Author: G P James
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-948018-07-4

Meltown by G.P. James raises the issue of a willing suspension of disbelief. It posits a three-unit nuclear power plant, the "Bear Mountain Nuclear Energy Site" on the Hudson River about thirty five miles north (and upwind) of New York City. At the beginning of the novel, the plant is shaken by a 6.4 earthquake along the Ramapo Fault and all hell breaks loose.

Because there is in fact a three-unit Indian Point Energy Center nuclear generating facility on the Hudson River about thirty-five miles north of New York City that sits a mile from the Ramapo Fault, it requires no suspension of disbelief to think that an earthquake could damage the plant. After all, look what happened at Fukushima in Japan.

Meltdown is the story of plant supervisor Trace Crane who is in charge when the earthquake hits alternating with the story of his wife Avi's search for their four-year old daughter, Brooklyn, who was in day care. With widespread damage throughout the area, phones are down or jammed, bridges have collapsed, buildings destroyed so Trace and Avi cannot easily communicate.

The novel is set up a a conflict within Trace: Prevent a nuclear meltdown and protect 20 million people in the metropolitan New York are from exposure to deadly radiation or save his wife and daughter? Okay, I can understand that. I don't think it's a genuine dilemma and Trace is not presented as someone for whom the conflict seems genuine. In fact, when we first meet him, he doesn't sound appealing:

"Trace rocked back in his ergonomic desk chair, his five-eleven, two-hundred-and-seventy-nine-pound body testing the hydraulics . . . He had a boyish quality defined by the pudginess of his roseate cheeks, his freckles, and the jocular contortion of his lips. There was light in his eyes. Even when he was livid a touch of glee showed through; not much stripped him of joy. However, Trace had entered a dark period over the past couple years. His face was flat most of the time, eyes, dim, lips bowing convexly. Stress, anger, and annoyance hung heavy in his jowls, ebullience springing free in unexpected smatterings of rising cheeks . . ."

He and Avi have his a rough patch in their marriage. She is a consultant for green energy and he of course knows that nuclear, properly controlled, is safe. Adding to poor Trace's burdens is the knowledge that he should have agreed with Avi when she wanted to move away from the plant even if it meant extending his commute.

James is good and convincing in describing Trace's efforts to control the damage. He has to deal with his boss who at one point tells him, "You'll give a damn when your investments turn to dust by Monday. This affects all of us! The second the accident was announced and the market opened this morning our stock dropped five points. When the news gets out about the decommissioning and phaseout talks in Washington we'll probably drop another five. That's about thirteen billion in losses in less than twenty-four hours. We're a whale with a really big harpoon in us."

I can believe a corporate executive will worry more about the stock price than anything else. What I could not believe—and it's key to the story's consequences—is that the governor of the State of New York would give an order about a damaged nuclear facility. A governor who, presumably, is not a nuclear engineer and has no concept of possible consequences (really bad). Worse, that Trace obeys the order rather than quitting on the spot, finding Avi and Brooklyn, and heading upwind.  

Of course, if Trace had quit, it would have been another book and Meltdown as it stands is a cautionary tale of what could happen (might happen? will happen?) and its effect on a few of the key players in such a disaster.