By Mary McIntyre
The green-capped concrete towers of Zion’s barren lakefront will be gone soon, but the nuclear waste that has crippled the city economically will remain.
Zion Solutions, which is part of Utah-based EnergySolutions, will finish deconstructing and demolishing the former Zion nuclear power plant and its 20-story containment silos in 2018, according to EnergySolutions Vice-President Mark Walker, but 61 casks full of spent nuclear rods will remain on-site indefinitely.
The silos — which were the tallest structures in Lake County when they opened in the early 1970s and are second in overall structural height to the 330-foot Sky Trek Tower at Six Flags Great America — are scheduled to come down during the first quarter of next year.
“The project will be physically completed with (deactivation and decommissioning) in 2018,” Walker said. However, although the federal government designated decades ago that the waste would go to Yucca Mountain in Nevada for permanent storage, the facility has not yet opened, and Zion is stuck with the waste until a solution can be found.
The location of the casks worries David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, a nonprofit that opposes nuclear power.
“We’re very concerned with the fact that these casks are visible, and they’re vulnerable,” Kraft said.
Kraft said storing the casks near Lake Michigan is not appropriate in a post-9/11 world.
“They’re lined up like bowling pins,” he said.
City officials are also unhappy with the storage of the casks, attributing Zion’s economic troubles to the closed facility.
While the power plant operated, ratepayers paid into a trust fund set up for the plant’s decommissioning. The $820 million fund was turned over to EnergySolutions when it took over the work in Zion following the plant’s 1998 deactivation. At the end of the project, any remaining funds are designed to be turned back over to Exelon.
Kraft said he is dissatisfied with the reports provided by ZionSolutions on its use of the trust fund. He said there has been a “glaring lack of transparency” in this regard.
“We’re not alleging that they’ve misappropriated the funds,” Kraft said. However, he added that the audits provided to the community were only four pages long, and the company showed an “explicit refusal” to provide financial information.
“The process we have witnessed over the last seven years has been less than stellar,” Kraft said.
Kraft added the problem is bigger than just Zion, saying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not enforced sufficient accounting standards on decommissioning projects.