Radioactive Decay: Illinois Reactors from 1996 – 1997

A Brief Chronology of Significant Reactor Incidents 1996-97

Prepared July 24, 1997

Nov.-Dec. 1995
Investigative reporter Duane Pohlman from Milwaukee videotapes his film crew’s security breach at the Zion, IL, and Point Beach, WI, reactors. At urging of Wisconsin Congressmen, NRC offers to conduct enhanced inspection of event.

Feb., 1996
Two months after November security breach, NRC gives Zion a SALP rating of “2” — “good” or “adequate” — in plant security.

May 29, 1996
NRC Chair Shirley Jackson gives ComEd option to “perhaps shut yourselves down” if ComEd can’t solve Dresden problems “once and for all.”

June 28, 1996
ComEd’s Dresden remains on NRC “close watch” list for record setting 5-1/2 consecutive years.

July 1, 1996
Maintenance error gums up backup emergency cooling water equipment at LaSalle reactors, forcing shutdown.

August 20, 1996
NRC probes theft of the reactor operator license exam on July 7, at ComEd’s Dresden nuclear station.

August 27, 1996
NRC fines ComEd $50,000 for five violations occurring between February and May at Zion nuclear station.

Sept. 5, 1996
Illinois Power’s Clinton reactor shut after a recirculating pump leak resulted in spilling 7,000 gallons of radioactive water into reactor building.

October 19, 1996
Six ComEd reactors rank in “bottom-25” in nation, according to Public Citizen reactor safety report, Nuclear Lemons.

November 14, 1996
ComEd shuts one of two Dresden reactors Oct. 26 during enhanced NRC inspection; cannot pin point the problem causing shutdown.

December 12, 1996
NRC announces “improvement” at ComEd’s Dresden 2&3 reactors.

January 2, 1997
Independent Safety Analysis of LaSalle reactors commissioned by ComEd finds them deficient in all areas of operation.

January 25, 1997
NRC fines ComEd $650,000 for July, 1996 incident at LaSalle reactors, the largest fine in ComEd history.

January 29, 1997
NRC places 6 of 12 ComEd reactors — Dresden 2&3, Zion 1&2, and LaSalle 1&2 — on its “close watch” list requiring additional NRC supervision and oversight; and places Illinois Power’s Clinton 1 on its “trending downward” list. ComEd told to submit within 60 days in writing and under oath its plan to reverse poor operation, and why NRC should believe ComEd can reverse the negative trends while operating other reactors.

February 5, 1997
ComEd’s Byron reactors cited for violation, refusal for 3 years to clear silt buildup out of cooling tower pool.

February 11, 1997
Chicago Tribune reports two reactor operator crews at LaSalle mis- diagnosed a simulated reactor incident in 1996 test, causing NRC staff to “question the ability of personnel to operate the plant safely.”

February 21, 1997
Independent Assessment Teams commissioned by ComEd give highly negative evaluations of the Zion and LaSalle stations.

February 22, 1997
Experienced reactor operator at Zion violates shutdown procedure; NRC Regional Director A. Bill Beach states, “It doesn’t get any worse. No one was in control.” ComEd reactor chief Tom Maiman states, “This is perhaps the most embarrassing career situation I have ever been in.”

February 27, 1997
NRC fines ComEd $100,000 for violations at Byron reactors relating to three-year silt build up in cooling tower pool.

March 13, 1997
NRC fines ComEd $100,000 for 1996 engineering and safety violations at Zion station.

March 19, 1997
NRC criticizes ComEd for radiation handling procedures violations at Zion reactors.

March 25, 1997
In wake of the Feb. 22 reactor operator error, ComEd announces it will fire, transfer, or retrain 180 reactor operators at Zion station.

March 29, 1997
ComEd submits its reply to NRC’s demand for plans to fix “watch list” reactors, and why NRC should believe them.

April 2, 1997
Twenty five of 31 control room operators at LaSalle fail a simulation test of their ability to handle “abnormal” reactor problems.

April 17, 1997
ComEd announces plans to prematurely retire the two Zion reactors in the year 2005 to avoid the enormous cost of replacing steam generators.

April 25, 1997
NRC accepts ComEd’s under oath testimony to improve reactor performance in spite of receiving no reason as to why ComEd should be believed.

May 27, 1997
NRC reports 17 violations — five with safety implications — uncovered at Zion during investigation into Feb. 21st reactor operate mishap.

June 10, 1997
NRC fines Illinois Power $450,000 — the largest in IP’s history — for violations relating to Sept. 5, 1996 incident at its Clinton reactor.

June 17, 1997
NRC criticizes ComEd for having a disabled leak detection system for four months at its Byron station.

June 23, 1997
NRC discovers ComEd has ignored flaws for almost two decades in over 1,200 switches at its LaSalle reactors.

June 24, 1997
ComEd notified that the level of its cooling lake at the LaSalle reactors was above maximum level allowed by regulatory standards for over two weeks, that equipment designed to fix the problem was broken, and that ComEd was unaware of the correct water level for years.

June 25, 1997
Six ComEd reactors — Dresden 2&3, Zion 1&2, and LaSalle 1&2 — remain on NRC “close watch” list.

June 27, 1997
NRC fines ComEd $100,000 for violations at Zion and Quad Cities reactors .

July 3, 1997
NRC criticizes ComEd for allowing a bubble of nitrogen to build up for 16 days without taking action at the Zion reactor in March.

July 17, 1997
An unprecedented letter sent to NRC by 65 Zion operating department members alleges ComEd management was intimidating plant staff into not raising safety concerns. Staff also requests private meeting with NRC to express concerns and grievances allegedly ignored by ComEd.

July 23, 1997
Nuclear industry’s first on-duty control room “mutiny” and protest occurs at Zion station, when 10 control room operators over two shifts protest reassignment of fellow workers by removing their uniform shirt, and refusing orders by ComEd management to put them back on.