The radioactive Commodore

In 1984, September to be precise, the nuclear power plant in Hameln an der Weser (Germany), went into operation.  Concerns about the safety of the surrounding country-side, lead to a project being initiated, run by the Environmental Protection Agency, to start the independent measurement of the radiation, generated by the power plant in its surroundings.
For this, they used 3 stations, equipped with a Geiger-counter from which they collected, by hand, on a daily basis the measurements.   A tedious and labor-intensive task until January 1985, when the EPA automated the collection of data of these 3 stations thanks to… the VIC-20.

Indeed, the VIC-20 was ideally suited for this task, as it was cheap and had excellent communication possibilities using its User- and Joystick ports.  There were some challenges to overcome of course, such as the limited memory of the computer, but they were fixed.
So, the VIC-20 started to collect hourly data, generated by the Geiger-counter sending impulses for each “hit” over the Userport, and every 24 hours, the data was printed and stored on tape.

Whenever the VIC-20 would encounter an abnormal high dose of radiation, it would not wait till noon to print the data, but would set the printer to work immediately.  Same if it found that the hourly dose would be statistically higher than what was to be expected.  The printer they used was a Seikosha GP 100 VC, a printer that made so much noise, it doubled as an alarm J

Because wind and weather conditions (like rain) in general could influence the measurements, it was decided in October 1987 to make use of a weather station in order to capture things like wind speed, how much rain fell in a given time period etc. to counterbalance and correct the initial readings.  The data collected by the weather station was processed by another VIC and a C64.

The C64 had the task to accumulate all the data from the weather station and the 3 measuring stations and generate daily, weekly and monthly reports.

In the following years, the VIC-20 and the C64 got gradually replaced.  At first, the collected data got converted to MS-DOS format, as the calculations were being handled more and more via a PC instead of the C64.  Then the collected data by the VIC-20 got transferred immediately to the PC via an RS232-interface.
Finally, the VIC-20 was replaced by proprietary measuring technology.

Nevertheless, in the middle and late 80s, it was a nice little renaissance of the classic VIC-20!

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2 Responses to The radioactive Commodore

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The radioactive Commodore | A Commodore Geek's Blog --

  2. It’s amazing to see that a computer with limited memory and capabilities could do this kind of work for a Nuclear facility. Go Vic-20!

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