“The Defect” by Jeff Bailey is a nuclear energy thriller based somewhere in Southern California. The story unfolds through the point of view of a handful of powerplant workers—security staff, plant operators, managers—who, through their thoughts and interactions, allow us to understand from the bottom up how a nuclear power plant works, what the safeguards are, the good work that goes into the design and maintenance and yes, the potential faults which can be taken advantage of. The goal of nuclear power is providing carbon free, reliable electricity, and all engineering, management and maintenance efforts are meant to keep the reactor fully functional, with adequate water at controlled temperatures to spin turbines and generate power. There are small-scale accident potentials, then there are real-deal disasters that would require an automated reactor shutdown, colloquially called a scram, to keep everyone and the environment safe. But what happens if clever terrorists find a way to bypass the automatic shutdown?
The terrorists are a tight group of seemingly well-organized ne’er-do-wells who have taken great pains to acclimatize to American society or at least appear to do so. The plan for infiltration is months in the making. Obvious (and not so obvious defense) weaknesses of a free society are taken advantage of, such as studying publicly available records, to assault the plant. Even so, the plan to ruin a large chunk of Southern California through environmental devastation involves several steps, from intrusion and door code tampering to knowing which electronics to modify, steps that must be performed quickly and precisely by non-engineers and non-native speakers—no small feat. Without giving too much away, the reader feels the stress of whether the intruders will be discovered in time, if they will be completely successful, or if they will end up botching the job (yet still destroy the plant anyway).
Once I start a book, the basic bar I use to judge it is how much I want to finish it. “The Defect” was a book I found myself reading quickly, wanting to know how it turned out as there was a large element of “Oh crap, that doesn’t sound safe at all” to it. I was pleased with the ending, which was concrete but left a few details purposefully unresolved (nothing in real life is totally resolved).
The story detail was exceptional (obviously written by an expect) but at some points repetitive. There were a few characters and a scattering of typos typical to indie books, but these observations were not dealbreakers, just enough to keep my rating just short of four stars.
The bottom line is if you want to read a nuclear thriller which also teaches you a great deal about the nuts and bolts (and containment chambers) of a real world nuclear power plant, presented by someone with obvious deep, firsthand knowledge, this book is for you, and you will want to know how it turns out as nuclear damage is essentially forever and that is terrifying.—T. C. Schueler, author of “22 Dutch Road”