Today’s Chicagoland press accounts of the arrest of two alleged ISIS supporters — Yusuf Abdulhaqq and Schimento – aka Abdul Wali – show the pair holding the ISIS flag while standing in front of the “Welcome” sign for Illinois Beach State Park in Zion.
What is perhaps most disturbing is what is NOT being reported about this incident: that those dramatic photos were taken a ten minute walk south of the 1000+ tons of high-level radioactive wastes (HLRW) being stored at Exelon’s Zion Nuclear Power Station, currently undergoing decommissioning. [See: Google Maps]
These wastes are the accumulation of the entire lifetime output from the now-closed reactors. They are currently being stored in what are called “dry-cask” canisters, and are extremely hazardous should they be released into the environment by “accident”, or terrorist intent.
Because the federal government long ago reneged on its pledge to permanently dispose of these high-level radioactive wastes in a deep geological disposal facility back in 1998, currently all such HLRW from every reactor in the nation is being stored onsite at those reactor sites, with no place to safely go. This transforms communities with closed reactors into de facto high-level radioactive waste storage dumps.
Since 2002 the safe-energy and environmental community has advocated that these “orphaned” wastes be stored in much safer configurations, employing what is known as “hardened onsite storage” (HOSS). This method would utilize the currently used “dry-cask” canisters, but in a much more robust configuration to minimize conceivable hazards. Both the nuclear industry and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have repeatedly rejected this proposal as “too expensive.” Our organization suggested this method be utilized at the decommissioned Zion reactor site; but again, this was rejected by Exelon and its contractor
Given that these wastes sit only a few hundred yards from the drinking water supply for 16 million people known as Lake Michigan, one can rightly ask – how much is the Lake worth, by comparison?
While it is tempting to urge for quickly moving such wastes out of Zion, the reality is that 1.) there is no place for the wastes to go; and 2.) placing 1,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes on our crumbling roads and rails, and possibly our fresh waterways without first preparing and greatly improving that infrastructure would be more dangerous and irresponsible. If these wastes represent a hazard sitting still at Zion, they represent an even greater hazard at 40-60 mph on our roads and rails, as the recent March 15th derailment of rail cars carrying molten sulfur in Lake Forest amply demonstrate.
[NOTE: a March 9, 2017 report by The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Illinois “D” and “D-“ rating for its roads and transit lines, respectively – and that’s higher than the national average!]
Federal proposals to create “centralized interim storage” (CIS) sites around the country to take these orphaned wastes are equally problematic, since they would first require presently hazardous transportation of the wastes, and because they would create even more radioactively contaminated sites requiring clean-up at a future date when the federal government opens a final disposal facility. At that point the wastes would have to be transported a second time to the disposal facility. It is also not widely known that a June 2012 study from Oak Ridge National Lab indicates that Illinois would be the optimal location for the first of such CIS facilities. The first such site would not likely be ready to accept wastes for the next 8 to 10 years; and given the demonstrated pace at which the federal government moves, might itself become a de facto permanent storage site indefinitely.
[NOTE: One estimate done for the Zion wastes alone at a CIS over a 40-year period shows it would cost between $153-$289 million.]
So – what should be done now? NEIS again recommends that, 1.) since the radioactive wastes represent a clear hazard, and 2.) there is no place to responsibly send the HLRW to, that 3.) local communities that have become de facto HLRW dumps are given maximum protection in the meantime by storing the HLRW in “hardened onsite storage” facilities onsite at the reactor sites, and 4.) that these communities receive compensation for the economic damage that being an unwilling de facto HLRW dump has done to their communities. From there we can resurrect a responsible and science-based investigation to identify an appropriate final disposal facility. ■