times as heavy as air. Is she made of tinfoil? No. Aluminium is 162lbs/ft3, 300x as dense as GD.

GD is in fact so light that if we take the surface area of her feet – 4844ft2 – and dump her into the ocean, she would only displace the top 2’4″ of water. If she fell onto her back or front, which she would the moment a kaiju breathed on her delicate, feather-light body, her enlarged surface area would mean she displaced merely the top 3 inches of water. In fact, there isn’t much difference at all between GD and a layer of oil on the surface, except that oil is 100x heavier.

I know what you’re thinking: Gipsy Danger clearly weighs more than compressed carbon dioxide. You remember that scene at the start of the movie where GD is wading up to her head in freezing ocean water. She couldn’t do that if she had the mass of an 265 foot tall rubber duckie. Something must be wrong. The helicopters must be wrong.

AND STING LIKE A BEE WITH THE FORCE OF A DECENT SIZED ASTEROID

Quack

Quack

According to both book and movie, Gipsy Danger is able to fully submerge in the water. She can also swim.

But if GD can submerge, then she must be able to displace a volume of water equal to her total volume. Because she’s 265ft tall, that means we also have to take increasing pressure at depth into account.

Seawater at the sea level weighs 64lbs/ft3. Seawater at a depth of 265 feet weighs over 562lbs/ft3. This is because of the downwards force exerted by the water above. For every 33′ of depth, the weight of water effectively doubles. This means that Gipsy Danger isn’t just displacing 265 x 562lbs of water for every square foot of her downwards force (which we calculate as the area of the bottom of her feet.) It means that’s she’s displacing surface pressure seawater equivalent to something 369 x times her height. Wow! That’s like you stepping into the bath and displacing 25 tons of water!

So just how much does Gipsy Danger have to weigh in order to punch her way through the sea?

Let’s take our volume, 265 225ft3.

And then a shortcut for our equivalent seawater measurement: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 = 36

36 x 33 (for each 33 feet of depth) = 1188

1188 + 9 (for that last 3’4″) = 1197ft depth equivalent

Surface area of GD’s feet = 4844ft2

4844 x 1197 = 5 798 268 equivalent cubic feet of seawater displaced

5 798 268 / 2 (so volume reflects GD’s irregular shape) = 2 899 134ft3

2 899 134 x 0.032 (weight of seawater ft3) = 93 807 tons

There you have it. For Gipsy Danger to walk up to her antenna in ocean, she must have a mass of at least 93 807 tons.

Which means those hearty choppers were carrying 11 725 tons apiece! That is a truly magnificent demonstration of lift. One must wonder that when those helicopters let Gipsy Danger drop into the ocean, they don’t shoot off into the air so fast they escaped the Earth’s atmosphere.

AND NOW IT GETS CRAZY

Oh dear God. More math.

Oh dear God. She’s speaking in equations.

The really fun thing about a giant robot that weighs 93 thousand tons, is that all it needs to do to kill you is to fall on you. But Gipsy Danger is a fighting robot, and she doesn’t lie idly by. If she were to karate chop you at the baseball-pitching speed of 100mph, then her strike would hit at about 12000psi. That’s four times the pressure of a high-powered bullet, exerted across the entire side surface of a hand the size of a banquet table.

In fact, a 770lbs banquet table would have to be travelling at 820 000 feet per second to hit you that hard.

If you consider that a) Gipsy Danger has much longer arms than a human, and b) longer arms means a greater radius and so greater pitching speed, you see that there is virtually no weapon Gipsy Danger could be carrying that would be deadlier than her backhand.

So, can any living creature possibly stand up to a karate chop that would render concrete into a fine mist? Or are tough kaiju more like total kai-woo?

If you’d like to know, shout about it in the comments. I’m also more than happy to have any corrections, considerations, and hilarious bits of information about your everyday. It’s lonely here in the Pacific Rim Nerdpit, and I could use the company.

Until then,

Spend your tokens wisely.

Extreme Science: Pacific Rim

Final_Four_Jaegers

As soon as I saw a jaeger, I said to the guy sitting next to me in the movies, “I wonder how much that thing weighs?” However, it wasn’t until the book landed in my clammy nerd hands that I finally had a means of finding out.

BEWARE: MATHS AHEAD

pr0

Metric WHAT? Find the Imperial Edition here!

Preliminary stuff:

According to the book, Gipsy Danger is 81 metres tall. Taking this measurement, we can gauge GD’s width at about 30m and breadth at 15m.

81 x 30 x 15 = 36 450m3, or Gipsy Danger’s volume. However, because there are places GD is less broad and less tall, I cut the volume in half.

36450 / 2 = 18 225m3

We also need to know the surface area of GD’s feet. Assuming her feet are flat, we get:

30 x 15 = 450m2

or 225m2 per foot.

Easy, right?

Gipsy Danger’s volume: 18 225m3

Gipsy Danger’s bottom-of-foot surface area: 450m2

Let’s get down to business.

SHE FLOATS LIKE A FEATHER

screenshot_6_17_13_9_32_pm1

If you’re anything like me, this scene is one of the most iconic in the entire movie. Gipsy Danger flies over a stormy ocean carried by eight powerful helicopters. Majestic – but feasible?

We’re obviously not dealing with lightweight machinery here. My estimates for GD’s weight were between 1000 and 5000 tons, and perhaps up to 10 000. Pacific Rim is set in the current day and therefore doesn’t have technology that is not yet at our fingertips. Meaning – can eight modern day helicopters carry a load of 10 000 tons?

Short answer: no.

The Mi-26 is the world’s strongest helicopter, able to carry a load of up to 20 metric tons.

So 8 x 20 = 160

If the helicopters are to be believed, Gipsy Danger weighs 160 tons.

But wait a minute. A cubic metre of seawater weights 1025kg. Cast iron weighs 6800kg/m3. Gipsy Danger’s hull is made of iron, so she should be at least 2000kg/m3, even with extra leg room.

If we take Gipsy Danger’s weight – 160 tons – and convert it to kilograms – 160 000kg, then divide it by her volume, we can find her weight per cubic metre.

160 000 / 18 225 = 8.78kg/m3

8.78kg/m3

This means Gipsy Danger has a density about that of a heavy gas.

Oxygen weighs 1.43kg/m3: Gipsy Danger is only six times as heavy as air. Is she made of tinfoil? No. Aluminium is 2600kg/m3, 300x as dense as GD.

GD is in fact so light that if we take the surface area of her feet – 450m2 – and dump her into the ocean, she would only displace the top 71cm of water. If she fell onto her back or front, which she would the moment a kaiju breathed on her delicate, feather-light body, her enlarged surface area would mean she displaced merely the top 8cm of water. In fact, there isn’t much difference at all between GD and a layer of oil on the surface, except that oil is 100x heavier.

I know what you’re thinking: Gipsy Danger clearly weighs more than compressed carbon dioxide. You remember that scene at the start of the movie where GD is wading up to her head in freezing ocean water. She couldn’t do that if she had the mass of an 81 metre tall rubber duckie. Something must be wrong. The helicopters must be wrong.

AND STING LIKE A BEE WITH THE FORCE OF A DECENT SIZED ASTEROID

Quack

Quack

According to both book and movie, Gipsy Danger is able to fully submerge in the water. She can also swim.

But if GD can submerge, then she must be able to displace a volume of water equal to her total volume. Because she’s 81m tall, that means we also have to take increasing pressure at depth into account.

Seawater at the sea level weighs 1025kg/m3. Seawater at a depth of 81 metres weighs over 9000kg/m3. This is because of the downwards force exerted by the water above. For every 10m of depth, the weight of water effectively doubles. This means that Gipsy Danger isn’t just displacing 81 x 1025kg of water for every square metre of her downwards force (which we calculate as the area of the bottom of her feet.) It means that’s she’s displacing surface pressure seawater equivalent to something 369 x times her height. Wow! That’s like you stepping into the bath and displacing 23 tons of water!

So just how much does Gipsy Danger have to weigh in order to punch her way through the sea?

Let’s take our volume, 18 225m3.

And then a shortcut for our equivalent seawater measurement: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 = 36

36 x 10 (for each 10 metres of depth) = 360

360 + 9 (for that last 1m) = 369m depth equivalent

Surface area of GD’s feet = 450m2

450 x 369 = 166050 equivalent cubic metres of seawater displaced

166050 / 2 (so volume reflects GD’s irregular shape) = 83 025m3

83 025 x 1.025 (weight of seawater m3) = 85 101 metric tons

There you have it. For Gipsy Danger to walk up to her antenna in ocean, she must have a mass of at least 85 101 tons.

Which means those hearty choppers were carrying 10 637 tons apiece! That is a truly magnificent demonstration of lift. One must wonder that when those helicopters let Gipsy Danger drop into the ocean, they don’t shoot off into the air so fast they escaped the Earth’s atmosphere.

AND NOW IT GETS CRAZY

Oh dear God. More math.

Oh dear God. She’s speaking in equations.

The really fun thing about a giant robot that weighs 85 thousand tons, is that all it needs to do to kill you is to fall on you. But Gipsy Danger is a fighting robot, and she doesn’t lie idly by. If she were to karate chop you at the baseball-pitching speed of 160kph (100mph), then her strike would hit at about 12000psi. That’s four times the pressure of a high-powered bullet from a hand the size of a banquet table.

In fact, a 350kg banquet table would have to be travelling at 250 000 metres per second to hit you that hard.

If you consider that a) Gipsy Danger has much longer arms than a human, and b) longer arms means a greater radius and so greater pitching speed, you see that there is virtually no weapon Gipsy Danger could be carrying that would be deadlier than her backhand.

So, can any living creature possibly stand up to a karate chop that would render concrete into a fine mist? Or are tough kaiju more like total kai-woo?

If you’d like to know, shout about it in the comments. I’m also more than happy to have any corrections, considerations, and hilarious bits of information about your everyday. It’s lonely here in the Pacific Rim Nerdpit, and I could use the company.

Until then,

Spend your tokens wisely.

Invisible Man: Anatoly Dyatlov

Let it not be said that he was a big man, though he was the giant in any room. He saw himself a Captain Ahab: his underlings saw Moby Dick. What in his eyes was passionate was in theirs predatory. Over the years of their mutual acquaintance the boundaries between the two visions were blurred, until Anatoly was both Ahab and the Orca, hunter and hunter. As the veteran he strode Chernobyl’s halls invigorated by the company of the young workers (“Be healthy, comrade!”), as the white shadow he lounged against the grey metal console, cigarette smoke curling from the corners of his mouth like fog rising from the ocean, awaiting any slip of the operators, to strike.

They had all been caught, they had all been lectured: they had all learnt to respect and fear Anatoly Stepanovich Dyatlov.

*

This has been an invisible man introduction for the protagonist of my Chernobyl novel, the very real Anatoly Dyatlov. The goal was to write a character introduction under 200 words, and without referring directly to your character’s physical appearance. Win? Win.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

The Killer Thighs: A Story About Something, Probably

Lately I’ve been doing so much researching heavy topics (re: Chernobyl, death by acute radiation syndrome) that tonight I just wanted to unwind and do something conventional, like write a half-assed story. So here it is. I guess if you can say anything about it, it’s that it is exactly 1081 words long.

***

Okay, so, there’s this elf. Dark elf. She’s an assassin. Not just any assassin: she’s a political assassin from an ancient clan of assassins, also some accountants. These assassins are like an official department of government. Like M-15, they’re licensed to kill. Anyone can hire them, and they’re traditionally used to settle feuds between oligarchies.

I know what you’re thinking: you stole that right from James Bond. Well, you’re wrong. I stole it from the Elder Scrolls. Just deal.

Our assassin’s name is Iachilla, which means little spider, and boy does it suit her. She’s got moves you ain’t never seen, because you seen these moves, you’d be dead, and you’re not dead, you just wish you were so you could get out of reading this. Iachilla: deadly government assassin. That short blade she has? It won’t just cut your flesh. It will drink your soul. She’s a dark elf, she’s into some messed up stuff. She’s also single. Isn’t that hard to believe? When she’s so wonderful, you should see her thighs, like bridge pylons from all that running through the shadows, she could probably crab-walk up a wall with thighs like that. The rest – just imagine it. Small face, bright yellow cat eyes, teeth – she’s a woman with everything.

Everything … except a boyfriend.

One day Iachilla is assigned a mission from the Torag Mong (I stole that) requesting her deployment to another city. Iachilla slides her trusty blade into her boot, grabs her bag of poisons, cashes a ticket to the clan treasury for travel funds, and hires a carriage to the next city over. In all honestly she’ll be glad to get out of this rat-infested slumheap for a couple of days. Iachilla might be a spider but she’s not crazy about fleas and she’s even less crazy about getting shanked by a street urchin in an alleyway. That sort of thing happens here. It’s all hush-hush but the street urchins are out of their goddamn minds. There’s some sort of brain-rotting disease in the water and the urchins of course have to drink from the canals with no option of boiling beforehand. It’s a sad circumstance but not what the story is about.

Iachilla helps herself to the empty back of the wagon, feeds the driver a couple of silver bits, and listens to him talking to himself about how much he hates street urchins as the wagon winds through the dirty city streets into the clean relief of the hills. The ground under the wagon wheels is mud infused with gravel shovelled into the worst potholes. The wagon still bumps up and down enough that conversation is a constant game not to bite off your tongue. Iachilla doesn’t know how to talk to people so she’s content to listen to the driver.

“-ouch!” he says some twenty minutes from the city, and Iachilla knows she’s in for a period of relaxing silence.

A while later, just as the swelling in the driver’s tongue is coming down, the wagon happens over a steady rise capped by a crumbling watch tower. It’s double storey and wood, and it stinks of mildew and earth. There’s a long skinny figure standing half in and half out of the tower’s late morning shadow, and having apparently long listened to the wagon crunching and bumping through gravel and mud, now raises his long arm in greeting.

The wagon squelches to a halt.

“You got money?” says the driver, or rather, “Oo dot moogey?”

“I’m but a priest,” says the fellow. Indeed, he’s in a dark purple robe trimmed in white fur at the collar and silver lace brocade on the cuffs, though his brown gumboots are rather more perfunctory. His face, Iachilla finds, matches the hands slipping the knapsack from his shoulder, that is, marginally too long and thin to be handsome, but with a gentleness and precision that makes Iachilla think more of a doctor than a priest. She lets her hand fall away from her blade.

The driver gives a shrug. “I’m but a driver. I still need to make a living, mate.”

“Of course,” says the fellow, with a quick, uneven smile that amplifies his long mouth and bent nose. He is too tall for an elf, but his skin is  a purplish blue, a few hues lighter than Iachilla’s. He takes a purse from his knapsack and presses some coins into the driver’s waiting palm. He’s tall enough that he leans over the horse, look, don’t get ridiculous about that image, I mean over its back, as in he was about a height with the horse, if you think the horse is only up to his knees and he leant over it then you’re being absurd, absurd enough you should be writing your own story, but you’re not, you’re reading this one, so just stop hassling me and listen.

“To the city? That’ll be enough, won’t it?”

The driver peers at the bits of ore in his palm, and then sniffs them, and then jerks his head. “Get in the back.”

The fellow does so. His face lightens upon witnessing Iachilla, though it was not the thought of her thighs, but rather the thought of what he might sell her, that lights it. He takes his seat and leans forward gently as the wagon sloshes off on its journey.

“Brodil’s the name,” says the fellow. He doesn’t look like a Brodil, but that’s the best I could come up with in five seconds. “I’m a holy man of Namy. You are…?”

“Uninterested,” Iachilla replies. She draws her legs up to her chest, so that she might better reach her dagger. “I don’t want any of your Namy tokens, preacher.”

This was not as vulgar thing to say as it appears, as Brodil has unbuckled both straps from his knapsack and is rolling it out on the wagon floor. Wooden engravings of Namy on leather thongs and little elephant avatars carved from troll teeth litter the roll. Iachilla fondles her own amulet, which is in ode of the god of death, Traboox.

“That so?” says Brodil, cocking his head, and blinking at her with those long-lashed orange eyes. As he moves the scent of smoked cherrywood drifts from his robes. It’s an inviting scent. Iachilla shifts in her place. She watches the thin, quick hands peel back a layer of the knapsack, pushing away the holy trinkets to reveal an impressive array of small, dull-coloured powders and knives

***

There you have it. A story exactly 1083 words in length. I wonder what would happen if it were 1500 words long?

Spoiler alert: they bang and it is CRAZY.

Ever write stories like this? Share em!

On Air: The Last Night In Pripyat

We’re on air!

My short story, The Last Night In Pripyat, is airing in full tonight on Sounds of the Mountains FM. You can hear it right here.

Go now! It’s almost on! And if you miss the start you might still get the end!

Anneque

When Writing is Difficult

Today I’m researching for my Chernobyl novel (Chernovel?)

A few days ago I decided to take a break from research and make a start on the novel. The reason being is that there is still so much research to do, and still a novel to be written, and only a limited amount of time in the universe. Also – this is the thing about exploring tragic events – researching Chernobyl has proven to be a desperately sad experience.

1-Pripyat-Ukraine

Pripyat, Chernobyl NPP in the top left.

The novel so far is not at all sad. It has a little foreshadowing, but it’s early days yet. I plan to write it in six parts, starting with the night of the accident and moving into the rescue attempts, the clean-up, then onto the court trials and what happened to those displaced by the disaster. I then want to look at Pripyat today and investigate the future of the site. All in all I hope to provide an accurate and engaging account of the disaster that explores the human, technological and political elements at play.

I’d also like to give something back to those who lost their lives, their homes, their reputations and sources of income, their freedom, their sanity, their health. The radiation expelled by the meltdown represents only a small percentage of the damage done to people’s lives. It is the long term displacement, fear and stigma that makes the health consequences so much harder to bear.

But how does one give back? To say I’m sorry is an understatement. Sorry you lost everything! Sorry this problem doesn’t look like it will ever go away. Being sorry will not help anyone.

I thought then that the novel could give something else. Maybe it could give some clarity. Maybe it could give a human face to the ongoing consequences. And maybe it can give some hope. Maybe I can say, yes, this terrible thing has happened, but it’s okay to move on.

Of course it’s not that simple. But if I can give someone a shred of hope that the exclusion zone will eventually be chipped away, and people will eventually move back to Chernobyl and Pripyat, which are, after all, people’s homes, then that will be something.

But I was talking about research. Or lack thereof. The problem with lack thereof research, is that the moment you start to write is the moment you start to realise how incomplete your research is. I drafted the opening scenes: where is the amusement park? (spent an hour comparing maps and photos of Pripyat) Did plant employees live together? (cross-referencing some references suggests no for operators, yes for contractors.) How many buses would it take to move a night shift? Was everyone picked up, or did some people drive? How long did it take? How does one progress from the entrance of the plant to the control room? Does one have a shower on the way in or only the way out? What happened to Igor Kirshenbaum? Who in the world is Busygin? And so on and so on forever.

Hence my break from research turned out to not be a break from research at all, but rather the same amount of research interspaced with small amounts of writing things I was uncertain about.

Sometimes the research leads to interesting places. I discovered that one of the operators, Yuri Tregub, who I had previously thought was dead (and was quoted as dead, but you can never trust obituaries), was still alive in 2006. Tregub, a shift leader who stayed on from the previous shift to watch reactor 4 shut down and the results of the turbogenerator test, gave a vivid account of the night and clarified many details, such as who was in the control room and why they were there, and what had gone initially wrong with the test, as well as a great quote from Tregub, “the test had obviously been drawn up by an electrician [and not a nuclear engineer.]”

Then there is the sad stuff. Today I hit the sad stuff. It began so innocently. I have a short scene with a dosimetrist (who reads radiation levels around the plant) which aims to describe the reactor. Easier said than done. What does the reactor look like, exactly? I could draw you a cross-section, but to tell you what it actually looked like to someone standing next to it, I couldn’t tell you. My suspicion was that the reactor didn’t look like anything to someone standing next to it, because it was not possible to stand next to it. But I’ve heard from multiple sources that it was possible to stand in the hallway on level +10, look out the window, and see the reactor stretching up to the ceiling at +30, and the steam drums suspended somewhere around +24.

I just don’t know how this is possible, so I have asked someone who knows better, and hopefully will have clarification on that point soon. It’s now a moot point, because while scratching my head at that question, I realised the dosimetrist would have taken his readings on level +30, in the room on the top of the reactor, and not down beside it.

While looking at schematics, I found this:

lenyanote

It belongs to the Kiev 2010 – Trip to Chernobyl website, which has many interesting pictures and a great story to accompany.

The note is a telegram sent from Leonid Toptunov on the 29th April 1986, three days after the accident. At this stage Leonid and 230 others had been transported from Pripyat to Moscow Hospital 6 for treatment for acute radiation syndrome.

Leonid is someone who is difficult to write about. He was one of the major players that night. He was 25 at the time of the accident, two months away from 26. He was the senior reactor chief engineer on the unit 4 night shift, a position he held for some three months. As senior reactor chief engineer his job was to oversee operation of the control rods which controlled the reactor’s heating and cooling. Leonid made mistakes that night, although not drastic ones, until he joined shift supervisor Aleksandr Akimov in manually reopening the emergency coolant valves. This led to both men being soaked in radioactive water for upwards of three hours, dosing them each with 1500 rads on what was ultimately a futile suicide mission.

The telegram says:

Mama, I’m lying in hospital in Moscow. I feel good. -Lenya

It does not help to feel sorry for people. At times it’s impossible to avoid. Lenya Toptunov died on the 14th of May 1986 after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant from his father.

These are the people I am writing for. The ones who lost everything. The ones who need hope.