Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

Susan X-Plains Prompt Critical

Kickass scientist Susan Beaver–who’s also the former associate director of the Reed Research Reactor–joined us in Episode 114 – Meltdown to talk about the actual science of nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, the downside of talking about complex science on a comics podcast is that there’s never enough time to go into as much depth as we’d like. Luckily for us–and you–Susan was kind enough to write a follow-up, discussing some of the terms and concepts we had to gloss over in the episode proper. -Jay

susie-fuel-podcast-smallerLet’s talk about nuclear fission.

As I got to say in the episode, the fourteen-page rundown of basic nuclear fission and the Chernobyl disaster that starts of Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown is surprisingly accurate, aside from attributing the human errors to a nefarious conspiracy rather than a combination of bad design and bad judgment. But one thing that the artistic overview doesn’t explain is a term that comes up a couple times in the comic, and that’s the term “prompt critical”.

It surprised me to see that term come up in the comic, since most of the time when people in entertainment industries throw around concepts regarding nuclear reactors they’re getting them wrong. (If you’ve ever had a career that gets depicted in movies and television shows–I’m looking at you, CSI techs and nurses–you know exactly what I mean.) So to see the comic getting a lot right was a welcome surprise. Radiation signs posted the correct way up instead of rotated 30 degrees! Neutron moderation! Control rods! And, of course, the sinister-sounding (not Sinister-sounding, though in this comic you have to be careful) phrase “prompt critical.”

So what happens when a nuclear reactor goes prompt critical?

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As Mentioned in Episode 114 – Meltdown

Listen to the episode here.

114 – Meltdown (feat. Susan Beaver)

Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.
Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.

In which Havok and Wolverine head to Mexico; Havok tries his hand at noir; Wolverine gets serious about hair gel; Meltdown is probably not actually a common Russian surname; Susan X-Plains nuclear reactors; and we are pretty thoroughly besotted with Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown.


  • Age of Apocalypse Corsair
  • Epic Comics
  • Marvel Comics Presents #24-31
  • Leila O’Toole (Plasma)
  • The Cold War
  • Samantha Smith
  • Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown #1-4
  • General Meltdown
  • Dr. Neutron
  • The varying deadliness of vices
  • Scarlett McKenzie (Quark)
  • Some exceptionally gorgeous artwork
  • Why we love Havok
  • Chernobyl
  • How nuclear reactors do and don’t work
  • Other characters we’d like to see in Meltdown-type stories
  • Adamantium vs. vibranium


Special thanks to guest reactor X-Pert Susan Beaver!

You can find a visual companion to this episode on our blog!

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Buy prints of this week’s illustration at our shop, or contact David Wynne for the original!