Zion’s reactor site deserves a second look

January 7, 2009

Zion’s dual-reactor nuclear power plant was built by ComEd in 1973, the third dual-reactor nuclear power plant in the Illinois ComEd network. Both units were retired on Feb. 13, 1998. Fuel has been removed, and they are now in long-term safe storage (SAFSTOR) until both licenses expire on November 14, 2013, after which decontamination and dismantlement are to begin.

At a time when coal and oil are being condemned as sources of energy because the CO2 produced is being blamed for global warming, nuclear reactors are reliable solutions to providing energy needs. Importantly, nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide by contributing to global warming mania.

Given president-elect Barack Obama’s announced cap and trade policy to cut carbon emissions by a whopping 80% by 2020, it would be economic suicide for this nation not to invest in more nuclear power. Unfortunately the Three Mile Island accident near Harrisburg, Pa., the reactor was destroyed, but the core itself remained confined, and Ukraine’s Chernobyl disaster in 1986, created unwarranted fear about the use of nuclear power in the minds of the American people. Europe is way ahead of America in using nuclear energy. France gets 77% of its electricity from nuclear reactors.

Was it really necessary to shutter Zion’s dual-reactor nuclear plant? Recently I spoke with David Hollein, formerly the Westinghouse Project Engineer for all the Commonwealth Nuclear Plants built by Westinghouse and General Electric. Prior to that position, Mr. Hollein was involved in the Navy Nuclear Program where he assisted the Navy with the development of nuclear fuel in submarines, aircraft carriers, and destroyers. It is fact that the Navy has been powering ships with nuclear reactors for 50 years and has had no nuclear accidents!

David Hollein had an interesting story to relate. Mr. Hollein believes that there was no need to shutter the two operating Zion Nuclear Plants. Some steam generator tubes were found leaking in both Zion Nuclear Plants, but the tubes were closed off and the plants continued to run without jeopardizing the employees, the area citizens or the environment. Even so the steam generators could have been replaced.

ComEd noted that the cost of replacing the steam generators would have amounted to 435 million dollars but that the investment would not have paid off given the expiration in 2013 of the two unit plant operating licenses. Hollein believes that placing time limits on licensing is bunk and that older plants can be made safe and updated through routine maintenance to extend the life of the plant.

The Zion Nuclear Plants were included in a list of Westinghouse Nuclear Plants as part of a multi utility steam generator court suit, but the closing of the two Zion Nuclear Plants was never the thrust of this class action court suit. Mr. Hollein testified for two days in the discovery phase of the trial as the Westinghouse Project Engineer. Only a short time after the lawyers had deposed David Hollein in Chicago, an agreement was made between Commonwealth Edison and Westinghouse to shut down the Zion Nuclear Plants. Commonwealth Edison went further and had the court seal the agreement with Westinghouse.

So far Chicago area newspapers have refused to have their pubic advocate lawyers open this sealed court agreement. This “secret” agreement goes against the public’s right to know. In David Hollein’s opinion, both Zion Nuclear Plants could be unhesitatingly and safely operated beyond any initial design life time and that the Zion units can and should be restarted.

The Zion units served Chicago and the northern quarter of Illinois where energy needs must keep pace with ever growing demands. It is time for citizens to become involved by calling their state representatives and senators to demand answers. The General Assembly should invite David Hollein to present his findings. Public hearings are also needed. Refusing to build or use existing nuclear plants here in Illinois and across the nation could result in a substantial loss of this country’s standard of living.


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