Nuclear Illinois

Illinois is by far the most nuclear reliant state in the United States.  As of the start of 2017 if Illinois were a nation, it would be the 10th largest nuclear

Nuclear Illinois — Exelon’s 14 reactors circle Chicago

power in the world.  There are ten reactors closer to Chicago than Chornobyl is to Kyiv, Ukraine.

Over the years Illinois has been plagued by a series of firsts and mosts:

In December 1942, under the stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard initiated the first human controlled atomic chain reaction in history. Thus began the Atomic Age.  The reactor, Chicago Pile One (CP-1), was later rechristened the CP-2 and moved to nearby Palos Park as part of the Manhattan Project. A second reactor, the CP-3, was also built there. After the war,waste from and parts of both reactors were buried there; the dumpsite area is now part of the Palos Hills forest preserve. Here are pictures of CP-1 and CP-3.

Illinois was also home to the first large-scale commercial power reactor, Unit 1 at (then) Commonwealth Edison’s Dresden Power Station, opened in 1960. Subsequent serious radioactive contamination problems forced the permanent shutdown of this unit in 1978, thus also making it one of the first commercial power reactors to close prematurely.

ComEd’s two large PWR reactors in Zion, IL, first opened in 1973, also had to close prematurely. They are the second and third large (over 1000 MegaWatt) power reactors to close prematurely, going offline in 1998.

Illinois also has the first and only commercial storage facility for high level radioactive waste (HLRW), the General Electric Morris Operation (GEMO).  GEMO was to have operated as a spent-nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, but the technology employed by GE was faulty and failed.  The HLRW initially gathered to be reprocessed has largely remained at the site to this day.

Besides the 3 reactors which closed prematurely, Illinois currently has eleven operating nukes – far more than any other state. The Dresden Nuclear Power Station was one of the three first sites to apply for an operating license extension that would let the plant run for 20 years longer than its original design intended. (Incidentally, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in conjunction with the nuclear industry is exploring the option of an additional 20-year operating license extension beyond the first, meaning reactors may be licensed to operate for up to 80 years if this policy is adopted.)   To date (2017) NRC has granted 20-year operating license extensions to all Illinois reactors except the Clinton-1 reactor in Central Illinois.

You can download a map of Nuclear Illinois here.

NUCLEAR ILLINOIS Facts 2017 about Nuclear Illinois.

So what are the sites and facilities that make this “Nuclear Illinois”?

Operating Reactors:

Closed reactors:

  • Dresden I
  • Zion I and Zion II
  • University of Illinois TRIGA research reactor

Nuclear Fuel Production Sites:

  • Honeywell Specialty Chemicals Plant in Metropolis, IL Converts uranium dioxide into uranium hexafluoride
  • Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant – In Paducah Kentucky, just across the Ohio river from Illinois.  Produced enriched uranium needed for reactor fuel from 1952 to 2013.  10 Billion Gallons (that’s Billion with a “B”!) of contaminated groundwater

Research Facilities  that work with Radioactive Material:

  • Argonne National Labs (Argonne, near Darrien, Woodridge and Lemont – all Chicago Suburbs)
  • Fermilab (Batavia)

Nuclear Waste Dumps:

  • The GE Morris Operation – Storage for High Level Radioactive Waste
  • Low-Level Radioactive Waste Dump in Sheffield, Illinois – (LLRW) closed in 1978 when it reached capacity, later it developed leaks and was abandoned by its operator (US Ecology).
  • Manhattan Project Wastes buried in the Palos Forest Preserve in Red Gate Woods. A publicly accessible nuclear waste dump – perhaps the only one in the world!
  • Spent fuel at Illinois reactors: as of 2017, over 10,000 tons of spent reactor fuel is currently stored onsite at all Exelon reactors, awaiting the creation of a permanent disposal site for the radioactive waste, which was supposed to have been provided and opened by the Federal Government in 1997.  Each year ~300 tons of additional HLRW is generated by Exelon reactors in Illinois.

Waste Transportation Routes

Contaminated Sites:

  • Exelon was forced to admit the leakage of over 6 million gallons of tritium-contaminated water from the Braidwood Nuclear Power Station, which occurred in 1995.
  • Two Kerr-McGee sites in West Chicago (Kress Creek and a Sewage Treatment Plant) are contaminated by remains of over 6 million cubic feet of Thorium tailings resulting from the processing of Thorium for use in making gas lantern mantles.
  • Radium contamination numerous places in Ottawa, IL (once proudly known as “Radium City”.) Thought to be from wrist watch manufacturing at The Radium Dial Company (RDC) and Luminous Processes Incorporated (LPI).

Contaminated sites supposedly now all cleaned up:

  • Kerr-McGee thorium tailings in West Chicago (Reed-Keppler Park, and Homes built on over radioactive thorium tailings).
  • Argonne National Labs – Once home to numerous reactors (Janus, CP-5, EBWR, Argonaut(CP-11), Juggernaut, etc.); and site of severe LLRW contamination.


Illinois' Nuclear Power Watchdog since 1981