While a nuclear energy watchdog group believes the dry storage of roughly 1,500 tons of spent fuel rods at the shuttered Zion Nuclear Power Plant is unsafe, Zion officials are also expressing concern about the economic loss the city will continue to sustain if the site becomes long-term storage for nuclear waste.
Zion Mayor Al Hill said this week city officials are researching ways to get the federal government to reimburse the city for serving as a storage space for 61 concrete casks of spent fuel that was supposed to be transported to a safer, underground environment.
Hill was referring to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which was designated in the 1980s to be prepared as a site for a deep geological storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. In 2002, Congress approved federal funding for the site, but in 2011, the plan was squashed, leaving some officials like those in Zion worried that the promised long-term storage site for high-level radioactive wastes would never materialize.
As Hill figures it, “$41 billion was set aside by the government for Yucca Mountain. The government should pay the interest it’s received from that money to reimburse cities like Zion where nuclear waste that should have gone to Yucca Mountain is being stored,” perhaps indefinitely.
“We have 1.5 percent of the nation’s spent fuel, so I figure our portion should be $50 million,” Hill said.
The issue remains that Zion won’t be able to use that lakefront land for economic gain if the waste remains there, Hill said.
“No one will want to build there. I would much prefer they would not be here,” he said of the casks. “But if they are going to be, we need to be compensated.”
That money would go to Zion’s schools, police and fire, he said.
The Zion Nuclear Power Plant, which sits along Lake Michigan and is adjacent to Illinois Beach State Park, was built in 1973 to produce electricity for residences and businesses.
In 1998, the plant was retired, due to budgetary issues, according to Exelon, ComEd’s parent company.
The $800 million estimated cost of the decommissioning is being paid by state electric rate payers, and that’s one reason why NEIS director David Kraft said it needs to remain watchful of the project. NEIS, which has been monitoring power plants in Illinois since 1981, expressed concern when Exelon acknowledged in January that EnergySolutions was running out of money to pay for the decommissioning.
That’s just about when Zion Solutions moved the1,500 tons of spent fuel rods from holding pools, packed them into steel canisters and then sealed the canisters into 157-ton casks, each about the size of a garage and made of 26 inches of re-enforced concrete.
The casks sit atop a concrete pad designed to withstand flooding, fire, earthquakes, winds and missiles. Now the plant’s buildings can be dismantled and the pieces transported via railway for disposal at a low-level radioactivity facility in Utah.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, on its website, said dry casks remain “vulnerable to safety and security hazards,” but it’s better to have the spent fuel there than in the storage pools. The group has asked the NRC to “upgrade regulations to require the dry cask storage sites be made more secure against a terrorist attack.”