Submitted, unpublished commentary written in response to the Tribune’s editorial of April 20th, ‘After Fukushima’

April 30, 2011

Will saner heads prevail post-Fukushima

I read with interest the Chicago Tribune’s editorial on Wednesday, April 20th,  After Fukushima.

The editorial theme centered on the future of this nation’s nuclear industry, noting that nuclear risks must be weighed against known costs of fossil fuel use.   

One statement particularly captured my attention, “The price tag for a new 1,000 megawatt facility; around $6 billion, and now likelier to rise than to decline.” 

With the above in mind, the Dual Zion Nuclear Plant (a 2,000 megawatt facility) right here in northern Illinois is scheduled to be wasted. Since it takes many years to satisfy the surrounding population, the seismic requirements, the lawyers, the environmentalists, etc., before one shovel of dirt is moved to begin excavation for a new nuclear plant, why tear down the Zion Plant?  It has already been paid for by ratepayers, along with its $1 billion decommissioning Trust Fund. 

As a Lake Bluff resident who can view The Zion Plant from Lake Bluff’s Sunrise Beach, and who has been engaged in a continuing effort over two-and-one-half years to rally others to assist in a mission to refurbish and reopen Zion, overwhelming sadness now prevails over activities now taking place at the Dual Zion Nuclear Plant since ZionSolutions was officially awarded the contract from Exelon Corporation in September of last to destroy Zion.

Let me remind readers that The Zion Station consists of two modern, environmentally clean, safe, 1000 + Megawatt nuclear power plants; that their Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) were designed and built by Westinghouse ; that they are located on seismically approved ground; and that they were prematurely shut down in 1998 and put in “safestore.” 

With proper routine maintenance and upgrades, as happens to all machinery, both plants could safely be operated for a hundred years or more.  

Disconcerting is that Exelon Corporation never explained why its dual Zion Nuclear Plant was unnecessarily and prematurely closed down and placed in safe-store in 1998 way before their time, when the two plants, while operating, neither spewed radioactive particles into the the air, nor leaked radioactive particles into Lake Michigan.  

Exelon Corporation has likewise refused to release to this day its financial calculations as to its decision to shutter Zion in 1998, as well as two other financial calculations made between Zion’s 1998 closure and its 2010 transfer to ZionSolutions for decommissioning.

In a recent forum I attended in Lake Forest held by Senator Sussan Garrett D-29) on the status of Zion, many of the question directed to Patrick Daly, manager of ZionSolutions, centered around the safety of the spent nuclear fuel rods now in a cooling pool (2,226 in all), and the nature and safety of the 61 vertical concrete, reinforced air-tight containers filled with inert gas into which the rods will be placed in their transfer from wet to dry storage.  Daly related that when the transfer is completed, the 61 casks will rest on a pad at the south end of the Switch Yard — which will not be demolished — 1,300 feet from Lake Michigan on one-half acre of land, a distance further from the lake than the present cooling pond holding the spent rods.   

Most attending Garrett’s forum seemed be accept the responses given by presenter Patrick Daly of ZionSolutions as to the handling of high level radioactive material during the decommissioning process; that is, with the exception of one individual whose questions reflected his obvious dislike of Nuclear Energy as a power source.

This individual asked a series of questions based on virtually impossible “what if” scenarios such as terrorists breaching the air space to target Zion with a large amount of high explosives.

To readers who find the above scenario plausible, may I remind them 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.  

It is also well to remember that since 09/11/2011 we have been on high alert in this country to the possibility of terrorist attacks anywhere, and especially against high stakes targets.

Because of the recent March incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, discussed also was whether what happened in Japan could ever occur at Zion.  It is unfortunate that excessive fear-mongering over the safety of Nuclear Energy has been making its rounds since the Japan incident, causing many Americans to become skeptical of nuclear energy as a power source.

It must be remembered that it was the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan that destabilized the reactors and caused radiation leaks after the backup reactor electric suppliers were destroyed. 

At Zion the spent rods in the cooling pool are covered with 26 feet over water, and they can withstand a tornado up to 360 miles per hour and missiles up to 4,000 pound.  Furthermore, Lake Michigan has never had a seisch (a wave) of more than 20 feet high.  

When will saner heads prevail to educate the American people about Nuclear Energy?  Enough with the “Pie in the Sky” dream that wind and solar power will become future viable mass producers of energy!

All high school students should be taught these facts: 

1.  One Uranium Fuel Pellet, without being reprocessed and recycled, generates about as much energy as 3 barrels of oil (41 gallons) each, 2 ton of coal, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

2.  Uranium-fued electrical generating plants produce abundant, cheap, clean and safe energy.

3.  About 20% of electricity in the U.S. comes from uranium fuel.

4.  We depend on electricity to manufacture goods and provide services that assure safety, healthy living and conveniences in modern life.  

During Senator Garrett’s forum time and again my thoughts turned to another “what if” scenario. What if I were listening instead to a presentation about the steps needed to refurbish and restart Zion, instead of one that dealt with wasting Zion’s massive source of energy forever?

Other nations are investing in nuclear energy,while this nation sits on the sidelines.  Since the time of Admiral Rickover, the Navy has had Nuclear Powered submarines, Aircraft Carriers and Destroyers, all with a safety record.  

Power is what drives the engine of our economy.  An ever increasing amount of energy will be required in future years to fuel economic growth and sustain the quality of life for future generation.

When will my state legislators Senator Garrett and Representative Karen May and U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Richard Durbin wise up?  Despite repeated contacts with Illinois legislators, none displayed interest in inquiring why Zion was prematurely closed back in 1998 and is now scheduled for destruction.    

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

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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s