A post-attendance report of the Zion Open House hosted by ZionSolutions, LLC

October 31, 2010

I attended a Community Open House held by ZionSolutions, LLC, on Thursday, Oct. 28, which is a special-purpose subsidiary of EnergySolutions, Inc. formed specifically to deliver integrated services and solutions for the safe decommissioning and environmental restoration of the Zion Station site. 

Exelon Corporation made the decision to waste its Dual Zion Nuclear Plant in 1998 stating economic reasons. The Plant operated from 1974 to 1998 when it was prematurely close down and put in Safe/Store.  The Zion decommissioning represents the largest plant dismantling everundertaken in the U.S.  The billion dollar project is a ten-year operation.

A question never sufficiently answered: Why was Zion mothballed in 1998 when it had many years left of service and why is Zion being decommissioned when aging equipment could be replaced?

I exchanged cards with a number of ZionSolutions officials present and asked very pointed questions of the engineers, etc., not being surprised when their answers were illogical or not based on fact.  I listened politely to their responses, but refrained from responding, thinking it best to play along with the experts so as not to expose their efforts to pull the wool over my eyes.

All of the officials assigned to ZionSolutions were courteous to me.  Some seemed to agree with what I was saying about the foolishness of closing a plant which has the potential of producing a massive amount of energy, but it was obvious that the Community Meeting message was to convince me and others in attendance that ZionSolutions was making every effort to be open and transparent with the public. (When people try too hard to be congenial where there are outstanding issues that demand explanations, I become suspicious of motives.  This was the case when interacting with ZionSolutions officials.).

The major theme was that ZionSolutions had nothing to do with the Zion Plant closing.  It was all Exelon’s doing.  Zion Solutions was only handling the decommissioning (Weren’t contracts signed and negotiations happening during the past three years between ZionSolutions and Exelon Corporation, yet ZionSolutions had no knowledge about why Exelon was wasting a perfectly good plant!  Not believable.).

The same story was related to me by officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  I was told that the NRC only deals with safety and that it had no part in shutting down Zion.  The NRC was called in only when Exelon decided to mothball Zion in 1998, as licenses needed to be changed (revised) to conform to the Plant’s new Safe/Store status.

I did inquire about the invitation.  When did it go out?   Was the event advertised?  I was informed proudly by the public relations person that a full-page ad was placed in Mona Shannon’s Zion-Benton Harbor newspaper, where upon I responded that the Zion-Benton Harbor newspaper is but a weekly publication that doesn’t reach very many individuals. 

I was thanked for my information and proceeded to name other newspapers in Chicagoland which have far larger readerships.  (Molly has concluded that the invitation was purposely put in a little read newspapers, so ZionSolutions could honestly say that the community was notified.  In that ZionSolutions didn’t know what the major newspapers were in Illinois is not believable!  What about the Chicago Tribune?)

There were as many ZionSolutions officials present at the event as there were outsiders, no more than 50 individuals all total.  Only one County Commissioner was present, John Paxton.  Paxon was also surprised that no one else showed up, not even Mayor Lane Harrison of Zion; legislators Jo Ann Osmond and Michael Bond; Mona Shannon, editor of the Zion-Benton News; or Ken Graesser and Ken Butterfield, plant managers at the Dual Zion Plant during its operation. 

The previous week I had contacted all Lake County elected legislators and officials and selected Illinois Republican and Democrat legislators about the Zion Community Open House.

John Paxton is a Commissioner with the Lake County Sanitary District.  John told me about an aging force main that was built back in the 70’s and that will cost millions of dollars to replace because Mark Kirk will not allow the purified water to go into Lake Michigan. 

I was somewhat surprised when a ZionSolution engineer, now assigned inside the Plant, told her that the Units are beautiful inside.  After hearing the engineer’s response, I walked over to the person in charge of the Zion project, John Hess, and questioned why the Plant couldn’t be reopened if all looked beautiful inside. 

Mr. Hess told me that “just because something looks beautiful doesn’t mean that it’s still functional.”  To which Molly responded:  “Doesn’t Zion still have the equipment inside which it did when the plant was mushroomed back in1998?  If so, the other plants still operating in Illinois most likely have the same equipment, with perhaps some upgrades, so why can’t the Zion Plant be upgraded accordingly and restarted?”  

I also raised the issue that “to replace what was required inside the Zion Plant could be done at a fraction of the cost that it would take to build another Plant having the same power capacity as Zion.  After all, a billion dollars was being spent to tear the plant down.” 

Another inquiry was made about the validity of “economics” as the reason given by Exelon Corporation for wasting the plant.  John Hess didn’t quite know how to reply to my questions other than to say that is was Exelon’s decision to decommission the Zion Plant.  (Question: Is it possible for a citizen to request information though the Freedom of Information Act? Just an idea that might be worth looking into).

And what about Exelon? There was no one from Exelon Corporation at the Zion event.  Why?  Exelon knows there are questions that demand answers. Exelon Corporation has shut up like a clam.  Transparency and openness have been lacking from the beginning with its decision to take Zion’s power off the electrical grid.

There is another interesting story to tell about Mark Kirk.  A person who was working at the plant in1998, and who is now part of the ZionSolution group, told me that Kirk came up to the Zion Plant in1998 and called Zion “a mistake by the lake.”  This is why I have already cast my vote for the Libertarian candidate for senate in Illinois in Early Voting, even as a strong, conservative Republican.

I proceeded to ask about security at the Zion Plant.  The Zion Plant has had many individuals inside taking care of the Plant — it is not crumbling — and outside guarding the Plant since it was shut down in 1998.  The radioactive rods in dry cast storage will rest on an area about the size of a football field.  There will be a two chain link fences around the site which will be set as far back from Lake Michigan as possible not to encroach upon the Wet Lands (ZionSolutions is very much into considering the environment in dealing with its Zion decommissioning.). 

A natural berm will be built around the football-sized storage area so it can’t be seen by the public. When I asked how many guards would be needed to guard the area where the radioactive rods are to be stored, I was told, “just as many because the government mandates that we do so.” (I can only imagine the cost of all these guards and the use of only Union Workers to decommission Zion.  No wonder a BILLION dollars is needed for the Zion operation which shouldn’t even be on-going!)

Here are several other items of interest:

1.  Only the radioactive fuel will stay behind.  The low radioactive waste will be transported to ZionSolutions storage place at their Clive facility in Utah. 

2.  When Iasked why the radioactive rods weren’t being reprocessed as they were in other countries, I was told by one ZionSolutions representative that the process was too new to be considered (Untrue)  Another representative was perhaps more truthful when he told me that our government doesn’t wish to go that route.

3.  The licenses given for the decommissioning process gives ownership of all the building, etc., to ZionSolutions; Exelon owns the land underneath.  Once the decommissioning is done, Zion can do with the land whatever it wishes for it as its owner. 

4.  The Chicago Tribune sent a reporter and camera man to the Zion event.  The reporter came and spoke to me, asked for my comments, and then gave me his business card on which he wrote his telephone number.  I was told that the CT sent a reporter and camera man to the event because of my notification to the Tribune editors about the event.

Notices were sent to all other newspapers in Chicagoland,  but only the Tribune responded.

I did design a handout about Zion which was distributed to those present, even the ZionSolution team members.

On the handout these two important question were emphasized that need to asked of Exelon Executives (Public statements from Exelon regarding Zion’s closure have been opaque and confusing.) before Zion is unnecessarily demolished, which does not bode well for future energy needs here in Illinois: 

1.  Did Exelon intentionally prematurely close the two Zion Nuclear Fueled Electricity Generating Plants that customers have already paid for, in order to keep these least expensive, safe, green, non-polluting electricity generating plants out of the grid, thereby keeping electricity prices high?

2.  Why hasn’t Exelon tried to sell these two Zion electricity generating plants?  Could it be because a new owner would produce lowest cost, safe, green electricity for Illinois customers and this would lower the electricity bills for consumers, reducing Exelon’s profits?

 

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