Plan A: Finding Power
I need to get out of here.
The clicking seems to be getting faster. I can hear the cries getting louder. Cries of fear, moans of pain, the dread of the inevitable.
We are dying.
I need to get to the boat.
One evening, when Gaia was five, still small enough to nestle herself between her parents, she sat on the sofa cradling a mug of hot cocoa in her hands. She was wearing her favourite pink pyjamas, with a grey knitted blanket spread across the bundle of legs.
Her parents, after sharing a nervous glance and a quick nod of affirmation, had explained to her that humans were what Gaia’s Uncle Taylor liked to call “Bad Stewards”.
Her parents explained, “Humanity has abused the Earth so much that we have increased the global temperature”.
Gaia furrowed her eyebrows, and stuck her chocolatey tongue out in concentration, as she thought about what they had said. She had thought that sunshine was good, because the sun comes out to give Mama a tan.
Smiling at Gaia’s innocent confusion her Papa said, “If global warming gets any worse ‘thermal expansion’ will too. That means the sea levels will rise and there will be bad weather, which might cause things like flooding”
Gaia remembered his next words clearly:
“It will change Earth as we know it.”
The message ‘Evacuate and find shelter’ repeats over and over again; it’s on the news, on the television, on the radio, on Mama and Papa’s phones.
We are trying.
I try to imagine the boat without people crying and screaming. I force myself to picture it how I could have a few years ago; full of relaxed people, drinking colourful drinks through colourful straws, relieved that they have made it, praying that it takes usto the Caribbean.
My parents pick up water bottles and canned goods and stuff them into a rucksack, I expect to hear a clang where they meet in the bag but instead hear; Tick Click Tick, Click Tick Click.
I listen to it until I feel Mama’s hand on my shoulder. She takes my coat and forces my hands through the arm holes.
As she puts on her own, she tells me as if I’m five not fifteen to go find my hiking boots “quickly!”
Papa leads us outside and into the forest near our house. The trees are standing proud and tall, with their leaves flowing calmly and gently in the wind. Would they be able to protect us from what was coming?
“Faster Gaia, we need to get to the boat”
I nod, trying not to think about what will happen if we don’t make it in time.
Last week Europe declared that they too were at war – an ethical war. Gaia had known then, that on either side of the debate, there would be death and here she was, running from it.
This was not supposed to happen.
I grip my death indicator tight; as if I’m letting it know I am here, hoping that the reading will be lower, that I can slow the clicks down. Will it listen to a fifteen-year-old girl who took no part in global warming in the first place? Uncle Taylor didn’t listen so why would this?
I can feel my heart pounding in my chest and anxiety swelling in my stomach.
I need to get to the boat. Now.
That evening, in her pyjamas, snuggled in the blanket, holding her cocoa; Gaia tasted the salty droplets as she hiccupped with glistening eyes.
Her Papa tried to comfort her by explaining that the government had one last plan.
Gaia shakily placed down her cherished mug, and through her sobbing she asked, “But what does that do? Won’t the plan cause globular warmings too?”
“Global warming? That is the beauty of this plan” he had said calmly, laughing at Gaia’s error, “it won’t contribute to global warming.”
Her Mama had rolled her eyes and muttered in Papa’s direction. He gave her a smile, which Gaia had seen regularly since, to say: ‘Be positive, it’s the only option we have left’.
It didn’t take long for Gaia to learn that her Mama was not the only one with
There was an activist in the family.
23/04/2035 1220 hrs
Papa used to tell me horror stories of what would happen if we didn’t have the government’s great plan. But he didn’t tell me this one. The reality that we are trying to escape with my counter screaming: run run run, run away if you can.
I can see the clearing of the forest and look to Papa to try and gauge his emotions. He looks the same as Mama: petrified.
I think of Uncle Taylor; was this his doing… again?
With long dark unkept hair that grazed his eyelids and a short stature, Taylor Jones was a zealous supporter of the government’s plan. Jones’ ambitions had first begun small. He would go to climate change marches and protest for more action from the government. And then they listened.
Jones had been slouching against the cabinets in Gaia’s kitchen with a glass of red wine between his index and middle finger. He pointed, as harsh as his glare, at Gaia’s Mama who sat at the kitchen table, twisting the rings on her fingers.
“Solar panels won’t cut it,” he snapped at her.
“But this plan will go too far. It’s dangerous!” Gaia’s Mama pleaded.
“Don’t be stupid, it’s too little too late!”
“People will try harder now” she tried to protest despite knowing she was fighting a losing battle.
“You know it’s gone too far past that point. Think about Gaia’s future. I don’t want my niece growing up in a world with no hope. This is our last chance and the government are actually listening”
“I don’t trust them”
“Well then you don’t trust your own brother”
“Maybe I shouldn’t.”
Jones continued to climb the leadership ladder of his environmental activist groups, all the way to the top.
Gaia’s Papa said that Jones, “sought to protect the earth, above all else.”
Gaia’s Mama and Papa watched him on the news and listened to his phone calls boasting of his higher positions and exotic plans. Until one day they stopped picking up.
Soon after, Construction started around the world.
At the time, France already had 58. France and every country nearby were to double their numbers. The UK already had 15, Germany had 17, Spain had 7, Switzerland had 4. Even Italy, who at the time had no working plants after closing theirs down (from what Gaia’s Papa had explained to her was a result of fear caused from a Russian accident that happened back in the eighties) were now going to have 10 of their own.
The counter adds an extra tick per 30 seconds.
Papa’s gripping the radio tight. It’s repeating the words “Evacuate and find shelter”. Their words don’t scare me as much anymore. I don’t think even “Impending doom is here; you are going to die” would change how I feel right now.
Suddenly my feet trip up below me and my heart plummets to my stomach, I try to correct my balance to save my fall. I flinch as my hand warms, worried that it is contaminated, but see that Mama holds it in hers while my Papa ties my shoe lace like when I was young.
Then we continue.
At school Gaia soon started learning about them. When she was seven, her class were each given a Geiger counter to look at so they could see what objects have radiation. She stole hers.
In Gaia’s last year of Junior School Mr Azrael taught her class how the stations work a bit like a kettle: the atoms are split to create heat energy. The energy then bounces around rods and is immersed in cold water, which is the coolant, and when it heats up it produces steam. The steam spins the turbines that then powers a generator to create energy.
“What if it gets too hot?” Gaia asked Mr Azrael.
“More coolant would be added to cool it down or the Emergency Core Cooling systems, ECCS for short, would automatically do it.”
“What if they don’t work?”
“But what if?”
“Then there will be a technical error that the engineers will fix.”
“What if they can’t?”
“That’s enough Gaia. Nuclear power is as safe as the people running it.”
After what felt to Gaia like forever and ever, he turned to the rest of the class and said slowly; “Nothing will go wrong. Nuclear power plants are going to save us all”.
He then went on to list the endless positives of nuclear power.
To clear my mind of the images of a meltdown ravaging the town I grew up in; I try my best to focus my thoughts on Mama, Papa and I sitting down together, holding each other’s hands as we let out a deep breath. We will make it.
France was the last to finish building its final mandatory nuclear power plant building. It marked 116 in France alone, and over 1000 across the world. In the urgency of producing hundreds of nuclear power plants and multiple reactors within them, safety features were rushed. They were glanced over by untrained workers, pressured to construct massive technical buildings in such a short time. People feared that this would mean there would be technical faults across hundreds of nuclear power plants.
But there was no time for an alternative.
The reactor four sirens screamed an hour too late: the system short circuited just a week after Gaia’s twelfth birthday. The Canadian reactor, in Darlington nuclear power plant, had a failure in its emergency cooling system. It was meant to be a standard testing procedure, so its temperatures had risen marginally above standard procedure to evoke the ECCS. Four hours before, these were supposedly successful. Gaia and her parents knew something terrible was happening, and so did its engineers. The engineers were as powerless as the rest of them to stop what was about to happen.
Gaia’s Papa said it was due to “a lack of training”.
The core of the reactor burst and the reactor erupted. The radiation spread like invisible pollen as far as the wind blew. Just one week later there was a similar incident at the Embalse, Córdoba plant in Argentina from almost exactly the same error as Darlington.
After the explosion in May 2032 they all took safety measures more seriously. The Darlington and Embalse nuclear power plants were eventually isolated and contained within their provinces.
But that didn’t stop the backlash.
Even the liberalists who claimed to be in support of them, were terrified of the power plants in their own neighbourhood. They kept asking themselves; What if the new safety measures still aren’t enough? What if the plants are too exposed to the wrong people?
Jones ignored the worries of the public and did not seek to comfort them. Gaia knew the only other option was to face the brutality of global warming. The whole situation would’ve reached tipping point years ago without nuclear power…but they’d apparently forgotten this in the midst of political power play.
When the first limitations on carbon emissions were enforced, carbon intensive industries had no choice but to shut down. Millions of workers became redundant. Many of these workers flooded into the construction of the nuclear power plants, and started working in them because that was the only work available.
None of them were experts, but engineers were needed so that’s what they became. Nuclear power became their sole purpose, and undoubtedly the only way for human life to continue.
Gaia’s Papa said he was glad he took early retirement from his job in the travel agents when he did.
We’ve walked what my Papa says is 12 kilometres and we stop for some water. My Papa hands me the bottle while I sit against a jagged rock.
“We’ve got some time” Papa says to Mama.
I put the Geiger counter on the muddy track beneath me and see that it’s drawn its shape into my palm. I squeeze my nails into the indented pink lines it left on my hands, as if the pressure would rid of it. The line turns from pink to red and then it breaks. The tips of my nails become wet. Four thin lines of blood trickle down my palm and merge into one stream down my forearm.
Mama curses and rushes over to bandage my hand, as if the biggest thing we had to worry about was a bit of blood.
The trees sway gently in the breeze and I think hard about the life breathing through them.
I push the bandage against my four open wounds, wincing in preparation.
I feel nothing.
Papa looks to his map and to his watch, then his map and back to his watch again. He turns to Mama and says, “We will make it”.
The protests had only got worse since the events of 2032. By 2033 war broke out, first in North America and then in Southern Asia. Both a result of the governments denial of their public’s demands – the public wanted the nuclear power plants to be shut down.
Russian leader Demetri Aleksandr revealed, Russia were going to shut down their nuclear power plants within the month.
Environmental extremists were not happy about this. Gaia’s Uncle, one of the most radical leaders from the ‘European Nuclear Assembly’, went beyond his highest job description as ‘Nuclear Politics Environmental Advisor’. Taylor Jones followed his newly appointed power trip (which Gaia’s Mama had said looked as though he thought he was the ‘Guardian of the Earth’) and used it against Russia.
Jones and his followers got a lot of support for releasing, a literal hell on Earth across eight nuclear power plants in Russia. It was declared a completely radioactive region, and yet thousands of people were rejoicing.
Others were even more afraid of nuclear power plants than before. Humanity was divided on what was ethically right or wrong, the unity over nuclear power being the final hope was not enough.
Gaia had awoken in a sweat the night after. She had dreamt that Graveline’s nuclear power plant had been bombed. She had seen herself stood in the middle of her school hall watching everyone around her blister and puss until they collapsed. After her Mama calmed her down and put her back to bed, Gaia heard her blame Papa. She told him Gaia was too young to be learning about what she called ‘Nuclear Politics’ and that he shouldn’t be allowing Gaia to watch the news.
Her Papa said “Our Gaia is going to have to grow up fast. She needs to know about this. It’s her future and her Uncle.”
Gaia was only fourteen.
The three loud bangs I’d heard over five hours ago were undoubtedly the reason my Geiger counter is clicking more and more. It’s been keeping up with us, trying to race us to the boat. Papa thinks we have the lead.
When the sirens went off, we knew it could only be one thing.
I’m too scared to look at where the arrow points now. In my gut I know it has ticked over to the zone that writes the death certificate of everyone in a 20km radius.
As we get nearer to the boat collection point and see on the horizon the backs of swarming panicked people at the quay, the wails behind us get louder and closer. My parents are still desperately trying to get me to the boat, but I know it’s too late.
It’s going to win the race.
The skin on my arms are prickling with heat; I’m sunburnt but there is no sun anymore.