28.11.2005 09:00 - Fun With Fluoride
Many of you may be familiar with Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station, which was to be found in North Wales, and is currently undergoing decommission. Some of you may even be familiar with it's part in the risible "First Knight" film, where they built Camelot on the other side of the lake. Many of you will not, however, be familiar with this tale, which was passed on to me by a member of the National Power team I once worked with whilst installing the remote substation control for the Birmingham Ring (which I may discuss in a later, rib-tickling article. Especially rib-tickling for me, as I now live hundreds of miles away from Birmingham. Clue: the two may be related).
As you may imagine, care and maintenance of a Nuclear Power Station is particularly nerve-wracking. Many things have to be tested, regularly, to make sure that they are doing their job and not about to start complicating life, including your own gonads. This leads to a somewhat darker than usual sense of humour. Unsurprising then, that one of the former press officers for the CEGB nuclear generation board was one Terry Pratchett.
One of the regular jobs in testing nuclear power stations is to crack-test the turbines, which run on steam generated by the heat from the nuclear reactor. This crack-testing is done using fluoride, which is blown into the turbines. The turbines are then examined with ultraviolet light, the idea being that the fluoride will have gotten into any cracks and made them visible. Good idea.
Unfortunately, there are strict guidelines to the disposal of this fluoride. The fluoride should be disposed of correctly, definitely by not flushing it down the drains, oh no. Unfortunately, this is what happened. The fluorine was flushed out into the lake. A lake that is in the middle of Snowdonia park nature reserve, and so the dumping of a couple of gallons of fluoride into the lake isn't going to go down too well in certain circles. Things were said, and the upshot of the argument was "least said - soonest mended". In other words, keep your traps shut or we're all up shit creek without a paddle.
Now, what you have to know is that next to Trawsfynnydd is a lake. This lake supplies the water used in the power station. No, the water isn't radio-active. In fact, the power station has had quite a beneficial effect for the fish who live in the lake, who like to cluster round the warm water outlet from the power station. This fact was not lost on the local fishermen.
On the night of which we speak, one of these fishermen was sitting above the warm-water outlet, in his coracle. Mr. Fisherman had been having a bit of luck, and had just caught a couple of fish, which he had quickly gutted and washed, then washed his hands over the side of the coracle. It was then he held up his hands underneath his lantern.
Did I mention that he had a lantern? He most certainly did. A Blacklight lantern, so he didn't scare the fishes off.
So, just for the hard of thinking, a recap. He held up his hands, recently washed in water contaminated by fluoride, underneath an ultraviolet light source. He looked at the giant behemoth of a nuclear power station looming above him, and then back at his hands.
It was at this point that he probably put two and two together, and came up with the answer "You are irradiated, go to hospital. Go directly to hospital, do not pass go, do not collect your wits, just run like buggery, Taffy, because you are going to die."
Shortly after that, the duty officer at Trawsfynydd had a phone call from the local outpatients department. I'll leave you to guess as to the form of their inquiry.