Day 2 Part 3

The cooling towers are bigger than big. I'd guess you could comfortably drop a football field inside one. What I love about them is how comprehensible the design is. I'm also impressed by how crudely made everything is. I guess that at this point in the plant's function a bit of leakage isn't a big deal: the cement is rough and crumbly, the pipes are dented here and there and some of the gantries have fallen over. What's amazing to think is that the whole structure is stressed so that if it cracks, it'll probably just collapse - or, rather, explode.

(The nearer of the two towers is quite a bit closer in this picture. You lose sense of scale) (Google Map)

As you walk up to the towers, you realize that they're farther away than you thought; they're just bigger than they look. So you walk more and realize, again, that they're farther away than you thought.

They cast these things in place (obviously) with a web of rebar at the top and a concrete form which they then pour, move up, and pour again. In the lower tower, the interior is still mostly empty except for the concrete form and a gigantic swathe of welded rebar that, presumably was going to get lifted to the top and attached to make the next course of pouring. The one that's closer to finished still has layers of scaffolding and concrete form at the top, just waiting to fall hundreds of feet to the concrete pad below.

Inside the tower the accoustics are amazing. You can take a piece of metal (there are many lying about) and whang on something CLANG-(1/2 second)-clank(echo)-clank(echo) on and on. I found a huge drum and started beating it with a piece of rebar trying to synchronize to the echo so that it'd sound like an army of drummers (Yeah, me and Reggie Watts) my sense of rythm isn't up to the task.

(It just goes up and up and up!)

to give you a sense of scale, the markings on the side of the tower are from the edges of the concrete forms, each of which was about 20 feet long. The concrete apron surrounding the towers is the staging-ground for the cooler units themselves, huge radiators that were intended to line the inner edge of the tower so that the rising warm air would create a draft that would suck cooler air in the bottom; it's a clever design. See the pipes across the bottom of the tower? Those big masses of rust are more of the usual 10-foot diameter steel; one higher than the other - presumably the designer of the tower decided to use gravity and the temperature of the water to help move it.

(Huge concrete galleries intended to hold the pipes feeding the chillers)

I liked the cooling towers a lot because I felt that I could understand them. Suddenly the huge discomfort of the reactor (augh! nothing makes sense!) was gone and I could enjoy architectural details like the pitch of the floor that was intended to channel off any rain/leakage toward a collecting pool by the side of the tower.

(Collecting pool; presumably the main coolant pipes were intended to run across here)

By the collecting pool is a gigantic pile of junk, which appears to be pieces that were intended for some control and pumping system. There is a huge diesel engine slowly sinking into the ground, rack mounts for comm gear, several trucks, and pipe for the coolant system.

(Coolant pipes, lying around like "pick up sticks")

How much does a 50 foot-long segment of 10 foot diameter steel pipe 1/2" thick weigh? And why would someone just toss those like a discarded candy-wrapper? When the USSR wastes stuff, they waste stuff big.

(My rust is rusty)

Traversing this field felt dangerous. The other guys were still having a good time in the cooling tower hooting and banging and enjoying the acoustics while I picked my way across this vast junkyard of rusting stuff settling slowly into the ground. Every step had to be planned; I would look down and see a piece of 2" frayed (rusty!) cable sticking out of the ground - just the thing to snag an ankle on. And I'd wonder how many meters of cable was on the other end of it... My heavy leather boots earned their keep quickly in this field; the sides are cut from wires I didn't notice until they were wrapped around my ankle.

Slowly I make my way back to the van and we load up for our next stop, the vehicle graveyard.