The Scots called it Dùnrath. It lay on the northern coast of the isle, keeping watch as the cold waves broke upon its shore. No one's quite certain where the name came from, but it is thought to derive from an ancient stone fort nearby, called a "broch." In 1437, invaders from Clan MacKay met resistance there and had to fall back. They joined up with reinforcements and returned to crush the locals. After that, jack shit happened until the 1950s.
By then, someone had the good sense to start spelling it Dounreay, which is closer to a language pronounceable by humans. Its geographical isolation made it the perfect place for every first world government's favorite 1950s pet project — an experimental nuclear reactor. Thus was born the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment, which opened its doors in 1955. For almost forty years, the reactor went about the business of nuclear fission, contentedly frying up uranium as if it were scallops wrapped in bacon.
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority shut down the Dounreay reactor in 1994. Scots everywhere rejoiced, Scottish national pride swelled, "Braveheart" went into production. There was one tiny little problem. You're never going to believe this, but four decades of nuclear power generation at a prototype facility had created a bit of a mess. Enough of a mess, in fact, that the demolition of the reactor was too dangerous to be done by ordinary workers. But let it never be said that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority leaves a job undone. No sir.
So they made the only logical choice. They said, "Screw it, let's build a huge robot to destroy the reactor."
The robot will take several years to build. It will weigh 75 metric tonnes. Its arms will be over 50 feet long, equipped with diamond-studded blades, hydraulic shears, and plasma cutters. It will be so audacious, so terrifying, so completely off-the-charts awesome that its designers are giving it a worthy name. They have dubbed it Reactorsaurus. No, seriously.
Normally I counsel caution in these scenarios, and we shouldn't rule out the possibility that we will one day look out over the ruins of Edinburgh and think, "Okay, maybe not so much with the 75-tonne helldroid." But even I have to admit, this right here is ballsy. This is Science-with-a-capital-S, the kind of Science that gets shit done and gets guys laid.
Here's the thing.
All this effort, planning, and expense are for a robot that has one task. Dounreay is Reactorsaurus' lone gig, after which it will be on the dole. Isn't that sort of a waste? Bear in mind that the job is slated to run from 2013 to 2025 at a cost of £2.5 billion, which in US dollars is more money than even exists anymore. Plus, government-built robots designed from scratch to deconstruct a 40-year-old nuclear reactor do not exactly scream "on time and under budget."
After all that, are we really going to pull the plug and stick it in the closet? Surely we can think of something else it can do. Besides, they say idle hands are the devil's playthings — well, these hands will be the size of SUVs and spew arcs of plasma. A little bit of forethought may stave off our destruction. We have just under 5,800 days, according to the handy "foreverometer" on the project's site. Best get to it.
Seven possible uses for post-retirement Reactorsaurus, with Probable Success Rating (PSR) on a 10.0 scale
• Have it eat through the Earth, digging a straight path from London to Tokyo. Drastically reduces travel times, as planes can now fly through tunnel (PSR=3.5)
• Have it level the tumbleweed-strewn remains of Detroit circa 2025. The twelve remaining residents can be named caretakers of the new Detroit National Park (PSR=5.1)
• Feed it all the nuclear waste that had been slated for the Yucca Mountain repository. Cover the waste in chocolate if necessary (PSR=0.4)
• Re-build it as 100 smaller Reactorsauruses to deploy around the world. Wait, should I be making the obligatory dead-language pluralization joke here? Fine: "Or is it Reactorsauri?" (PSR=6.2)
• Let the UK use it to re-establish themselves as the one true global superpower. They gave us The Beatles, we owe them a solid (PSR=7.7)
• Give it a contract with the New York Mets. It'll fall apart on its own and all we'll need to do is pick up the pieces (PSR=8.3)
• Oh hell, just give it artificial intelligence and see what happens. Reactorsaurus is gentle and would never harm us (PSR=15.9)