I have recently been asked about the screen name/user name/handle thingy that I most commonly use on the internet which is ‘Free Xenon‘ or ‘FreeXenon‘. I wrote my reply so I thought I may as well repeat it here for all to know. There is more there that you would probably ever want to know, so…
Free Xenon comes from my days in the military. I was a part of Reactor Controls Division 22 (RC-22) who were a bunch of bitter and jaded sailors on board the USS Enterprise. The USS Enterprise (decommissioned in 2012) was the first nuclear carrier and bears 8 nuclear reactors in 4 groups, and was the only ship in the US fleet with this many reactors. Pretty much all others have only two reactors. If you can imagine the types of things that are talked about and imagined by a bunch of embittered sailors while at sea with a bunch of guys for 6 months then perhaps you can already see where this is going to go….
Xenon 135 is a fission byproduct that builds up to an equilibrium concentration during prolonged periods of reactor operation (>70 hours). Xenon is call a poison – meaning that its presence in the reactor core inhibits the fission process. While our reactors are operating we will see coolant temperature go down a degree or two and then we will have to pull out the rods to bring the temperature to its median normal range. This a normal occurrence during our reactors operations.
So, our embittered and lonely sailors are sitting tiredly on their 10-2 (22:00 to 02:00 or 10:00pm until 2:00am) watch and as the plethora of gauges and meters sit unmoving they start to envision Xenon as this little gnome or other spritely thing trapped in the malign reactor vessel as its prisoner. So my shipmates started to crusade for the freeing of Xenon from the evil Reactor Vessel. They created signs and set their desktop screen savers to say ‘Free Xenon! Free Xenon!‘. One day our division had a cake to celebrate something they arranged for one that was black and had a skull and crossbones on it which said ‘Free Xenon’ on it.
At least that is how I remember it. =)