Nuclear Technology in Fenspace
E = MC^2
It’s the traditional ‘Science’ equation, written somewhere on a blackboard behind the traditional scraggly-haired scientist to demonstrate just how smart they are. I guarantee you, most people won’t know what exactly it means.
Basically, if you remember your high school physics about how energy can neither be created or destroyed? Well, it turns out that mass is basically just another form of energy.
In fact, mass is a lot of energy.
The C^2 in the equation? The C, refers to the speed of light, which is a fantastically big number. The ^2 means that it’s multiplied by itself - which is now an unimaginably big number.
Therefore, a very small amount of mass, is a very, very large amount of energy. To put this into perspective, half a gramme of mass is enough energy to level a decent-sized town.
Like Hiroshima. Or Nagasaki.
Because you know you can’t really discuss nuclear technology without discussing nuclear weapons. Still, if cracking the very stuff of creation and seizing raw energy from the fabric of the universe itself gets you excited, read on.
Both your traditional, and your handwaved sort.
These aren’t really nuclear reactors as such. They’re little more than a billet of nuclear material that is so intensely radioactive, it has started to radiate heat. This heat is then used to to generate electricity through the Seebeck effect.
It’s how the Voyager and Pioneer probes have been powered for the last 4 decades. It’s how Cassini was powered.
The total output is low, but with absolutely no moving parts and relying on basic physics to work, reliability is unquestioned. The only real drawback is that, as the nuclear material ages and decays, so does the power output. Eventually, the output falls to the point where the system will no longer function.
There’re other options such as betavoltaics, where the energy of the radiation itself provides power and LENRs (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) which usually require some form of a handwave to get any sort of useful work out of. 
Handwaved options are normally limited to improving the efficiency or lifespan of the device - the most common being ‘nuclear’ laptop batteries made from handwaved lithium-ion batteries on Mars. These ‘small-scale’ devices are almost common.
Drawbacks in the hardtech word are that anything sufficiently active to be a power source, is sufficiently active to make you dead It’s not unheard of for the odd scrap metal merchant to crack open an old Soviet lighthouse and find something far more dangerous than copper.
It’s the sort of mistake you regret for the rest of your life.
Splitting the Atom.
This is your granddaddy’s nuclear reactor. Fire a neutron just the right speed at an atom and it’ll split. In most cases, it takes more energy to split the atom, than is actually released afterwards. To actually get useful energy out of the reaction, you need a really big, unstable atom that flies apart with a lot of energy. The most common of these are:
Thorium, Uranium, Plutonium, Neptunium, Americium and Californium.
Of these, Thorium and Uranium are by far and away the most common in Fenspace - easy to find in useful quantities. Most others require some form of pre-existing nuclear technology to create, limiting their use to places where there’s already a high tech level - or to the mundane Powers.
Sub-Critical Reactors. Safe and Simple
A Fission reaction can be achieved by a boyscout in his garden shed using materials ordered off the internet. . Not a very powerful one - but still capable of producing enough nasty radioactive by-products that the federal government condemns every building you ever had it in.
Still, take a billet of natural Uranium, add a sufficiently powerful neutron source, and you have what’s called a sub-critical nuclear reactor. This is basically how the original Roughriders ‘Cool Cuke’ engines were built.
These are by far and away the most common fission reactors in Fenspace. They offer most of the benefits of the convention ‘big science’ nuclear reactors, while being inherently Fail-Safe. Close off the neutron source and the reactor stops.
|Sidebar: Nuclear Enrichment|
Transuranics are relatively easy to find in Fenspace. But in their natural state, few are suitable for use as a power source.
Nuclear enrichment is the process of increasing the quantity of a specific isotope in a nuclear material. The most common application of the process, is to increase the quantity of Uranium-235 in a sample of Uranium. Naturally occurring Uranium is less than 1% Uranium-235 - the rest being Uranium 238.
Current Roughriders engines run at about 18% Uranium-235 - reducing the core size considerably for the same output and lifespan.
Above 20% enrichment, it becomes possible to make a functional - if bulky- nuclear weapon. Needless to say, the only difference in lower, and higher, enriched Uranium, is time to cook. Therefore those few places capable of enriching Uranium are amongst the most heavily guarded in the Universe, and the technologies required are amongst the most secret. It’s also incredibly technology intensive. Even with handwaving assistance and gravimetric differentiation technology, it’s impossible to hide what’s being. If you start enrichment without telling people, expect a visit from Hans Blix. Or the real James Bond.
The vast majority of Roughriders spacecraft and their derivatives utilise some variant of ‘Cool Cuke’ technology, with additional variants of the reactor design and various modified fuel sources and neutron generators being trialled by smaller builders
In theory, it’s impossible to blow one up.
Critical Fission. In Dollars and Cents
This is your grandaddy’s nuclear reactor. Split a Uranium atom with a neutron and - amongst the nuclear shrapnel - you’ll find between two and three extra neutrons that’re ready to find their way to another nearby Uranium atom that’s waiting to split.
A critical reaction requires a critical mass - sufficient material to sustain the reaction. Critical mass is determined both by the shape of the material, by what surrounds it and by how compressed it is. If you have a critical mass, you have a reaction - it’s that simple.
99% of neutron release from a reaction are ‘prompt’ - at the instant the atom splits. 1% - the delayed neutrons - are released in the minutes following. Ideally, if you’re running a reactor, you’re running it inside that 1% band.
Back in the days of the Manhattan Project, the scientists called this 1% a ‘Dollar’ of reactivity.
If your reactor power is neither increasing, or decreasing - it’s critical. It’s stable. Criticality is generally a good thing.
If your reactor is slowing down, it’s sub-critical.
If your reactor is accelerating, it’s super-critical. This is fine. Just try not to go too hard and go outside that 1% range. This is called prompt-critically, and prompt supercriticality.
This is generally considered a bad thing and normally results in autodissasembly of the reactor. And the building it’s in.
Chernobyl is what happens when you go outside that 1% band - when your reactor through whatever combination of mistakes you manage to make becomes Critical on the Prompt neutrons only. The reaction multiplies in nanoseconds, monumental amounts of energy are liberated and - well - blowups happen. Your name will be in a history book.
A Criticality Accident, is this on a smaller scale. The reaction will fire as soon as a critical mass exists, usually coming as a surprise to the individual who caused it. Fortunately, the reaction usually disassembles itself before it can turn into a fully fledged nuclear explosion - but tthe operator responsible is rarely so lucky.
Actual critical fission reactors - which rely on a self-sustaining chain reaction - are vanishingly rare in Fenspace. The technical expertise required to design a safe and functioning fission reactor are - for the most part - beyond the majority of Fen organisations, unless there is a very specific requirement.
The USS Stingray, GKK Severstal and SS Moondance are the only vessels known to operate with a true fission reactor. All three of these or either government owned - or have strong government ties. All of these are navalised, pressurised water reactors.
Fission Power is otherwise generally limited to ‘mundane’ settlements in the Main Belt, many of which are government sponsored. A few Russian government-backed settlements operate using graphite moderated pressurised channel-type reactors. They’re big, bulky but get around the enrichment and proliferation problems for the most part while being relatively simple.
In general, few Fen Go Fission. Fusion power is generally preferred - being seen as cleaner and more ‘futuristic’, without having to exist in the shadow of The Mushroom Cloud.
Handwavium use tends to be limited towards either dealing with the resulting nuclear waste - neutralising it or rendering it safe - direct transmutation of energy within the reactor core proper - or to extraction of energy from elements such as Lithium which can be fissioned, but aren’t normally ‘energy positive’.
There’re other technologies such as breeder reactors, molten salt and gaseous core fission, and crunchytech like NERVA engines, but few have been implemented. Thus far, nobody has attempted to implement an Orion Drive or an NTR drive. 
In general, to stably operate a fission reactor without any handwaving influence - and even with it - requires a level of technical comprehension and professional competence beyond most settlements in Fenspace. The consequences of a mistake with a fission reactor - even in an enclosed asteroid settlement, will be disastrous. On a planetary level, getting it wrong with a fission reactor will be catastrophic.
There is little to no margin for error, and no guarantee that that handwavium safety net won’t tear open at the worst possible moment.
The Power of the Stars
|Sidebar:How does a Fusion reactor explode?|
While feeding a reaction too much will kill it, feeding it JUST enough will help build the reaction to the point where the reactor can't take the energy and the reaction plasma violently breaches. While breaching kills the reaction, stellar core temperature plasma still is more than enough to vaporise material and the pressure wave of such a breach will 'pop' most asteroid settlements like a balloon.
After the first handful of these happened[ref]setting off alarms all over Fenspace even with warnings[/ref] with 'boskone' hidden bases it has become standard procedure on detection of unknown deuterium/Helium-3 in an un-registe4rd habitat to secure the reactor core(s) and check for sabotage in the reactor core without letting it power up.
The introduction of the Whole Fenspace Catalogue killed off most handwave-based fusion systems, which is what allows most of the bad sides of Fusion to manifest.
Nuclear fusion is by far and away the most common ‘nuclear’ power source in Fenspace. Fusion power has been used to drive everything from starship thrusters, to main power reactors, to distress flares, to firearm bullets.
In theory, nuclear Fusion has the advantage of producing few - if any - of the hazardous wastes that Fission produces. Helium (He3) fusion is clean, effective and - thanks to the Whole Fenspace Catalogue - no longer requires a handwave to make work.
You should be using He3 fusion. There is no technical reason not to beyond recklessness.
Common fusion reactions include Deuterium/Tritium, Deuterium/Deuterium, or He3. Everything except He3 has it’s own problems. Deuterium and Tritium especially produce a spray of high speed neutrons which transmute everything they touch into hideous radiation.
The core of a recently shut-down D/T fusion reactor has been described as the single most radioactive object known to man.
In theory the reaction is incapable of running away with itself - the reaction can only run as long as there’s fuel in the core. It’s not a coincidence that Fusion-based power is encouraged far more than the alternatives. It’s already being employed on Earth in pilot programs. It’s almost impossible to make one of those explode, after all. 
3.6 Roentgen. Great, Terrible?
|“||I'm told it's the equivelant of a chest x-ray.||”|
Anyone who’s thinking of messing with the atom would do well to take a good hard look at just what happens when it goes wrong.
What does radiation do, to you?
The short answer is that radiation damages the DNA in your cells. Some of them are killed outright immediately. This is the first phase of radiation poisoning, and it lasts a day or so, while your body tries to deal with the mass death of cells and the resulting consequences. You will be sick and bedridden - like the worst hangover you've ever had.
Then you will be fine for a few days - even normal. If your dose is low enough, that’s more or less it.
If not - you are already dead. A zombie - a walking ghost. While you walk around waiting for the doctors to let you go home, all the natural processes that keep your body alive are already shutting down.
These cells, at the end of their normal working lives, instead of splitting into new cells will realise that they have been damaged and prompty self-destruct instead. It’s the body’s own self-defense mechanism against cancer.
And it goes into overdrive.
If the damage is too great - if there’s nothing left to heal from - you will die. The point is normally around and about 600 Rads of a dose. Radaway, and some careful use of the ‘wave can push that up to a 1000 rads, but after that, all bets are off.
Once you go past that point of no return, you will rot alive. Your skin will blacken and slough off like gangrene, your insides will turn to mush and ooze from every orifice. Your eyes will whiten and turn opaque. Your muscles will waste away, splitting off the bone like cooked meat. You will choke on the remnants of your own lungs. And all this time, you will be aware of what’s happening to you, in excruciating pain as every new tear opens up deep inside you with doctors incapable of doing anything so merciful as giving you morphine.
You will die, eventually, and it will hurt the entire time you are dying.
Above a thousand rads, your death is an inevitability. The wave doesn’t work. Some gonzo methods like complete whole-body cybernetics may work - but that’s a gamble at best and the long term effects aren’t known.
Even ‘smaller’ doses - enough to sicken but not obviously harm - even enough to go all but unnoticed except to a medical professional’s tests leave lasting effects that are inescapable. It will sit inside you waiting for the right time to metastise.
The takeaway therefore - Do not fuck around with doses of radiation.
Your best defences against radiation are, in the following order:
Distance. Radiation obeys the square law.
Time. Your dose is cumulative - not instantaneous.
Shielding. Not always possible. Often heavy. But better than nothing
Anti-rad and some biomodifications can help mitigate the effects of radiation, but radiation will always leave its mark.
Handwaved shielding is also possible, to reduce density and thickness. But really, the best defense against radiation is to be nowhere near it.
Nuclear Weapons in Fenspace
|“||I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.||”|
A French Invention - no really look it up, the concept of an Atomic Bomb using an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction was first patented in France in 1939 - the shadow of the Mushroom Cloud dominated the later half of the 20th century. The arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States loomed large over the world, and to this day, still represent the third greatest X-Risk everybody knows about but nobody seems to be doing anything about. 
Global Thermonuclear War is still a lingering possibility. Needless to say that this would not be good for life on earth as we know it. 
For a time, the only ‘crime’ was the use of a weapon of mass destruction near a civilised place. Even this wasn’t specifically outlawed until somebody made a very large mess at Anticipation. I guess nobody really saw the need until somebody actually did it.
This all changed with the PEPPER treaty which outlawed the ‘Private’ ownership of weapons of mass destruction, but at the same time it doesn’t specifically clarify what is meant by Private. This is generally taken as an absolute prohibition and, sensibly, has yet to be tested either before the Convention Authority or a tribunal.
Suffice to say, if you do try and go for a bomb, Great Justice will not fuck around.
The real threat, you now realise, is not that someone will build a nuclear weapon and use it to destroy Stellvia, or Genaros, or Helium. To be frank, there’re far more effective and efficient ways to do it if you wanted to. The real threat, is somebody finding you, and finding the secret you just learned and using it on, oh, New York. Or Moscow. Or Tokyo. Or London. Or Tel Aviv. Or Seoul. Or Tehran.
They will know where it came from - it’s not that hard to tell. And they will not stop. The World will come.
The real threat, is that it might spur Them to come up Here. And they will come up with all the righteous fury they can possibly bring to find where that bomb came from and who made it.
Suffice to say, we don’t particularly want that to happen.
The only thing worse, would be accidentally triggering off World War Three and writing the coda to the human race. Because that’s also a possibility if some of what we read about old Soviet Fail-Deadly systems is true.
Therefore, if you try to make a nuclear weapon, you will be stopped. There are those with the skills and intelligence to spot the obvious patterns your create in the attempt, and those with the skills and capabilities in sheer bloody ultraviolence to make sure you’re stopped no matter what you put in the way. Then there are those with more resources than you can imagine on their side to drop a mountain on you that you will never crawl out from under - and all three will put aside whatever fannish differences work together to stop you. Not to mention the Mundane Powers, who are all of these combined and then some.
If you somehow succeed, you will wish you were stopped.
You don’t want it in your life.
The Khan Directive
You’re not supposed to know about this. What we do know, is that it predates Great Justice - and what we know of it, also predates Great Justice. It may have started within SHIELD, but it didn’t stay there for long.
The Khan Directive, is a set of procedures for dealing with a potential Proliferation risk. It is named not for Khan Singh - but for A.Q. Khan - a Pakistani scientist responsible for nuclear weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East. Essentially, it boils down to the following 4 statements.
Identify and Confirm a Proliferation Risk exists.
Neutralise the Proliferation Risk, at all costs.
Maintain secrecy of the risk, at all costs.
Eliminate any Nuclear Weapons.
Troubleshooters of sufficient rank, experience and trust may know of it. Officers of the Space Patrol of sufficient rank, experience and trust may know of it. SMoFs may not necessarily know of it - beyond the name. Implementing the Directive is also suspected to be one of the more clandestine and critical duties of 00 Agents. Exactly who knows and who implements is one of the more closely guarded secrets in Fenspace.
The mundane powers have their own protocols. These are beyond Top Secret. Your first warning of them catching on will be the knife missile on your head the moment you step outside.
If it’s one boyscout who’s managed to have an accident while building a Neptunium reactor - it’s relatively simple and can be reduced to a stern talking to and an explanation of what will happen if it gets known that they figured out the secret. If it’s a risk that involves a source of transuranics in day-to-day use throughout the solar system, removing them without tipping the hand becomes a multi-year - or potentially - decade long endeavour.
Either way, if you ever hear the words Khan Directive spoken in your vicinity, your life is about to get a lot more complicated.
A rumour. A Myth.
Some would suggest that the people best qualified to confirm and identify a proliferation risk, are the people who’ve already managed to create a nuclear weapon of their own.
Little if anything is known. The phrase appears only in a few sources. Membership is, appropriately, clandestine as all fuck.
It appears that membership of this group tends to occur by accident.
When the only person who's seriously suspected (by people other than conspiracy theorists) to be in this group is asked about the Mushroom Kingdom, she says the Mushroom Kingdom sounds like a great idea for a stage show but the rightsholders want too much money for a Mario Bros. sublicense. If pressed on the matter, Ms. Li says "I could not begin to speculate about such a group." If still pressed, she insists the questioner is wasting his time.
The Active Reactor Safety Committee
So You’ve had a Nuclear Accident. Oops. Hopefully you’ve heeded Professor Legasov’s advice and put it in a box where it can’t get out, otherwise none of this will apply to you.
Normally, you’ll report your screwup to the Active Reactor Safety Committee, who'll drop buy and efficiently go about the business of discovering what went wrong. The ARSC are generally friendly folks who try to create an atmosphere of mutual co-operation and sharing of knowledge and methods to keep everyone safe. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Power Defect or Chemical Shim are, these are the people to talk to. If you suddenly find yourself inheriting an old settlement powered by a big-science reactor, give them a call for help and training. If you find something in the scrapyard with a radiation sign on it and you don’t know what it is, they will identify it for you.
They work with the IAEA and are almost professional. There’re a lot of people out there with a genuine interest in the subject and there’s a real public interest in not popping off random Chernobyls and making future terraforming efforts harder than they need to be.
The ARSC have few outright powers, but their recommendation to shutdown a reactor or stop a project can very quickly become binding when people stop supplying fuel, or otherwise. The very hint of a nuclear danger will cripple a settlement’s economy.
The inescapable truth is that Nuclear Technology is a triple-edged sword.
On the one hand, you’ve the enormous potential for free energy. You’re using the very energy of creation itself - the binding force of the universe - as a power source. On the other - you’ve the dreadful consequences if it ever gets out. So far, nobody’s managed to create a Pripyat in space, despite a few close calls. The possibility, however, remains And coming in for a sucker punch is the looming presence of nuclear weapons.
If you do choose to go nuclear, you will be dealing with something that demands the utmost respect and competence, but can provide the greatest boons of clean, reliable energy.
So I’ll leave you with this.
"The approach to nuclear safety, which also, in my opinion, applies to any technologically complicated or potentially dangerous object, must be made up of three elements:
— Valery Legasov, Dictated memoirs,
- One working theory is that gate metal provides power through a reversible LENR reaction - continuously recharging and discharging as necessary.
- David Hahn, the nuclear boy scout
- Although, amusingly, both explicitly permitted by the original Articles of Convention. See A.11 P 32
- But never underestimate the depth of human incompetence
- The First is obvious. The second, you'll never guess who...
- Some have suggested the risk of triggering one of these is why the Mundane presence in Fenspace tends towards the subtle and insidious rather than the overt gunboat imperialist of old. Nuclear weapon states tend to be extremely careful and measured in their approaches
- Almost to the point of it becoming a Deus Ex Machina