The Incredibly Dangerous Kawasaki Escapade

Just been reading your articles on your sodium party

I thought you might like to hear about our experiences.

I once worked for Kawasaki UK Ltd. who have a manufacturing plant in the UK making radial hydraulic piston motors.

When the rough motor castings come in from the foundry they have a lot of sand imbedded in their skin, so they are dipped in a large furnace pot that burns large bars of sodium. I'm not sure what happens, but I think the sodium fumes dissolve the silicon and enable the casting to be machined without blunting the tools too quickly.

Anyway the sodium blocks come in large drums and the blocks weigh around 1kg each. Yeh I know what you're thinking ;-)

The factory is located on the banks of the River Plym in Devon and the sodium plant is only a stone's throw from the shore at high tide (or should that read 'block of sodium's throw')

I worked the night shift occasionally with about a dozen other blokes that are always up for a laugh.

We have all seen the experiments in school with tiny pieces fizzing round jars, but one night shift a couple of us decided to dunk a piece about the size of a sugar cube. WOW! big splash and a few sparks and we did another bit.

The only problem was the block had two bit cut out of it and we though it best to dispose of the whole block, rather than risk raising suspicions of our little experiments when the next shift came in.

It was raining outside so the block was wrapped in an oily rag and taken out to the foreshore. One hefty toss and the package was dispatched 20 yards out in the river under a large iron train bridge.

30 seconds later when we had all got up from scrambling away from one of the largest explosions we had ever witnessed we realized we were unable to hear from the ringing in our ears and there were still bits fizzing and popping in the river. Amazed, we returned to the factory and in a state of shock and began to devise our next experiment.

The following night we all came on shift and nothing had been said, apart from the local gossip of the police searching the area the previous night for teenagers letting off fireworks (it was November time, UK fireworks night is Nov 5th)

The next experiment was slightly more controlled. Two 1kg blocks were duct taped together and weighted down with a length of steel bar.

The projectile was fired from a makeshift catapult between two fence posts and we managed to send it at least forty yards out.

We knew what was coming and were prepared with ear defenders and a video camera. The video was crap and never really showed up. (old VHS poor quality)

The final experiment was a monster. FOUR, yes FOUR, 1kg blocks.

We had to do four as there were four furnace pots and one of the shifts had noticed an odd number of blocks in the drum, you see.

Taped together and now wrapped in bin liner plastic bags. This one was to be different. Plymouth is home to a large number of Trident nuke subs and about 1/4 of the Royal Navy sit about a mile down river from the factory. We were hoping for our homemade 'depth charge' to sink a reasonable depth prior to ignition. A few small holes were cut into the bags to allow what we thought would be a slow ingress of water which would trigger something special when the reaction started.

The charge was dropped from the bridge at high tide and at least ten seconds must have passed after we heard the plop Have you ever seen the old war films of the destroyers dropping charges off the back and large water plumes exploding a hundred yards back, well that's what happened and it was truly awesome. Not sure what was going on chemically, but it was a scream. I understand the dangers we were putting ourselves in and appreciate now the trouble we could have got into. The water plume shot back up to the height of the bridge, which was about sixty to seventy foot above the water line.

Shortly after, regulations stated no drums were to be left out of the secure compound overnight and our fun was ended.

I have since left Kawasaki and teach Design & Technology at secondary school level, where we have now built an anvil tossing pneumatic trebuchet that can throw 15kg a distance of 110m. ( I thought I would go for something less dangerous) I see my old work mates down the pub occasionally and we often have a good chuckle about the antics we got up to.

Hope this story has bought a smile to your face, It did to us...