Fourteen years ago, Zion nuclear power plant’s last red-hot fuel rod was lifted from its reactor core and submerged into a pool of water, joining the rest of the plant’s 2.2 million pounds of spent fuel. The nuclear waste was supposed to be entombed deep within Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
But the U.S. Energy Department scrapped that plan last year. That left operators of Zion and more than 100 nuclear reactors in the U.S. with the responsibility for storing on site the dangerous spent fuel. Chicago-based Exelon Corp. shuttered Zion in 1998 and another company is dismantling the complex piece by piece. The plan calls for Zion’s waste to be encased in concrete-and-steel bunkers not far from Lake Michigan, possibly in perpetuity.
In the wake of Japan’s disaster, the safety calculation involved in storing such waste has changed, experts say. More than 80 percent of the spent nuclear fuel in Illinois remains in pools.
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