Radioactive Decay: Illinois Reactors from 1992 – 1994

A Chronology of deteriorating safety at Illinois Nuclear Reactor Plants

The following illustrate the decline of safety and performance at Illinois 13 operating nuclear reactors. The environmental community has attempted to meet with State officials to discuss these problem areas. To date neither Governor Edgar, nor any State agency has replied to numerous calls and letters requesting a meeting to discuss these concerns:

November, 1992
Governor Edgar is informed that all 13 operating reactors in Illinois are using a fire-retardant barrier called Thermo-Lag which does not work. Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) still has not required replacement.

March, 1993
Greenpeace International publishes report warning of “vessel head penetration cracking” potential at pressurized water reactors (PWRs) like those at Zion, Byron, and Braidwood. NRC has not ordered utilities to do tests to determine if this condition exists at Illinois nuclear reactors.

July, 1993
In a Public Citizen study released in July, 1993 covering 11 safety- and performance related criteria, 7 of the 13 Illinois nuclear reactors placed in the bottom third in the country in overall ratings. The Dresden-2 and Zion-1 reactors are cited for their particularly poor conditions and performance.

July, ’93-June, ’94
Commonwealth Edison is fined by the NRC 11 times totalling $1,099,500 for safety problems at 5 of its 6 reactor sites.

October, 1993
A joint letter signed by numerous Illinois environmental groups and 13 page position paper analyzing nuclear safety issues are sent to Governor Edgar, Attorney General Burris, IDNS, ICC, IDENR, Illinois House Environment Committee, and the Illinois Senate Environment Committee warning of safety deterioration, poor performance, and ever increasing costs at Illinois nuclear plants, along with detailed recommendations for possible State action. Concerns also raised about NRC’s ability and desire to regulate nuclear industry. No response is received from any State agency.

November, 1993
ComEd is criticized by NRC in the Nov. 17 Quad Cities reactor “diagnostic evaluation” for “performance deficiencies…a large number of equipment problems…[and] significant leadership weaknesses in site and corporate management….”

December, 1993
A Public Citizen study finds that, from 1990 to the present, the federal watchdog group — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) — failed to identify or address almost two-thirds of the serious safety-related problems at U.S. nuclear plants found by a private industry group. At the same time, the NRC announced (“Radioactive Decay” — continued….) plans to change and cut back on its own reactor safety evaluations. Gov. Edgar and State agencies were notified by letter.

January, 1994
ComEd’s Dresden nuclear plant remains on the NRC’s “close watch list” for poor operating performance and management. It has been on the list since 1992, and has been on the list two other times since 1986. ComEd’s two Zion reactors were on the list from 1991-93. In addition, NRC places the four Commonwealth Edison reactors at Quad Cities and La Salle on its new “adversely trending” list, indicating deteriorating conditions requiring close supervision. NEIS and other environmental groups send third letter to Governor Edgar and State agencies.

January, 1994
Weather-related accident at the retired Dresden-1 reactor releases 55,000 gallons of contaminated water into containment building; similar accident, determined to be possible at the spent fuel pool, could uncover highly radioactive “spent” fuel in less than an hour, resulting in radiation doses of up to 2700 rems/hour at the pool.

February, 1994
Commonwealth Edison files for $460.3 million rate increase. A sizeable portion of the request is allocated towards needed repairs at its Illinois nuclear reactors. Edison also reveals that the costs to “decommission” (close and dismantle) its aging nuclear reactors may be double its previous estimates — up to $4.1 billion.

March, 1994
At a meeting between NRC and ComEd’s Board of Directors in Washington, D.C., NRC Chairperson Ivan Selin states, “It’s unusual that [NRC woul]d be interested in corporate governance. Our job is to make sure the [nuclear] plants are safe. But the record of Commonwealth Edison is to the point where you can’t stop at the plants….I don’t think the [Commonwealth Edison] Board has done its job.” ComEd also criticized for high worker radiation exposure at its LaSalle reactors.

April, 1994
ComEd’s LaSalle reactors are fined $75,000 by the NRC for safety violations. The Zion-1 reactor is shut down after a fire in the main generator bus duct on Easter Sunday morning. Later in the month, Zion plant staff “accidentally” disables safety monitors at for 3 days. Dresden and LaSalle are criticized by NRC for their “progressively worsening pattern of management neglect.” Braidwood experiences a control rod failure.

May, 1994
NRC fines ComEd $75,000 for safety violations at Dresden 2 & 3; and $225,000 for “worker horseplay” at LaSalle 1 & 2 resulting in worker contamination. Severe core shroud cracking is discovered at all 4 reactors at Dresden and Quad Cities.

June, 1994
ComEd fined $200,000 for Dresden 1’s January pipe leak; and $12,500 for “accidentally” disabling Zion 1’s safety systems in March. Dresden 2 & 3 set record by remaining on NRC’s “watch list.” Braidwood (ComEd’s newest reactors) found by NRC to have “unusually high [steam generator] crack growth rate.” rev. 7/94