When I was living in upstate New York
, I had the chance to visit a little-known nuclear training site
located in Ballston Spa. My friend Dewey, fresh from the US Navy boot camp
and some electrical school
s, was transferring there to get some training
on how to operate nuclear reactor
s. Since this scared the hell
out of me, I figured I'd go visit the future ground zero
We schlumped into Dewey's evil Mazda and headed out to the base. I was expecting some gigantic domed structure, covered in barbed wire and guarded by fanatical snipers. What we saw when we arrived was a chain link fence with two tired, bored guards. They checked Dewey's military ID and waved us through. The road cut through a mini-forest, and wound through the trees until we came to the reactors.
Reactors, as in plural. It turned out there were three fully functional reactors, all run by students. This did not bode well for my non-glowing future. Around each of the reactors were the obligatory barb-wired fences with the aforementioned fanatical guards. Their automatic weapons were locked and loaded. Dewey informed me that they were to shoot first, then interrogate what was left.
Dewey checked into a building while I eyeballed the reactors. They were smaller than I expected, and the base did not look very big at all. Dewey returned, and I figured I wasted my time. We started driving off the base when we passed a dirt road. We looked at each other, then decided to go exploring.
We were about ten feet down the dirt road when I saw the first set of sensors. It looked like a laser cutting across the path. Looking down at the road, I saw some items that looked like mats. These were pressure sensors. I looked upwards, and saw a camera on a tree. At that time, I noticed the very thick electrical cables. Why was there a high voltage line going out into the middle of nowhere? We kept four-wheeling along, since we wanted to find out.
The road went on for a mile or so, and I saw the occasional camera or metallic item in the brush. It was better than birdwatching. Suddenly, the road ended in front of us. Dewey locked the brakes, and we barely missed the fence. The high-voltage lines disappeared straight down into the ground just before the fenceline.
We pondered this for a bit... why was there so much juice pumped out into the middle of nowhere, and why was there a fence around it? We both reached the conclusion that we didn't want to know, and perhaps it would be better if we left. We started back up the dirt road, right smack into the convoy of military vehicles with many armed unhappy people.
They made us exit the evil Mazda. They questioned each of us, especially Dewey. They asked me why I was on the base. Barely able to contain the contents of my bladder, I mumbled that I was thinking of joining the Navy. This did not placate them, and Dewey was asked some hard questions. They seemed disappointed that we were not evil terrorists. In the struggle to keep my pants unsoiled, I forgot to ask why the road ended and the power cables were supplying a fenced field with unlimited megawatts. They escorted us the front gate and told us not to go joyriding again.
I did it one better. I've never been back to Ballston Spa.