CHICAGO—Despite some notable flaws, a report assembled by 4 state agencies to study the effects of closing five uneconomic Exelon nuclear reactors in Illinois came to a reassuring conclusion:  Illinois will survive, and WITHOUT having to bail out Exelon’s reactors with $580 million.

The Report, “POTENTIAL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CLOSINGS IN ILLINOIS: Impacts and Market-Based Solutions,” was mandated by HR1146 in May of 2014 to study the effects on the Illinois economy and electric power reliability should Exelon decide to close 5 unprofitable nuclear reactors it operates in Illinois.

Exelon's unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not "appreciate" them more with a bailout.
Exelon’s unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not “appreciate” them more with a bailout.

“This Report, flawed as it is, indicates that while there will be some serious, expected short term effects from Exelon closing its 5 uneconomic reactors, the Illinois economy will not be irreparably harmed, and the lights will stay on.  In short – there is NO crisis demanding quick action by the Legislature to grant Exelon a $580 million bailout of the 5 reactors,” concludes David Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service, a nuclear power watchdog organization based in Chicago.

The Report was presented as a compilation of analyses by the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois Power Agency, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  Each was given a specific task to analyze by the enabling Resolution, HR1146; and each conducted its own separate modeling and analysis.

The bottom-line, broad-brush stroke takeaways from the Report are:

There is no crisis.  Illinois WILL survive. Therefore, there is no need for the legislature to act rashly on the expected to be requested $580 million bailout, without detailed study, analysis and debate; and certainly not before Exelon provides much more information to the Legislature and the public.

  1. The conclusions of each individual agency virtually all support some version of FIXING THE RENEWABLE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARD, and/or relying on energy efficiency and renewable energy (EE/RE) to both soften the economic hit, create new replacement jobs, and keep the electrons flowing, in some form or other.  Some Agency reports were more explicit about this than others (e.g., Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity).
  2. System reliability will NOT be impaired, and even under worst case scenarios, can be propped up sufficiently with appropriate use of demand-side management. (IL Power Agency)

“These are probably not the conclusions Exelon wanted the public or the Legislature to see,” notes Kraft.  “But, although incomplete, they are reassuring first analyses that demonstrate Illinois can make a transition to a renewable energy future less painful with proper planning and forethought.  More work is clearly needed.”

Indeed, the writers of the report themselves were cognizant of the “GIGO” nature of their work, cautioning that,

“…the Agencies believe that results from modeling and analyses cannot be fairly segregated from the assumptions, caveats, and explanations which accompany them. Guided by this logic, the Agencies’ have chosen not to provide an independent executive summary to this report, and strongly believe that impacts measured through modeling and analyses must be understood in the context of and with the caveats given in their presentation herein.”

“And some of those contexts and analyses seemed to be incomplete and inaccurate,” Kraft states.  “It’s good that the authors recognize this limitation, so that conclusions offered are not overly generalized.”

The authors also concluded that,

“There is an old adage: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  Solutions adopted to prevent the premature closure of Illinois nuclear plants should be designed with the goal of raising the tide of the Illinois energy sector. When evaluating the solutions included in this report and any alternatives offered by stakeholders, holistic solutions aimed at solving fundamental market challenges are preferable. The right energy policy has the potential to minimize rate increases to families and businesses while positioning Illinois as a national leader in the development of clean energy.”

“It seems that the Agencies recognize that the situation is one greater than merely deciding whether Exelon reactors should be bailed out or not; but rather one of deciding on a future blueprint for Illinois energy that makes sense and is compatible with the 21st Century trends and technological advances,” Kraft observes.  “This is not an incremental decision about rate setting; it’s a transformation moment for deciding Illinois’ energy future.  The Legislature will be deciding if we move forward into the 21st Century of energy, or stay stuck in the 19th.”

Flaws in the Report

From its inception NEIS had been critical of the mandated Report.  The enabling Resolution:

  • Provided no dedicated funding to conduct deeper more meaningful study that would have produced more valid results;
  • Provided a far too narrow mandate for investigation, one which began with a pre-determined conclusion – that the effects would (all) be negative, without allowing for analysis of potential benefits of closing the 5 reactors;
  • Provided absolutely no opportunity for public participation or input into the Report.

“This tight political control of the process last May strongly suggested a self-fulfilling prophecy was to be created, not a study to legitimately investigate a serious issue,” Kraft points out.  “To the extent that the Agencies were largely able to avoid this built-in pitfall is much to their credit.”

The Report also contained some direct criticism and contradiction of Exelon’s claims leading up to the creation of the Report.  For example:

the DCEO explicitly criticized Exelon and claims and data from the Nuclear Energy Institute report from last October on negative effects of reactor closures, stating Exelon overplayed the likely damage to expect, and ignored possible means of mitigating the effects of closure (pp. 149-150);

  1. despite not being part of the original mandate, several agencies stated that EE/RE would be used in varying capacities to add both jobs and electrons, softening the expected short-term disruptions of premature reactor closures, a point Exelon public statements assiduously ignore;
  2. DCEO further noted that if you close reactors, they eventually have to be decommissioned, adding benefits to the local and Illinois economy in the longer-term; they then quoted from the website of Exelon’s current sub-contractor at Zion — Zion Solutions — as to how much positive economic opportunity that would provide (p. 150);
  3. Some specific scenarios analyzed in the Report reject the need for an Exelon bailout at all. One such example scenario investigated by the ICC concluded, “Higher energy market prices would also reduce the capacity market offer caps of remaining units and thus capacity prices, holding everything else equal.  The fact that energy market prices would increase does not support providing subsidies to these plants in order to forestall retirement. Any decision to retire the plants would be based on the basic economics of the plants.”  (emphasis ours, pp. 62-63)
  4. The Illinois Power Agency states, “This analysis contained in this report demonstrates that there is a potential for impacts on reliability and capacity from the premature closure of the at-risk nuclear plants. However, in many of the cases analyzed, reliability impacts remain below industry standard thresholds, and impacts appear to be more significant in other states than in Illinois. Taken alone, there may not be sufficient concern regarding reliability and capacity to warrant the institution of new Illinois specific market-based solutions to prevent premature closure of nuclear plants.” (emphasis ours, p. 73)

“Even though Exelon did their best to convince everyone that the sky is falling here in Illinois, even a poorly mandated, non-funded, public discounting and disenfranchising, abstract-model-heavy analysis could not reach that conclusion,” says Kraft.

“Given the guardedly incomplete conclusions of this Report, and the uncertainty about FERC awarding an additional $560 million in profits to Exelon, there is no legitimate reason for the Legislature to take immediate action on Exelon’s requests for a bailout, by any mechanism.”

According to Kraft, “The situation and the conclusions from this Report call for a number of things to happen first, before such consideration should even begin:

  1.  Exelon needs to open it books to the State and the public, on a plant by plant basis, to conclusively prove its need;
  2. The Legislature FIRST needs to fix the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to guarantee that EE/RE WILL be available to soften any economic or reliability damage the closure of the 5 money-losing reactors would cause, as the Report suggests numerous times it could;
  3. No Legislative decision should be rendered prior to the FERC deciding on its potential $560 million award for Exelon. The Legislature should not set up an opportunity for a billion-dollar Exelon “double-dip.”
  4. Alternatives to the Exelon proposals, and to Exelon as an energy provider, should be investigated by the Legislature. Perhaps some of Exelon’s competitors would be willing to step up and fill some of the energy vacuum Exelon would create by closing the 5 reactors, and do so in a more economic, forward thinking manner —  as the Report suggests should be done.

“The energy future of Illinois and its effects on the Illinois economy for decades to come are at stake with the Legislature’s decision,” Kraft warns.  “Their job is to get it done RIGHT, not  QUICK.”


CHICAGO– A more serious incident occurred at the Honeywell Uranium conversion facility in Metropolis, Illinois than was originally reported by the plant operators to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC Event Report states,

“DISCOVERY OF AFTER-THE-FACT EMERGENCY CONDITION – ALERT DECLARATION NOT MADE DURING EVENT INVOLVING URANIUM HEXAFLUORIDE LEAK After review of additional observations and other evidence not directly involved with the response, Honeywell has determined that the event should have been upgraded at 1942 [CDT] on 10/26/14, to an ‘Alert’ classification per our classification criteria.”

“Emergency response and public awareness to a hazardous release from Honeywell depends on the reliable, honest and timely reporting by Honeywell. No government agencies can detect in real time an ongoing release of radioactive Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) or toxic Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) at the facility”, stated Gail Snyder, Board President of Nuclear Energy Information Service.

In a phone conversation with Roger Hanah of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) he conveyed that Honeywell’s Emergency Response Plan includes stationing a person in position to view and observe the incident and that the person was not originally stationed in a location that allowed him/her to see the release of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) from the building. An updated NRC Event Report states “the NRC inspection found that Honeywell did not recognize that the HF (Hydrogen Fluoride) released from the FMB (Facilities Management Building) warranted an emergency classification of ALERT. “ As a result Honeywell did not notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at that time. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency which issues the site permit and regulates the process where the leak occurred was not notified of the incident until a few days after it happened.

Currently the production of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) is shutdown at the facility while an internal investigation and corrective actions are evaluated and discussed with the NRC. In a confirmatory action letter resulting from an NRC emergency inspection, Honeywell is required to “review and revise [their] emergency preparedness procedures, if necessary, and conduct appropriate training to provide assurance that events can be classified correctly, and appropriate emergency response actions can be implemented.” From this wording it does not indicate if Honeywell’s failure to accurately understand and convey the seriousness of the incident was a failure of their Emergency Response Plan or insufficiently trained or inexperienced workers.

On-strike union workers have claimed that replacement workers are not well trained and do not have the experience to operate the facility as safely as union workers would.

“The NRC has previously approved the Emergency Response Plan and allowed the facility to operate with replacement workers. So will the NRC undergo its own internal investigation to determine how the NRC allowed either plans, less qualified workers or some combination of those to operate the facility in a way that would allow for a plume of Uranium Hexafluoride or Hydrogen Fluoride to be released, not noticed, not accurately categorized and delayed in reporting?” asks Gail Snyder.

The Honeywell facility does not have a ten-mile Emergency Planning Zone around it like nuclear energy facilities do which require some preparedness information be provided to the public on what to do in the event of an emergency. Joe Miller from Massac County’s Emergency Management department said, “the sirens that are activated offsite during an emergency may not always be heard by people who are inside a residence or building,” where other sounds from televisions, radios etc…may not allow them to hear the sirens.  Emergency Management Director for the City of Metropolis, Keith Davis, who is also the director for the 911 service of the county, said that during an emergency Honeywell determines the severity and classification of an event as well as the action recommendations which are then directed to dispatch. Prompt public notification of an emergency can come in the form of sirens and reverse 911 calls or through the emergency alert system.  The original reporting from Honeywell or its revised status of an “alert” would not have initiated public notifications.  If the status was raised to a “Site Area Emergency” that would indicate the possible offsite release of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) and/or Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) which would initiate public notifications.

On October 26, 2014 Honeywell reported a leak of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) claiming the leak was contained within the building, later admitting that the leak was not contained in the building and was released into the environment while still claiming it did not go offsite of the facility. A union worker on strike outside the facility filmed the plume coming out of the top of the building and drifting across the property before water suppression systems were activated.  Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) states that their department’s radiation monitoring equipment stationed outside the facility’s fence boundary did not monitor anything unusual. The other dangerously toxic chemical, Hydrogen Fluoride Gas (HF), which could be a significant risk to the neighboring community is not monitored by IEMA.

The first NRC “updated” Preliminary report, dated October 31st, maintains the “Not Applicable” classification rather than the “Alert” classification. It also states “initial indications are that no detectable offsite release of material (UF6 or HF) was present,” and that “monitoring fence HF detectors from the control room indicated no detectable HF at the fence.” The Honeywell facility has Hydrogen Fluoride detectors on site but according to an article posted by the United Steel Workers, who are in a labor dispute with Honeywell and have been locked out of the facility for over three months, HF monitors are not stationed on the West side of the property’s fence line, the direction the plume was going. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff member confirmed that it was likely that HF monitors were not stationed along the fence line in areas where people did not live. The west side of the Honeywell facility is bordered by a forested area. A coal facility is just beyond the forested area. The only agency that might monitor for Hydrogen Fluoride is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).  Attempts to contact the IEPA to confirm that they do not monitor for Hydrogen Fluoride at the facility could not be obtained by the time of this press release.

The most recent NRC “updated” Preliminary report, dated November 6th, states that “The NRC has concluded no detectable radioactive material was released,” and that “Honeywell has determined that if any HF, which is not radioactive but is chemically hazardous, travelled beyond their property it would have been of such a low concentration as to pose no public safety hazard.” From October 31st to November 6th Honeywell changed its statement from “initial indications…no detectable offsite release” to “if any HF travelled beyond property.”  Currently there is no confirmation that HF absolutely did not leave the site because there are not monitors around the entire site, and we have found no other governmental agency that monitors HF at the site. Other than direct monitoring of HF, determination of whether HF went beyond the property is done through computer modeling. The Honeywell Company and the NRC have both run modeling programs to determine the quantity of material released. The results of the modeling may be available in the report issued by the NRC from the emergency inspection of the facility which will be finalized and available in a few weeks.

The NRC’s Event reporting form has five “License Emergency Classifications.”  Uranium Processing facilities have two allowed classifications of emergencies, “Alert” and “Site Area Emergency,” according to Roger Hanah of the NRC. The original Preliminary Event report form had the “Not Applicable” box selected. Honeywell originally referred to the emergency as a “plant emergency” which does not alert the heads of emergency response agencies to the potential for offsite releases or that they he should be prepared to potentially have to call staff in if Honeywell requires outside assistance. An “Alert” level would have raised the awareness and preparedness of the various emergency response agencies. No outside response was requested.

Honeywell submitted an additional event report on or around November 3rd, after the original incident and during the shutdown of the production of Uranium Hexafluoride Honeywell that reported the “UNPLANNED MEDICAL TREATMENT OF A CONTAMINATED INDIVIDUAL.” The employee slipped and fell in a gravel area: “A whole body radiological survey of the employee and plant clothing was performed,” contamination was present with the most occurring on the upper back of the employee’s plant issued coveralls. Upon the completion of first aid activities, the employee routinely exit monitored from the facility and reported to an off-site medical facility for further evaluation. No additional contamination found on the employee.” It could not be determined from the report or questions to the NRC if the employee was injured or contaminated in relation to repair or clean-up work from the event on October 26th. The inspection report related to the Oct. 26th event or other regular inspection reports in the future may convey more information about the contaminated employee.

“The staggering number of mistakes, inaccuracies, changed stories, and inadequate responses on the part of both Honeywell and the NRC beg for an independent investigation into Honeywell’s ability to run so sensitive a facility, and NRC’s ability to adequately regulate it,” asserts Dave Kraft, Director of NEIS.  “NRC’s existing regulatory scheme does not seem capable of protecting the public health and safety in a timely and responsible manner.  Illinois’ Congressional Delegation needs to look into this matter,” Kraft states.


Nuclear Regulatory Event Report #50594
Scroll to Event #50594

Nuclear Regulatory Event Report #50591

Original Preliminary Event Report October 27th

1st Updated Preliminary Event Report October 31st

2nd Updated Prelimary Event Report “Alert” November 6th

Confirmatory Action Letter from NRC to Honeywell is not available on their website yet.
Dated November 7, 2014 from Honeywell Attn: Dave Pritchett from NRC: Victor M. McCreee

United Steel Workers


CHICAGO—  A study released Thursday (Oct. 2, 2014) by the nuclear power trade group alleging dire economic consequences for Illinois should  currently unprofitable nuclear reactors be closed by Exelon Corporation leaves safe-energy advocacy groups wondering – was this report designed to deliberately mislead the Illinois Legislature?

Exelon's unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not "appreciate" them more with a bailout.
Exelon’s unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not “appreciate” them more with a bailout.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) of Washington, D.C. released a 29-page report titled, The Impact of Exelon’s  Nuclear Fleet on the Illinois Economy,  The report alleges that, “the consequences for the state’s economy and environment would be dire,” should Exelon make good its threat to close as many as 5 reactors in Illinois.

“Rarely have we seen so short a report by the nuclear industry filled with so many errors of omission and commission, inconsistencies, and faulty analysis,” observes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, a nuclear watch-dog organization.  “On its own that would not be such a bad or unexpected thing.  But this report is designed to manipulate legislators into prying an initial $580 million out of Illinois ratepayers’ pocketbooks,” Kraft continues.

“This report is largely a collection of ‘water is wet’ findings that there would be negative consequences for local communities and the state if Exelon decides to close nuclear reactors,” notes Kraft.  “The report uses inflated figures, figures inconsistent with what the Legislature was previously given, and completely leaves out critical and substantial information that would seriously contradict their findings, “Kraft points out.

Among the larger flaws of the study are:

  • A co-mingled presentation of the positive economic effects of operation and negative effects of closure between in some instances all 11 operating reactors, versus the 5 reactors Exelon has stated it might close, with the effect of muddling the true economic picture.
  • Enormous inconsistencies between the numbers presumably provided by Exelon to the Legislature in passing HR1146, – a resolution  passed in May in support of continued nuclear reactor operation —  and the numbers presented in the NEI report (as well as the Exelon Corporate website, see attached Table), suggesting…
  • Questionable and seemingly padded assumptions about numbers and multiplier effects used to reach their conclusions.
  • A failure to acknowledge let alone analyze the positive effects on the economy after such plant closures from job creation from reactor decommissioning and in the energy sectors like renewable energy, efficiency and presumably natural gas that would occur to provide replacement power for the closed reactors.
  • A failure to use the readily available history of ComEd’s closure of the two Zion reactors in 1998, and the devaluation of the Clinton reactor when it was sold as examples of how communities – and apparently Illinois — managed to survive when a nuclear utility like Exelon unilaterally pulled the plug on them.

An excellent and more detailed critique of the NEI study titled, “NEI’s Exelon Numbers Don’t Add Up,” has been done by Michael Mariotte, President of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) of Takomoa Park, MD.

“The NEI report is released during an election year and written with a tone designed to create a sense of fear and dire emergency in legislators who will be voting in the Spring on whether to subsidize Exelon’s five unprofitable nuclear reactors to the tune of at least $580 million, with more subsidies possible in the future.  With intelligent analysis and design, these predictable negative effects can be minimized and dealt with,” Kraft asserts.

The NEI is the trade association for the U.S. nuclear power industry.  While there is nothing unusual for the NEI to defend nuclear power, it should be noted that Exelon Corporation – the beneficiary of this report – contributes over $7.2 million per year to the operation of the NEI (FY 2012 numbers); and Exelon CEO Philip Crane is also NEI’s current Chairman.  These facts cast legitimate skepticism on the report’s accuracy.

[NOTE: The NEI was previously taken to task in 1998 by the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division over NEI ads making unqualified claims about the benefits of nuclear power that BBB ruled were unjustified, noting that in advertising law, “a claim that is technically truthful can still be misleading….”.]

On a parallel track, and as a result of the passage of HR1146, four State agencies are currently preparing reports on topics similar to those addressed in the NEI report.  These State reports are due out in November, after the election.

“NEIS is concerned that these State reports will be equally misleading,” Kraft warns, “in that the agencies were not given the staff or financial resources to conduct research beyond the narrow prescripts mandated in HR1146, and no public process or means of input was created.  Despite the best efforts of the staffs involved, these reports may end up being nothing more that expensive ‘studies to show,’ and not provide the Legislators with the complete set of balanced, pro-and-con information they will need to make a competent decision,” Kraft states.

“The State is hereby put on notice – we will not quietly accept biased industry studies and self-fulfilling prophecies from state agencies as ‘justification’ to pick the ratepayers’ pockets to the tune of $580 million or more,” Kraft asserts.  “A ’Nuclear war’ on renewables can get quite messy, and fast,” Kraft notes.