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Atomic Twister

Dispatcher: What's a Stage-1 alert?
Sheriff: Stage-1 alert means they have a problem at the plant. Stage-2 means we need to get an evacuation ready. Stage-3 means evacuate the immediate area.
Dispatcher: Is there a Stage-4?
Sheriff: Stage-4? Stage-4 means boom. No more west Tennessee.
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Atomic Twister is an original made for TV movie starring Sharon Lawrence and Mark-Paul Gosselaar that was first aired in 2002 on TBS. The plot revolves around a series of tornadoes that damage a nuclear reactor in a small town in western Tennessee, in turn causing a near-meltdown at the plant.


This film has the examples of:

  • Affirmative Action Girl: How Neville, and to some degree Potter, see Corinne. Neville is more experienced and feels he should have gotten the promotion to shift supervisor. Before his Heroic Sacrifice, he says that Manuel made the right decision as he isn't good under pressure
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Where to begin...
  • Artistic License – Engineering: Ditto.
    • There should be a trope for the moving satellite dish. Satellite dishes do not need to move to track the satellite if both are in fixed positions (i.e. GEO satellite and a roof dish). Worse still, Corinne somehow manages to hold a conversation over the satellite link WHILE the dish is moving. It couldn't have been a separate dish for telemetry as only one dish is shown being blown from the roof right before all communications with the NRC are lost.
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  • Black Dude Dies First: Technically averted. In the actual events of the film, Stu the Token Minority security guard, is the first to die on-screen. However, the first death of the movie is in the first 5 minutes, but it's a ghost story/flashback so YMMV if it counts.
  • Cassandra Truth: Jake's story from his childhood about how he lost his mother. Campbell thinks it's just a scary story, and Corinne thinks him immature for making up a story like that and telling it to her son.
  • Catastrophic Countdown: There is a countdown that shows the time until the fuel rods are exposed.
  • The Cavalry: The NRC field team, too bad they get there just as everything is under control.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jake used to drive big-rigs. This comes in handy later when he has to chase a tanker down and haul-ass back to the power plant.
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  • Computer Voice: The countdown in seconds until the rods are exposed.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Averted. When the firefighters are trying to keep the waste pool water from evaporating by spraying water from fire hoses, the men quickly start to pass out from the intense heat coming from the spent fuel rods in the pool.
  • Dirty Kid: Campbell. Stacy, when babysitting Campbell, asks if he wants to do anything, as they are stuck in the house due to the weather. Campbell gets out the game Twister, which Stacy appears to accept as innocent fun, but it's obvious that Campbell is enjoying the physical contact the game involves.
  • Disappeared Dad: Campbell's father is actually deceased, but only mentioned once, just to establish Jake as a surrogate father-figure.
  • Exact Time to Failure: See Catastrophic Countdown
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: After Jake rescues Ashley from being pinned under her car, it slides about 5 feet down a bank and then explodes for absolutely no reason.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In order to manually SCRAM the reactor, someone must walk through radioactive water that leaked into the containment building. Since Neville felt guilty for shutting down the electric pumps which led to the current situation, he makes the sacrifice and shuts the reactor down, presumably receiving a lethal dose of radiation in the process.
  • The Load: Averted. It seems like Campbell is going to be this once the babysitter is killed, but he ends up saving Jake and Ashley when the good samaritan panicked as the tornado got closer.
  • Made-for-TV Movie: Makes it very frustrating to watch in 4:3
  • Made of Explodium: Kind of all over the place with this, though mostly averted. The reactor itself is a minor plot point as once it's shut down, it is barely mentioned again. The sheriff makes a remark about a Stage-4 Alert meaning "Boom", but the plant operators never insinuate any kind of explosion. Their main concern is exposure of the spent fuel rods which would release large amounts radiation into the atmosphere should all the cooling water evaporate beyond a certain point.
  • Mama Bear: Corinne. When Campbell went missing, she was going to leave her post to find him before ultimately coming to trust Jake to find him. She was orchestrating the whole crisis management, and although Manuel was her boss, by the time he was fully up to speed it would have been too late for him to do anything. She was going to risk a nuclear accident with a 100-mi radius just to get to her son.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Toward the end, Corinne takes off her outer blouse to use as a rag on the diesel generator. What's she wearing underneath? A low-cut tank-top she sports for the rest of the movie.
  • No OSHA Compliance: In modern reactors, including the one depicted in the film, the safety systems actually prevent the reactor from SCRAMMING on its own. If the film were accurate, the reactor would have automatically shut down at the first sign of trouble. Also, there is always more than one panel that will initiate a SCRAM, so the whole Heroic Sacrifice would not have been necessary; the characters would have simply used a panel located in a safer area.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Manuel more-or-less fills this role, but he is only doing what makes sense for the greater good (i.e. locking down the containment building with Corinne, Neville, and Potter inside if they are unable to SCRAM the reactor; they would not have time to exit before radiation exposure occurs.)
  • Oh, Crap!: Another working title for the film could have been, "Oh Crap: The Made-for-TV Movie!"
    • When Stu the security guard sees the tornado bearing down on him.
    • When Neville and Potter are manually shutting down the non-vital systems, they ask if the plant was hit with another tornado. When they aren't given a direct answer from Corinne, they assume correctly that they were struck again.
    • When Neville tries to restart the electric pumps, and they do not respond.
    • When Corinne asks Jake if he saw a diesel truck heading west, he said he saw one heading east.
    • Manuel, the plant supervisor, arrives mid-crisis and asks where everyone is. When the tech says they're in containment shutting the reactor down manually, his face says it all.
    • Jake tries to stand in the road to force a tanker truck to stop. When he realizes the truck isn't going to stop in time, cue trope.
    • The look on Stacy the babysitter's face right before the tornado hits the house causing her death
    • After the situation worsens, Corinne goes back to the outside foyer to contact the NRC on the emergency radio, which has been blown away by the second tornado.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Corinne and the diesel. "Start! You son of a! Bitch!"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The movie is loosely based on events that occurred on 24 June 1998 at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio, which was hit by a tornado and off site power was lost.
    • The plotline of a nuclear plant suffering a meltdown due to damage caused by a natural disaster became a catastrophic reality almost a decade later in Fukushima, Japan.
  • Really Gets Around: Corinne's original opinion of Jake when she mentions all the "comings and goings". Jake counters that it's only been two different girls in six months, but Corinne is still worried about the impression the PDA might leave on Campbell with them leaving every morning.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Ultimately what makes Neville wade through the radioactive wastewater to shut down the reactor.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The fuel rods in the quickly evaporating waste pool.
    • The reactor in the containment building could count as well.
  • Stock Footage: The shot of the reactor as well as the live-action SCRAM procedure before switching to a CGI render visible on the character's workstation.
  • Token Minority: Stu the security guard
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Most SCADA monitoring systems don't devote an entire screen to just one reading; several are shown in smaller windows or they will switch from one view to another, if they have graphical representation at all. Often, the readings look more like a spreadsheet/data grid than a nice, clean bar graph. Also, despite the heavy automation present in this and most nuclear power plants, the UI for the operators was so simplistic a pre-schooler could probably run the place.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Barely averted. After we last see Neville still in the containment building, we don't see him again until the end of the film when he is being treated for radiation poisoning and being led to an ambulance. Corinne thanks him, and he presumably doesn't have much time left.
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