Japan’s crisis puts Illinois nuclear power backup systems in spotlight
By David Roeder Business Reporterdroeder@suntimes.com March 15, 2011 10:14AM
Nearby nuclear plants
Reactors in Illinois and nearby states and their type. (PWR means pressurized water reactor, BWR means boiling water reactor)
Plant name Reactor type Manufacturer Location Owner/operator
Braidwood 1 PWR Westinghouse 20 miles SSW of Joliet Exelon
Braidwood 2 PWR Westinghouse 20 miles SSW of Joliet Exelon
Byron 1 PWR Westinghouse 17 miles SW of Rockford Exelon
Byron 2 PWR Westinghouse 17 miles SW of Rockford Exelon
Callaway PWR Westinghouse 25 miles ENE of Jefferson City, MO. Ameren
Clinton BWR GE (Mark II) 23 miles SSE of Bloomington Exelon
D.C. Cook 1 PWR Westinghouse 13 miles S of Benton Harbor, MI Indiana/Michigan Power
D.C. Cook 2 PWR Westinghouse 13 miles S of Benton Harbor, MI Indiana/Michigan Power
Dresden 2 BWR GE (Mark I) 25 miles SW of Joliet Exelon
Dresden 3 BWR GE (Mark I) 25 miles SW of Joliet Exelon
Duane Arnold BWR GE (Mark I) 8 miles NW of Cedar Rapids, Iowa Florida Power
Kewaunee PWR Westinghouse 27 miles ESE of Green Bay, Wis. Dominion Generation
La Salle 1 BWR GE (Mark II) 11 miles SE of Ottawa Exelon
La Salle 2 BWR GE (Mark II) 11 miles SE of Ottawa Exelon
Palisades PWR Combustion Engineering 5 miles S of South Haven, Mich. Entergy
Point Beach 1 PWR Westinghouse 13 miles NNW of Manitowoc, Wis. FPL Energy
Point Beach 2 PWR Westinghouse 13 miles NNW of Manitowoc, Wis. FPL Energy
Quad Cities 1 BWR GE (Mark I) 20 miles NE of Moline Exelon
Quad Cities 2 BWR GE (Mark I) 20 miles NE of Moline Exelon
Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
As Japan toils with international aid to avert nuclear disaster, Illinois will be watching with more than humanitarian interest.
With 11 reactors, Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any state. Exelon Corp., parent of ComEd, owns every one.
Four of the Illinois reactors have the same design and manufacturer as the first reactor to fail Saturday at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant northeast of Tokyo, said the Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. trade group for the industry.
Those reactors, produced by General Electric Co. and with the model name Mark I, also are in place at Exelon’s two reactors at Dresden, near Joliet, and at its two Quad Cities reactors.
Experts said the plants pose no immediate danger. The Dai-ichi plant switched to backup power according to its design after the devastating 8.9-magnitude quake struck the nation Friday.
However, those systems were overwhelmed by the tsunami that resulted from the quake.
For U.S.-based experts in nuclear energy, the issue is whether reactors here can withstand a similar multi-pronged disaster.
As safe as the reactors might be, “you can’t make them disaster-proof,” said Prof. James Stubbins, head of the University of Illinois’ department of nuclear engineering. He said Japan’s reactors fell victim to an extraordinary combination of disasters even as their basic systems worked as intended.
Stubbins said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and plant operators will learn from the catastrophe. “This industry is very good at sharing best practices,” he said.
The Japanese reactors were designed to withstand power outages of up to eight hours, said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that is neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power.
Most U.S. reactors can cope with only a four-hour blackout, he said. Earthquakes can cause fires, yet dozens of U.S. reactors fail federal fire protection regulations, he said.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency oversees the safety of reactors here. Because of the preponderance of nuclear power, the state’s monitoring program is among the most extensive in the country, said Joseph Klinger, assistant director at the agency.
Klinger said the agency continuously monitors data at all reactors, radiation levels at a two-mile radius around each plant, and the emissions from each stack. He said the system provides an early warning of any problems.
It also conducts its own inspections.
Exelon Chairman John Rowe said its plants here are safe, “particularly given the different seismic patterns in our regions and the absence of tsunami-type events where we have operations.” The company said its plants have “numerous and redundant safety systems,” but would work with regulators to implement lessons learned from Japan.
An anti-nuclear power group, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said the three Dai-ichi reactors share the GE Mark I design, which it said has fundamental safety flaws that were just partially addressed by later versions, starting with Mark II. Mark I dates from the 1970s.
GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt told Reuters that while facts about Japan’s catastrophes are still unknown, “There is now almost a 50-year track record of nuclear power that people can look back on and make their own judgments about.”