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I've been toying with the idea of a world that was once hyper-technological, where body modification and nanotech-based body modifications were the norm such that society practically couldn't function without these various enhancements (similar to current society with smartphones). Only, something caused the collapse and ruin of said society. Cut to many generations later, where much of nature has reclaimed the world. Certain systems, such as nuclear power plants, were designed with such redundancy that they have managed to continue operation until now, with the assistance of some mutated post-apocalypse folks being advised by an AI that has helped them with the operation of said facility. However, being post-apocalyptic, they have none of the enhancements that the people operating the facility would have had, and thus would not have the full capability of the original facility workers. As a result, the facility is very gradually declining to the point where failure, potentially catastrophic, is imminent.

My question is, what would a group of 3-6 people who were preserved since before and thus have said enhancements be able to do that could prevent the full collapse of the facility and prevent a potential radiation leak/nuclear explosion? I'm stumped thinking of what exactly they could do differently

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    $\begingroup$ We run nuclear power plants perfectly well now - no special enhancements required. Without knowing why enhanced operators were required in the first place, we can only guess at what they can do to save the day which a non-enhanced person could not do. I struggle to think of an enhancement (in intellect, strength, or radiation resistance) that could not be replicated externally by a non-enhanced individual (by AI, machinery, or PPE). $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Aug 12 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Nuclear power plants need nuclear fuel. No nuclear power plant will run for "generations" without refueling. Not even for one generation. Not even for one decade. Nuclear fuel is produced in specialized plants using advanced technology; to produce it, somebody has to mine the uranium, somebody has to refine it, and so on. Moreover, nuclear power plants need careful management, because they cannot vary their output quickly to follow the load. If civilized society breaks down, nuclear power plants won't survive. Chances are they will shut down automatically. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 12 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine that due to the power demands of the time, this plant would be providing orders of magnitude more power than we're familiar with, and thus would be that much more complex. Additionally, while AI can handle many operations, there will likely always be some human involvement to account for ingenuity. Part of why I'm asking this is because I know how stable modern technology is. So I'm assuming it's become complex enough to prevent this stability from being fully achievable without supervision/maintenance from enhanced individuals. $\endgroup$ – robbie crockett Aug 12 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ ... why nuclear? Note that just losing power is going to be a big problem, especially if the time frame is too short to prepare sufficient backup. If this society is a city of several tens of thousands of people, and the oncoming failure is within 1-2 years... they are screwed. Also, why do you want to use one of the pre-apocalypse people - just so the society can't fix it themselves? Do they solely become an in-story MacGuffin you could substitute a tool for? $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Aug 12 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ Hello Robbie. Please note that storybuilding (aka, character actions/choices) are off-topic. This one's pretty close, because it can be answered from a more social dynamic, but for the future, please remember (per the help center) that we help build worlds. We don't help write stories. (It's an odd affectation, but it has a lot to do with SE's basic methodology and the fact that questions should be objective and not opinion-based.) $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 13 at 5:16
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Interfaces

Think of how many different modern devices now use Bluetooth connections and smartphone apps to control them. Extend that further, and the various controls and diagnostic displays in the plant all were built with the expectation that the maintenance techs will have their own Augmented Reality system that they can use to view the outputs and send commands back to the system.

The main control panels have visual displays for redundancy and the AI is of course monitoring everything as well so the plant can still be operated, but in order to perform detailed, specific maintenance, you need to have the interface augments that the system was built to work with.

The AI is smart enough to identify that, say, Pump AX-1 is operating at 72% capacity, but can't identify that it's because a compressor seal in it is wearing out. The AR interface would let a maintenance tech accessing the pump see its full technical specs, pull up the complete maintenance log for it including when all of the seals were last replaced, the expected life cycle of those seals, the replacement part numbers, etc. And even if the AI could identify that the compressor seal was failing, it wouldn't have the step-by-step instructions available for how to disassemble the pump and replace it.

Since the post-apocalyptic crew doesn't have those augs, they either have to replace broken components from an increasingly-depleted stock of spare parts, or figure out patch fixes, kludges, or workarounds that clear the error that the AI is reporting. So the post-apocalyptic operators are making do with bare-minimum fixes that are slowly eroding the safety margins and failsafes that the system was designed with.

Once someone is able to properly access the maintenance interfaces, they'll be able to begin the process of getting the reactor back up to spec, if it's still possible at that point.

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  • $\begingroup$ the real problem is how they are getting fuel. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 13 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ It could be a breeder reactor with some sort of automated fuel reprocessor system: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeder_reactor $\endgroup$ – Salda007 Aug 14 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ breeders still require a steady supply of material. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 at 2:17
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Make the advanced nuclear plant such that you can achieve what you want for your story.

The advanced plant does not have to be Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. This is advanced tech! A fictional self sustaining power plant can be whatever works for you. You can make it what you want, retroactively creating the plant setup to accommodate the sorts of actions that will help your story.

For example suppose it is an air powered fusion plant. If the heat of fusion is not captured and turned into electricity there will be runaway heating and the possibility of huge explosion. Your characters cut off the fuel supply to the fission reaction and it goes out. Or if your reaction is run by fissile elements you could have a character heroically trundle in there and separate the fuel rods manually, counting on enhancements and protective gear to keep her alive long enough to finish the job.

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DRM (digital rights management), or some other access control interface.

Whatever fix is required needs someone to interface with a console that requires permissions or some sort of certification. People certified in Managed Power Atomic Assembly systems get a special module that authorizes them to access these consoles (you don't want just any Joe Schmo doing so, right?). The console itself can't be cracked by the AI (not an authorized user), and the society doesn't have the industrial base to make a replacement.

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They can't... unless...

Unless there's a whomping large amount of self-repairing automation in the world that's still functional.

High tech requires a massive dependency tree that starts with raw materials (lumber, mining, agriculture, education, population) that extends through tool-making, transportation, and a thousand other things and ends up at your nuclear facility. To put it another way, the reason your facility is breaking down is because that dependency tree no longer exists...

...and you just asked if 3-6 people could fix it.

Sure they can...

If the issue affecting the facility is one that can be fixed without outside resources, like maintaining software or providing that special "nanite" interface (like a DNA match) that allows the nobody-remembers-it's-there security override to not shut the entire facility down because the right person isn't in the right place at the right time.

Aaaaaand that massive dependency tree is either handwaved away, ignored, or is fully automated so as to not be the problem.

No they can't...

If they need outside resources, something from the dependency tree, because that tree requires a tad more people (think "hundreds of thousands if not millions depending on the level of the tech") than just 3-6.

TL;DR

So, to make this happen you need to ignore the dependency tree and come up with a non-resource solution to your problem. Such as...

  • Equipment calibration/maintenance (like replacing a bad sensor or realigning something that I don't know squat about because I'm not a nuclear physicist — maybe it requires math that no-one at the time of construction would ever think would need to be integrated into the software since it was available to everyone, like having an old HP41CV in your backpack. Mine was on my hip and had a name, I figured any calculator that smart deserved a name.)
  • Software/database maintenance
  • An internal resource shift (like moving the old control rods out and the new control rods in, but this is a short-term issue. Eventually you'd need new control rods.)
  • Talking down the suddenly much-to-in-control-AI, which won't respect anyone who doesn't have the 400+ IQ the nanites would give them.
  • The software starts to respond in a now-dead language that the nanite-people have instant access to.
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For that you need to have a good understanding on how nuclear power-plants work, how they evolved/changed in your world, why would this dudes even need special upgrades to run the facility when an AI dictates their actions and what aspect of the building is crumbling and endangered. You have a concept idea but without this details there is not much to work with.

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    $\begingroup$ That's precisely the block I'm trying to break. An AI can only do so much from its end, it needs someone to perform physical actions in the real world. And my vision is that there are some more detailed/advanced processes that require the augmentations to perform properly, so the new-humans without them cannot do these things that the old-humans can. I just can't quite think what form that would take. $\endgroup$ – robbie crockett Aug 12 at 16:37

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