The Titanian Referendum

Part one

Parliamentarian Zowlis Nirhim was sitting at his desk in his office, while he was busy with the preparation of a debate later that day. The fifty-six year old man had been a member of parliament for the last fifteen years, and the last three years he had been the leader of Titan’s Progressive Green Party.

The Republic of Titan was established thirty-four years earlier, sixteen years after the arrival of the first colonists. The initiative to settle the second largest moon of the solar system was taken by the Titan Society. Their main objective was the exploitation of the satellite’s large reserves of hydrocarbons, especially the Martian colonists had a great demand for them. The Martians used hydrocarbons for the extraction of iron and other metals from the dust covering the red planet.

In exchange the Martians supplied their Titan colleagues with some of their metals, which were used by the Titans to build their space habitats. Nowadays there were ten toroidal space habitats in orbit around the largest of Saturn’s moons, each of them had a capacity for two hundred ten thousand inhabitants. The first Titanian habitat was Huygens City, named after the Dutch astronomer who had discovered this moon, and Huygens City also served as the capital of the young Republic of Titan.

Each city sent nine parliamentarians to the National Assembly, the nation’s lower house, who were elected by the single-transferable-vote system. Nirhim was the most senior delegate of the Huygens City constituency, and he was also the leader of the opposition. His party was the second largest fraction in the National Assembly, only two seats behind the governing Social-Liberal Union. The latter had been in the government ever since independence, usually with the small Republican-Democrats.

In ordinary circumstances both coalition and opposition parties could get along, but now there was an important vote within a few days. And on this subject the Progressive-Greens were on collision with the government. Nirhim was hoping that he would be able to get the Republican-Democrats to his side after today’s debate. Therefore it was more than necessary to be well prepared for the debate, he couldn’t afford any mistake this time.

*        *        *

Annalee West was in her final grade of high school. The seventeen-year-old had always been one of her school’s top students, she had always passed her exams without having to do very much for it. Therefore she had enough time for a part-time job.

A few months ago Annalee had applied for a job by the Titan Power Corporation. To her own surprise she got be interviewed by the TPC’s CEO Niklaas himself. The chief executive officer was really impressed by the girl, so Niklaas decided to hire Annalee as his part-time administrative assistant. And he had never had any reason to regret his decision, since Annalee was one of the best employees he had ever had.

While the girl was serving her boss coffee, he asked her: “Annalee, could you put on the television, please? I want to see the debate in the National Assembly, which should begin in thirty minutes.” “Yes, sir. I will put on the television.” So Annalee walked to the flat screen, which was on the wall opposite to Niklaas’s desk, and pressed a button. She changed the channel to Titan News 24/7.

The reason that the CEO of Titan Power wanted to see the parliamentary debate, was the fact that the debate was about the future of the company. The Titan Power Corporation was a government-owned corporation, and the National Assembly had the power to decide about the future of the corporation. And there was a big decision going to be made, which concerned the future of the Nation’s power supply.

When the first hundred colonists were sent to Titan in 2062, they were assigned with a traveling wave reactor. This was a kind of breeder reactor, the reactor was fueled for ninety percent with natural uranium and thorium, and for ten percent of plutonium. This reactor was christened Huygens I and contained enough fuel for the next sixty years. Nowadays, in 2117, eighteen traveling wave reactors – the youngest was built in 2080 – provided some eighty-five percent of the Titanian power demand, with the remaining energy coming from huge solar power plants.

But in five years from now, the Huygens I would be running out of fuel. The Titanian government wanted, as advised by the Titan Power Corporation, to order a new traveling wave reactor, which would be a bit larger than the current reactor. It was not possible to refuel Huygens I, since one had to wait five years after burn-up, before it was safe to remove the spent fuel.

However, the idea of ordering of a new traveling wave reactor was far from non-controversial. Actually a large part, but not the majority, of the Titanian public was in favor of out-phasing of nuclear fission. The Progressive-Green Party wanted instead to increase the use Solar power, while the Titan Power Corporation stated that Saturn was too far away from the Sun to be an efficient power source. Despite the importance of this discussion, the overall majority of Titanian citizens didn’t care how their power was generated.

“Annalee, I would prefer if you should watch the debate together with me.” “No problem, sir. Actually I like to watch parliamentary debates.” The blond girl gave her boss a smile and took a seat.

*        *        *

Not only Titan News 24/7, a domestic television channel, was broadcasting the debate on Titan’s future power supply, but the debate could also be followed through Radio Saturn. Radio Saturn was a radio station aimed at the Terrestrial population and unlike Titan News 24/7, which was property of a private foundation, Radio Saturn was run by the government-owned TitanCom, Titan’s telecommunication operator.

Alexei Shumov, CEO of TitanCom, was, as result of his function, responsible for operating Radio Saturn. The thirty-eight year old had been CEO for the last five years. As being the director of Radio Saturn, Alexei had to be neutral in political matters. Since Titanian politics were generally consensus based, this was normally not a big issue.

The history of Radio Saturn dated back to 2084, a year after the establishment of the Republic of Titan. Then the Republic consisted only of three habitats, with two others being built. At the same time, the political climate on Earth was changing. With a population of around ten billion people, the terrestrial governments had decided it was necessary to establish a World Government with far-reaching powers in order to keep society going.

Actually the new World Government became soon a quasi-totalitarian regime, individual liberties were severely restricted. When criticism of the new regime grew, press became subject to censorship and even nationalization of the world press agencies followed. Further many people were arrested for several many minor crimes against the regime.

With growing repression, it shouldn’t be a surprise, many Terrestrials wanted to emigrate to the new space colonies, mostly those on Mars and in the Asteroid belt. But the major Space nations, Mars, Elysia and the Federation of Agricultural Republics, were less willing to accept large amounts of new immigrants. And these nations followed very strict access policies.

The Titanians, however, were less restrictive. And being the most remote human community, in distance and therefore also in time (sending information back to Earth would several tens of minutes) caused the Republic of Titan the most independent Nation in the Solar System. This fact had attracted many libertines and in short time Titanian population grew from a few thousands to several hundred thousands by 2090.

As a result of this huge influx of political immigrants, Titan had become the most liberal country of the entire Solar System. Under pressure of the general public, the government saw it as her responsibility to start uncensored broadcasting to Earth, in order to counterbalance Terrestrial news supply. Of course the WG didn’t like this, but was not able do much about it.

Sometimes, broadcasting to Earth was very frustrating, for Alexei and his people. First it could take hours in order to get information on what happened on Earth, then you had to process it before you could transmit back to the blue planet, and it would take hours before the Terrestrial population received it. On average it took five hours to report the most recent events, the actual time varied as a function of the distance between Saturn and Earth.

And if you had to present a program about the international stock markets, as Alexei himself did, you was always behind the facts. Therefore Alexei had decided to do his show only twice a week, in which he discussed the general trends of the major stock markets in the Solar System.

*        *        *

Irma West, Annalee’s mother, was Titan’s leading planetary scientist and a lecturer at the Huygens City University (currently the only university in the Republic of Titan, although there were plans to establish a university in Cassini City). She had also a popular science program on Radio Saturn, once a week, because five years ago Alexei Shumov had asked the planetary scientist to made a three-hour-show.

A few weeks earlier, when Dr. West was sitting in her office at the faculty for Natural Science, she had got a visitor. That morning she had received a e-mail from someone who wanted to speak her as soon as possible. The woman sent a reply that she could arrange a meeting that afternoon.

So around 14:30, Zowlis Nirhim stepped in her office. “Sir, what can I do for you?” Irma asked her visitor. “Please, call me Zowlis, dear Irma.” “Okay, Zowlis.” “As you know the government is planning to order new nuclear fission reactors, in order to replace the Huygens I, II, III and IV. And I suppose you also know that my party is against the further continuation of fission power?” “I know that, Zowlis, but I don’t understand what you want from me?” “Well, I was thinking, we are living in the twenty-second century and we still use a very twentieth century way of power generation.

“Of course when the first colonists arrived at the Saturnian system, fission power, especially in the form of traveling wave reactors, was a good solution. But nowadays, I don’t see any reason why we should continue with nuclear fission. I assume I don’t have to sum my objections against fission power, do I?” “Zowlis, I know your position.” “Of course I know the problems relating to switching to a hundred percent Solar power economy. But I happened to know, that we are actually living one point two million kilometers above a large reservoir of helium three and deuterium.” “That is correct, Zowlis. But what do you…” “I would ask you if you can write a report for me about a power supply which doesn’t depend on nuclear fission.”

The forty-eight year old planetary scientist gave the parliamentarian a polite smile and said: “No problem, I expect you to have the report in a couple of days.” “That would be nice, Irma.” The man stood up and before he left the office, he kissed Irma on one of her cheeks.

*        *        *

Ray Morgan, the Social-Liberal minister for energy security, was leaving subway station Parliament Square. The politician was a rather tall black man, who had served in Titan Republican Army as a jujitsu instructor for many years, and he met Niklaas for the first time at the Huygens City Jujitsu Club. The two men had been friends for years now.

While Morgan was walking from the subway station towards the parliamentary building, he saw a protesting crowd with green banners, who were repeatedly shouting “Green Power!”. It was clear for the minister for energy security these people were adherents of the Progressive-Green Party. Morgan thought that the greens should know it was practically impossible to produce enough energy for the nation by using only Solar power. If Saturn, and therefore Titan, was closer to the Sun, then Solar power would be the solution. But at ten astronomical units away from this vast source of energy, nuclear power was the only reasonable power source.

It was common knowledge that since Saturn was ten times as far as the Earth from, it received hundred times less solar energy. If one wanted to power the entire Republic of Titan solely with solar power, one needed a very large mirror in order to collect and concentrate a sufficient amount of energy. Of course this was a very impracticable solution for solving Titan’s energy problem. Therefore only nuclear power was a suitable source of power, and thus it was necessary to replace the old traveling wave reactor, which would run out of fuel in five years, with a new one.

*        *        *

Zowlis Nirhim had half an hour left before the scheduled start of the debate. He had just finished his lunch, when his personal assistant delivered a very important tool, a cardboard box filled with sheets of paper. While his PA was leaving, the parliamentarian was scanning the summary, which he had made, of the report of Irma West. Zowlis had read it so much, he was able to dream its contents.

After he had finished his final review of the summary, he put in his map, and together with the box, Nirhim left his office. He had only to walk a few minutes from his office the National Assembly’s main conference room. Before he entered the room, the fifty-six year old took a cup of coffee from the hot drink vending machine. While he was drinking his coffee, the opposition leader saw that Ray Morgan was looking with great curiosity at his opponents cardboard box, this much to Zowlis Nirhim’s joy.

For part two, see here.

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6 responses

  1. Made it to the first break. * * * 🙂

      1. The beginning of a story. It’s always exciting.

      2. I hope you’ll find the other installment as excited as the beginning.

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