Sunday, February 20, 2011

No I Don't Glow In The Dark

Fuel rod control mechanism on top of reactor vessel
Every now and again I get to do something very cool for my job. This is one such occassion. Can you guess what this is? Anybody...anybody.... Ok, I'll tell you. I'm leaning on the top of a nuclear reactor vessel. A real one. This is a massive metal structure that houses a nuclear Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), the most common type of nuclear reactor used today. Those big metal pipes coming out contain the control rod mechanism, which allow the uranium fuel rods to be raised or lowered into the core to speed up or slow down the fission reaction. How cool is that?
A couple of weeks ago I visited the International Nuclear Academy in Chalon-sur-Saone, a town in Burgundy, France. They have access to a nuclear power station simulator which includes every important piece of equipment you find in an operating nuclear plant. Not replicas or small models, but the real things. And it's all HUGE. I can't even imagine how many tens of millions of euros it's all worth.
The centre is used to give power plant operators and technicians hands-on training, and I had a lot of fun climbing up and over steam generators, handling fuel bundles, peering through massive coolant lines and watching trainees hone their skills removing spent fuels rods out of a reactor (below). The reactor pool is even filled with tens of thousands of litres of water, glowing a bright blue, just like the real thing.

Operators removing spent fuel rods and inserting new ones into a reactor vessel
The only thing missing of course is the uranium; this is all real equipment but obviously none of it has been used with real fuel so there's no radiation. You can even practice filling up spent fuel rod canisters (below).

Spent fuel canister

It may not sound like a great day out of some people, but I felt like a kid in a toy shop. Definitely a highlight so far!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yes It Was THAT Flu

It turns out that our town has been hit by the Mexican flu, so I suppose that's what made Carl so sick. In the end he was off school for a week, but he's still tired and a bit paler than normal. Niels recovered quickly and is now completely in denial that he was ever sick. At least he doesn't suffer from man-flu (yet!).
Spring is finally arriving and I'm crossing every apendage hoping that we don't get a late snow storm or freeze. The flowers have started to come out, the birds are chirping like mad, and the bunnies are digging up the lawn. Again.

Rocco dozing in the sun

Rocco is doing brilliantly, and I've just taken a quick pic of him in the garden, dozing in the sun (above). He can hold this pose for anything up to about quarter of an hour before suddenly coming to life and hopping off to continue his rounds in the garden. I guess it's the bunny equivalent of nodding off in front of the t.v., without the drool. And in case you are wondering why Punky Muffin never seems to be in the photo with him, it's because every time I walk outside, this happens:
Punky Muffin: "pet me or feed me, just don't ignore me!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Och Aye, It's Glasgow!

My tartan
 So we made it to Glasgow, woo-hoo! By Saturday morning Niels was looking a bit rough; his temp had gone up to 39.1 so I gave him a dose of paracetemol and he seemed to cheer up. He is so rarely sick it was bit of a novelty for all of us, and we kept our fingers crossed that it wasn't going to develop into anything too bad. First priority was the slap-up buffet breakfast downstairs. Niels first ecstatic words were "Cool, they've got haggis for breakfast!" and he tucked into a plateful of that. (I know, I know, but he's a half Dutch-half New Zealand kid who lived a large part of his life in Singapore and loves haggis, what can I say). I enjoyed some black pudding while Carl tucked into a bowl of baked beans...I wasn't volunteering to sit next to him for the rest of the day!
We spent the morning with friends, whose daughter kindly offered to babysit the boys while we went to the party that night (thanks Karen!). After indulging in a lovely roast chicken lunch we resisted the urge to just roll our now considerably round bellies back into our beds for a wee nap and instead headed off to the excellent Science Centre, one of Glasgow's highlights. After half an hour in the very cool interactive and hands-on Science Mall we watched an amazing film in the Imax theatre there about the Hubble space telescope. Emerging feeling very small and insignificant in the grand scale of things indeed, Niels was clearly started to wilt so we walked back to the hotel - which is next to the Science Centre - to chill for a few hours.
Surprisingly both kids were keen for dinner, Carl indulging his passion for good old English fish and chips with a bowl of baked beans on the side (guess whose bed he's was going to be sleeping in tonight?).
In the evening I slipped into my new tartan skirt and it was off to the party. It was an enjoyable evening and we returned to the room by about 11pm and said goodbye to Karen. Both boys were asleep in one big bed so we were getting ready to hit the sack...when in wobbled Carl, shivery and feverish, tearful and jittery. I took his temperature and it was FORTY TWO DEGREES!!!!
Cue controlled panic mode as we simultaneously stripped him off, dosed him up on Paracetemol and draped wet towels over his upper body to try and quickly cool him down before he started having a seizure. Clearly he'd caught what Niels had but in a more aggresive form. Crisis averted, but we would be keeping a close eye on both of them for a few days.
The next morning the boys were both feeling pretty rotten but making the most of it. After a very small breakfast - let's face it none of us needed more food anyway! - they crawled back into bed and stayed there until we caught our bumpy flight home.
Funnily enough they both keep saying what a fun weekend it was and how much they love Scotland, which just goes to show that if we could all look on the bright side of life as much as kids do, we'd all be happier people.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bumpity Bumpity Bump...

Ok as hubby rang especially from the North Sea last night to remind me, I can't keep complaining about the winter because we DID make it to Scotland last Friday afterall, despite the high winds. After our flights were cancelled we were luckily able to get seats on the evening flight departing at 8:35 for Glasgow and discovered it is possible to get sea sick on a plane. Yes, sea sick.
Meanwhile, Niels had come home for lunch on Friday and seemed off colour. He was quite tired so rather than send him back to school we bundled him into bed for a rest since it was going to be a late night. By the time we went to the airport he had a bit of a high temperature so I packed Paracetemol and my digital thermometer just in case.
As we boarded the plane the first thing we noticed was that it was MOVING. Not rolling down the runway, but sloshing from side to side as the wind gusts outside made it heave and pitch like a ship anchored in a stormy bay. We staggered down the aisle like 150 drunken sailors and it's the first time I've boarded a plane and heard every passenger clicking their seat belts on before the engines have even started. Ominous. The kids were excited to be off to another country, favourite monkey and bear clutched in their hands and no sign of sleepiness despite the late hour.
Taking off was...interesting. Remember that stormy bay? Apparently there were a few ski jumps installed just for fun and we bounced over every one before the wheels left the ground. Trying to keep a jolly I tone I said to the kids "this is fun, isn't it...aaaaAAAAAAAAAaaaahh!" as the wings dipped first left, then right, then the plane did that bizarre maneuvere where the nose twitches left, the tail flicks right, and you just know deep inside that planes are not supposed to fly diagonally! As we climbed steeply - presumably to avoid any more ski jumps - the sloshing sensation continued and Carl slowly turned pale, then slightly greenish. Out came the sick bag and I was left cursing the fact that Mum's always get to sit between the kids; why is it never Dad's that get puked on? Was that hidden in the small print of the marriage vows?
Amazingly once we gained altitude the flight smoothed out, the puke crisis was averted and the landings - there were about four before the wheels finally settled on the ground for good - were not too frightening. As my Dad says, any landing you can walk away from is a good one. It was off to the Crown Plaza where the kids were too hyper to sleep before 1 am, and hubby and I resorted to splitting up and taking one boy each into our beds and shutting the connencting room doors to settle them down. Hardly a romantic start to the weekend.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Now I REALLY Hate Winter

I just sat down to check up in for our flights to Scotland, where we plan to have a weekend away with the kids and go to hubby's belated work Xmas party. PLANNED, I should say; our flight has been cancelled due to strong winds. Bugger bugger bugger. Looks like I won't get to wear my new tartan skirt after all.