SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Emergency Management Agency on Thursday assured state lawmakers that the nuclear power plants in the state are safe and well-prepared for the unthinkable.

By Mary J. Cristobal

SPRINGFIELD – Japan’s nuclear crisis from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has caused global concerns, which have washed onto U.S. shores.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency on Thursday assured state lawmakers that the nuclear power plants in the state are safe and well-prepared for the unthinkable.

IEMA Director Jonathon Monken said the state has the “most comprehensive state-of-the-art nuclear safety program in the nation,” in testimony Thursday morning before the Senate Energy Committee hearing.

Susan Landahl, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Exelon Nuclear, owner of Illinois’ six nuclear power plants, stressed the company’s safe operations.

“It’s understandable that many Americans are asking if the events in Japan impact us, whether they should be concerned about our own nuclear plants, and I’m here to assure you that not only do I have full confidence that the Illinois nuclear plants are safe (but) as well as our other plants in the United States,” said Landahl to the panel of senators.

Monken said the six nuclear plants in Illinois are being monitored around-the-clock for any abnormal level of radiation.

“We have a second redundant system of trained professional state nuclear reactor operators that are stationed in each of the six nuclear power stations,” Monken said. “These resident inspectors report on their assigned plant each day, conducting independent inspections of critical safety equipment.”

Monken said the state is prepared for an emergency response because IEMA is constantly conducting drills with other response agencies, and that all six plants each have a response plan.

“As I mentioned previously, data from the remote monitoring system is continuously transmitted to the REAC (Radiological Emergency Assessment Center),” Monken said. “During an emergency, professional IEMA reactor analysts and health physicists in REAC analyze information and develop protective action recommendation for the public.”

State Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, was concerned about the status of the nuclear plants’ infrastructure.

“Have we updated to keep us in par with other states or other countries that have possibilities of radiation?” said Martinez.

Monken assured the panel that the plants are continually undergoing updates.

“It’s an on-going process as far as the equipment that we have that are available to us as resources to address these types of issues,” Monken said. “A lot of these systems, take for example the monitoring system that we have in a ring around of each plant, those sensors are actually designed and constructed by our personnel.”

The local nuclear plants generate more than 10 percent of the national total of electricity produced by nuclear power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Nuclear plants have been in Illinois for about 50 years, and no dangerous incidents have been recorded, according to Mark Satorius, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“An incident is kind of a generic term, (but) how many actual events have we had that have necessitated evacuations? None.” Satorius said.

Although a very low-level iodine radiation from Japan recently has been detected in central and northern Illinois, Monken said it poses no health threat.

Not everyone is convinced that nuclear plants can be safe.

Linda Lewison, with the alternative energy advocacy group Nuclear Energy Information Service, said that instead of nuclear power plants, a focus needs to be put on more green energy.

The Nuclear Energy Information Service is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization committed to ending nuclear power, according to its website.

Lawmakers asked who would pay for the additional alternative energy if there were no nuclear plants.

“If you bring the subsidies in the cost of nuclear energy and the cost of other fossil fuel services, renewable energy looks much better,” Lewison said. “In Illinois and other places, private sectors are taking the lead (in solar panels and wind manufacturers).”

Above: Photo from Wikipedia by Bobak Ha’Eri of the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Ogle County, 90 miles west of Evanston.

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  1. Nuclear energy

    "Nuclear Energy Information Service."  An "information service" dedicated to "ending nuclear power."  That's not an information service, it's a propaganda outlet.  What a joke of an organization.  Linda Lewison failed to mention all the subsidies alternate energy generation receives.  Virtually ALL energy sources receive subsidies.

    Heck, her organization receives subsidies from the government. (it's a non-profit organization)  What's her organization doing for the benefit of taxpayers?  I don't see it producing anything worthwhile to justify tax exemption, although I see they're begging for donations on their website by encouraging people to download and install spyware toolbars in their browsers.

    The biggest tragedy of the Japanese disaster is how it's going to set the nuclear power industry back another fifty years. When you look at the number of megawatts of energy produced divided by square footage of space required for nuclear power plants (property), nuclear power is the most efficient electrical energy source we have going today.

    Nuclear fission produces far less waste material per megawatt (read the leaflet that comes with your electric bill to see the exact figures) than any other practical power source on the market today. (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas power plants; Chicago couldn't be powered on wind or solar power alone due to the number of generating stations and physical land required for a metropolitan area of our size)  What waste that's generated by nuclear power could be safely tucked underground in a holding facility in Yucca Mountain, NV if not for people like Linda Lewison, spending their lives rallying against useful science and technology they don't understand and fear, instead of doing something useful with their time.

    I wonder if Linda petitioned the electric company to insist all the electric that comes to her home and her organization's headquarters to only come from non-nuclear sources.  Good luck with that!

    We're an energy-hungry society.  We need technology that allows us to generate that power with minimal environmental impact that doesn't involve covering every farm in the state with noisy, bird-killing windmills or inefficient solar panels.  If the "greenies" really cared about the environment, they'd be in favor of nuclear power for two reasons: virtually zero greenhouse emissions AND minimal waste production.  And again, if they really cared about clean air and land, they'd stop lobbying to stop the construction of the storage area in Nevada because that will finally provide a FINAL solution for the storage of nuclear waste, instead of having it all stored in-house at the nuke plants.

    I don't understand humanity sometimes…

  2. Turbines do not kill

    turbines do not kill a substantial number of birds. To the extent they kill any, call it Darwinism. The larger point is: the all-energy-sources-have-harms myth has long been promulgated by nuclear moutpieces and others on the right. Even some on the left. The commenter needs to update his or her talking points.

    The greentech revolution is coming, like it or not. An enormous amount of talent and venture cap is pouring into all manner of energy tech, most of it largely risk-free to general populations (excluding dirty manufacture, but thats another topic). Lets face it- the first scalable, clean, cost-competitive source perfected, will create the worlds first trillionaire. (EV industry will be THE demand-driver). You cant dangle that much money in front of creative people, and expect to stay on rocking horse technologies like coal and nuclear, forever.

    Lawyers/ patent trolls will hold it back for a while, but the dam will eventually burst, pardon the bad pun. For starters, google: switchgrass enzyme breakthrough; safe hydrogen nanotech; river mouth ionization (on todays FastCompany blog.. not to plug). Read up on the fusion race going on between US and BRIC

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