Senator Mark Kirk’s expressed fears about Zion Plant are without merit

April 30, 2011

 I read with interest a submission by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk’s office to “Illinois Review”:  “Kirk says nuclear waste in Zion plant is a danger to 30 million people.”   

Let me remind Senator Mark Kirk and Illinois Review readers that The  Zion Station consists of two modern, environmentally clean, safe, low-cost, 3 Loop 1000+ megawatt Westinghouse-designed and built, nuclear fueled pressured water reactor (PWR) electricity generating plant, located on seismically approved ground.

With proper routine maintenance and upgrades, as happens to all machinery, The Zion Station could  be safely operated for 100 years or more. 

 The belief that radioactive waste might somehow get into Lake Michigan to pollute drinking water, as suggested by Senator Kirk, is held by many.  IL Senator Susan Garrett (D-29) expressed the same sentiment at a recent forum held in Lake Forest on Saturday, April 9th, updating Zion’s decommissioning by ZionSolutions.     

It matters not that until the two nuclear plants were shuttered in 1998, while operating, neither plant spewed radioactive particles into the air not leaked radioactive particles into Lake Michigan.

The 2,226 spent fuel rods now in Zion’s cooling pool can withstand a tornado up to 360 miles per hour and missiles up to 4,000 pounds.  Furthermore, Lake Michigan has never had a seisch (a wave) more than 20 feet high.

Regarding the safety of the rods now in the cooling pond, Zion could survive a loss of electrical power for up to 45 days, the time it would take for enough water to evaporate in the the cooling pond — if not replaced — before the rods would be exposed.  Twenty four feet of water cover the spend rods which have now cooled to a point where they can be safely placed in dry storage. 

Also of note, and not mentioned in Senator Kirk’s Illinois Review submission, is what will happen to the spend fuel rods when transferred from wet storage (the pool) to dry storage.   61 carefully designed, concrete reinforced air-tight containers filled with inert gas will hold the high level waste which will then be stored at the south end of the Switch Yard, 1,300 feet from Lake Michigan on one-half acre of land, a distance further from the lake than the present cooling pond containing the rods.

Since 09/11/2001, this nation has been on high alert to the possibility of terrorist attacks anywhere, and especially against high stakes targets.  Senator Kirk, as a Naval reserve officer, should know that this nation does a pretty good job of protecting our seemingly vulnerable assets, the likes of which are found in virtually every state in the nation.  These vulnerable assets can’t all be moved “someplace else”, so they’re not close to us. Most of them are close to somebody! 

Kirk suggested that there be a renewed effort to quickly build Yucca Mountain in Nevada to locate spent fuel to one secure repository.  Well and good, Senator Kirk, but aren’t you aware that Yucca Mountain has been placed off limits by the Obama administration after it became a political “hot potato”?   When the 2011 budget was passed several weeks ago, along went funding for Yucca Mountain.

As of now the 61 concrete canisters have been licensed for storage at Zion for 20 years.  It will then be the responsibility of the federal government to come and pick them up. 

It is way past time for Senator Kirk and other legislators to think about reprocessing nuclear fuel as is done in France, where 80 percent of that country’s electricity comes from nuclear power.  The radioactive waste from their 59 reactors over 30 years of operation is stored in a single room in Normandy.  The reprocessing of nuclear fuel here in the U.S. was foolishly banned by President Jimmy Carter during his administration. 

It is not the issue of safety at Zion, Senator Kirk, which should cause concern for the 30 million people you believe could be in danger.  It is the terrible waste of a valuable resource through the wasting forever of 2,100 MG of green, clean, safe, and cheap energy.  Legislators and citizens should be outraged.

The Zion Station even now could and should be refurbished and started, but time is running out. 

When will the nuclear energy fear-mongering end that once again has reared its ugly hear in the wake of last month’s Fukushima Di-ichi nuclear complex event?  It was the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that destabilized the reactors due to the destruction of backup reactor electric suppliers.

Nuclear power is the way of the future.  If this nation fails to act decisively and in a timely way, the decision-makers of today will reap the post-mortem blame for their shortsightedness and lack of common sense.

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One Response to “Senator Mark Kirk’s expressed fears about Zion Plant are without merit”

  1. Steve Says:

    Excellent essay, Ms. Thorner. Nuclear power is indeed the way of the future.

    Regarding reprocessing, you may find this recent article interesting:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/science/earth/26nuke.html?_r=1

    In the referenced MIT report (link is included in the article), “There is no reason to find a substitute for uranium because the existing global supply is plentiful. In fact, there is enough uranium available to fuel 10 times as many reactors as exist today, even if each of the new ones ran for 100 years.”

    Reprocessing is an excellent idea for the future. Unfortunately, no technology current exists to make reprocessing economical feasible today, since there is no shortage of uranium resources. This will change. And when that moment arrives, it would be wise to have the nation’s used nuclear fuel stored at one retrievable location, as you pointed out.

    The paramount priority is to open Yucca Mountain as that storage location. From there, we can prepare for nuclear fuel reprocessing in the future.

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