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Spotlight on Illinois nukes

Exelon chairman John Rowe cites “the absence of tsunami-type events” in Illinois, reassuring the Sun Times about the state’s eleven nuclear reactors.

Instead, Illinois has severe tornadoes and thousands of airliners flying into and out of O’Hare every day, most of our reactors are located on major flood plains, and some are in outlying reaches of the New Madrid fault line, says Dave Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service.

“The problem with nuclear power is that the probability of accidents may be very low, but the consequences of accidents are extremely high,” he said.

The situation in Japan shows “why the public has a right to some healthy skepticism” about claims of safety for nuclear power, he said.

Four nuclear reactors in Illinois – two in Dresden and two in Quad Cities – are the same model and vintage as the nukes at the Fukushima plant, a design that’s been criticized as incapable of containing radioactivity in the event of a major accident.

The four Illinois nukes keep highly radioactive spent fuel rods in pools outside the containment buildings and elevated, making them subject to draining – and overheating, melting, and burning uncontrollably – in the event of a pipe break, Kraft said.

(Read Christian Parenti on the potentially critical role of spent fuel rods at Fukushima – and the work of nuclear safety activists in the U.S. highlighting lax protective systems for the highly toxic and unstable waste.)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted 20-year extensions to Exelon’s operating licenses at Dresden and Quad City.

As noted in the Sun Times, state officials have an extensive monitoring program for Illinois nuclear plants;  NEIS backed a proposal to the NRC to adopt it nationally (it was rejected).  But state inspectors have little authority, while federal inspectors seem loathe to use their authority, Kraft said. He points out that federal inspectors stationed on-site did nothing to stop the degradation of Illinois nukes which ended up on the NRC’s watch list in the 1990s.

And state resources may be stretched thin. Last month NEIS called attention to a state auditor general report which found that in 2009 and 2010, the Illinois EPA skipped ten quarterly inspections of nuclear reactors which are required by law.

It’s due to the enormous cost and risk of nuclear power that the nation’s widely-touted “nuclear renaissance” has failed to attract private investment, Kraft said.  President Obama, who has listed nuclear power as part of his clean energy program, has requested $36 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear construction.

The lesson of Japan’s crisis is that “nuclear power is an inflexible, dangerous, costly, and unnecessary energy resource moving into the 21st century,” Kraft said.

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Category: energy, environment

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