The end of the world came in the late 1990s, when the entire nuclear industry was deregulated and privatized. Unfortunately for the political theorists responsible, the dynamic entrepreneurs who rushed into this new boom area proved to be the same ones who for years made the home computer business such a joy....
"Expansion, squire, that's what you have to think about. 'S an investment. You don't want to be trading it in for a bigger model next month, do you? OK, right now you think five hundred and twelve megawatts sounds an awful lot. That's what they all say before they get hands-on experience. Hook up a few add-ons, though, a few extra cookers and central heating systems, a bit of light industrial plant, and you'll soon see it would have made sense to get the best you could.... And don't forget the summer special offer. Heat exchanger, three-phase generator and half a mile of barbed wire fence bundled absolutely free!"
"Hello, this is Megabuck Hotware, can I help you? Support? You want ... support? I'll see if Maisie knows anything about that. It's urgent? A radioactive cloud spreading down your back garden? I'm sorry, sir, the switchboard can't handle hardware queries...."
"Blimey. No wonder you've got problems. Fancy trying to run your business with a clapped-out old British Becquerel Corporation system ... I don't care what it cost, it's not wossname, not International Breeder Manufactories standard, is it? Shouldn't have bought a enthusiast's machine like that. Even if they do both take five-and-a-quarter inch fuel rods, the threading's different."
"Leaking? We sell two hundred of these plutonium reprocessors every month and we've never had that complaint before, sir. I'll pass it on to head office, but are you certain you've followed the proper start-up procedures in the footnote on page xiii of Appendix C in the user manual supplement? ... Well, read the sodding manual! Honestly, some people ... Swedish? Yeah, well, for totally unavoidable production reasons a few went out in Swedish, but we've got a new edition on order now."
"No trouble. For full technical backup, call our 24-hour hotline number. Er, yes, it is in the USA – Three Mile Island Support Services Inc – I'm sure they'll suss your problem in no time."
"Sorry, sunshine. When you fixed the crack in the fission chamber with superglue, it no doubt worked very well for you and I'm sure you're proud of your cleverness, but you've Invalidated The Warranty. No user serviceable parts, it says right there on the shielding. You want to add a medical irradiation facility, you let the professionals do it. Like I said, I'm sorry but there it is. Can't lift a finger now, not even if the kids do all glow in the dark."
Magazine review, 1999: "New Release! Ian Sinclair's comprehensive guide OS/2 Reactor Decommissioning Techniques Made Easy has scored a first even for this remarkable writer, by appearing months before the hot new OS/2 fast reactor has been officially confirmed as "to be announced". Nevertheless, this useful handbook will be a must for anyone faced with that familiar problem of decommissioning a major r/a hazard in the back garden or spare room. A handy periodic table of the elements is included as an appendix."
"Yeah, well, that's a popular machine all right, but of course it's slow. AmRad cut their costs with graphite-pile technology, and those three-inch fuel rods are specially enriched: that's why they're so expensive, don't blame the dealers. We can do you a transformer to link your AmRad to the same power grid as an industry-standard Pressurized Containment system, though. Sit down before I tell you the price."
"Of course a go-ahead magazine like Personal Nukes hasn't got space for articles on the sort of hotware you pathetic home users can actually buy. We're talking fifth generation here. Laser enrichment, 80486-gigawatt fusion technology, and there's a good chance it'll all be working in the early 2000s...."
"Never, never, never put a strange fuel element into your personal reactor! Without wanting to be alarmist, I must warn you that some shareware rods are reported to be infected with the Armageddon Catalyst which on 1st January 2000 will vaporize, blow holes in your shielding, erupt in a thermonuclear fireball and precipitate global holocaust. There is also the Pedantic Armageddon Catalyst which will do the same a year later, on 1st January 2001, for users who are fussy about when the millennium really ends. Fortunately I can offer a complete protection system for only £15 plus VAT...."
"I'm sorry, I'm going to have to put you on hold. Yes, we do have fifty-two support lines but they're all engaged. No, I'm afraid I'm not qualified to give information about melt-downs. In any case our warranty is limited to replacing the faulty product." [Cut to sound of on-hold music, Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again."]
... Thus the hotware boom followed lines familiar to any computer sufferer. It was a great pity that when one big-name company finally released the exciting new fissile material handling system which had been hyped since 1996, they found that – most embarrassingly – one of those little hardware glitches made the new product incompatible with the continued existence of the human race. But free replacements and upgrades were promised at the earliest possible date.