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When the nuclear era ends: Struggling Zion, Ill., a lesson for Lacey Township via Atlantic City

More than 20 years after its nuclear plant closed, Zion, Illinois, is still dealing with the financial and community repercussions of its loss, says its mayor.

Almost all of the $19 million in annual property taxes the dual-reactor plant paid while in operation — about half the town’s tax base — disappeared.

“In five years it went down to $750,000 a year,” Zion Mayor Al Hill said of tax payments from the plant. “We are still trying to figure out how to dig out from under financial troubles created by the closing 20 years later.”

Lacey Township, where the Oyster Creek nuclear plant just closed, is similar in size to Zion — both have populations of about 25,000. Both nuclear plants were owned and operated by Exelon Generation.

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Zion is a suburban community 50 miles north of Chicago and a similar distance south of Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan. It had to eliminate 14 police officers, eight public works employees, and five jobs in the building department, Hill said.

The plant took up the city’s only property on Lake Michigan, and its 247 acres sit between two sections of preserved land at Illinois Beach State Park. Now the site is hosting tons of highly-radioactive nuclear waste. Even after decommissioning is finished — perhaps in about 2020 — no one will want to invest in building a resort or condos there with the waste still on site, said Hill.

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Hill said the town knew when the plant was proposed it would have to live with an eyesore of a nuclear power plant. But the plant brought in tax dollars and a lot of jobs, he said, so people decided to go along with the tradeoff.

“But now we have spent fuel storage,” Hill said, which  wasn’t part of the agreement.

The federal government promised to provide long-term storage for the waste, spent billions on developing a storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, then the Obama Administration abandoned the project.

The spent fuel at Zion is guarded by armed guards with automatic weapons 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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