Company Officials Say Decommissioning Zion Nuclear Plant Will Be Safe
Sen. Garrett holds forum spurred by questions raised by Fukushima, Japan disaster.
People in Lake Forest face little threat of danger or evacuation like those in Fukushima, Japan, from the idle Exelon nuclear reactor just 15 miles north of Deerpath Road in Zion, according to experts from Zion Solutions.
Zion Solutions is the company charged with decommissioning of the Zion facility over the next 10 years.
Approximately 40 people from the area gathered for an update on the project at a forum hosted by state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) Saturday (April 9) at the Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center.
The plant was shut down in 1998 when Exelon’s predecessor, Commonwealth Edison, determined it was too expensive to provide electricity to northern Illinois. The used nuclear fuel — uranium — has been cooling in pools of water since.
Garrett arranged the meeting so she could learn along with people from the area what potential dangers lurk as spent nuclear fuel rods — uranium — are cooled and sealed.
Garrett wanted to know if the process is being performed in a safe way to avoid the leaks into the environment now occurring in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami a month ago.
“With the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, people stop me and say, ‘what’s going on with that Zion nuclear power plant’ and I say I don’t know,” Garrett said. “I’m here for the same reason you’re here. I want to make sure I understand everything there is to know.”
Zion Solutions General Manager Patrick Daly told the audience his company has just begun a 10-year process to cool and seal the rods. They will then be placed in air tight concrete reinforced casks filled with inert gas and safely stored 1,300 feet from Lake Michigan.
“They (spent fuel rods) can withstand a tornado up to 360 miles per hour and missiles up to 4,000 pounds. It can handle 50 feet of tsunami,” Daly said, comparing it to the 45-foot disaster that recently struck Japan. The Japanese plant was built to withstand a 22.5 foot tidal wave, according to Daly.
Daly also said to the best of his knowledge, Lake Michigan has never had a seisch more than 20 feet high. A seisch is the Great Lakes equivalent of a tidal wave. During the project and after its completion, around the clock guards will watch the premises.
Daly also said any water put into the lake would be tested for safety before discharge. Garrett asked if the water in the lake would be tested after discharge, and Daly said it's more critical to test the water before it goes into the lake.
Though he was thorough with his Power Point presentation, people still expressed fears with their questions. One Lake Forest resident was quick to express concern over the safety of the casks storing the rods.
“When we’re done the fuel goes back to Exelon and they will maintain it,” Daly said. He also showed a picture of a private security guard holding an assault rifle protecting the site.
They will remain in the casks for up to 20 years, Daly said. Several people expressed hope that the spent fuel would be shipped out of the area. Daly explained this was beyond his authority. He said the ultimate disposition was in the hands of the federal government.
Lake County Board Member Michelle Feldman of Deerfield sought clarification of Daly’s comments that he foresaw no need for an evacuation under any circumstances. She wanted reassurance.
“Fuel is old, it’s cooled. We don’t have an operating reactor system. There aren’t any mechanisms where there would be a need to evacuate,” Daly said. “Those reactors (in Japan) were operating. You wouldn’t get the explosion.”
Carl Lambrecht of Highland Park wanted to know why the decommissioned uranium was securely sealed rather than recycled. He explained the Japanese sent their used fuel to France for recycling.
“We set the standard for the rest of the world,” Daly said, explaining American methods for decommissioning shuttered nuclear energy plants. Most countries follow the U.S. lead, he said.
Lake Forest resident Mary Mathews expressed concern over Zion Solutions being created just for this project by its parent company, Energy Solutions Co. headquartered in Salt Lake City. Daly explained he has more than 30 years in the business while Gary Bouchard, a company vice president, began his career with the Navy’s atomic program and has nearly 50 years experience.
“We have experience decommissioning Rocky Point in Charlevoix, Mich.,” Daly said, naming a former plant on Lake Michigan. “We have experience with Connecticut Yankee and Maine Yankee. There are all plants we have decommissioned.”
After many of the answers from Daly and Bouchard, Sandy Stein of Highland Park still wanted to know what was being done in light of the events in Japan.
“Fukushima will have everybody looking at everything,” Daly said. “The water here is in pools. Fuel leaked into the water there. It won’t happen here."