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New Nuclear Reactor in Illinois Is Unnecessary, Would Burden Community More Than Benefit It

May 26, 2005

New Nuclear Reactor in Illinois Is Unnecessary, Would Burden Community More Than Benefit It

Environmental Study Dismisses Potential of Alternative, Renewable Energy Sources While Underestimating Impacts of Nuclear Power

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Building more nuclear reactors at the existing Clinton site poses far more risks than benefits to Illinois residents, and the energy company seeking an early site permit for the reactors should be denied, Public Citizen said today. 

In comments filed late yesterday with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in response to the federal agency’s legally required environmental evaluation of nuclear operator Exelon’s plans for an additional reactor or reactors at its Clinton Power Station in DeWitt County, the watchdog group criticized the NRC for failing to evaluate the full breadth of impacts from a new nuclear power source.

Illinois-based Exelon has applied for a site permit, which would allow the company to “bank” the site for 20 years, during which time it can choose a reactor type and apply for a combined construction and operating license.

“A new reactor in Clinton is unnecessary, unsafe and expensive,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.   “Nuclear power is not a good deal for the residents of Clinton and it’s not a good deal for the American people.”

Among the most pressing concerns cited by Public Citizen is how the additional nuclear capacity would affect the health and vitality of Clinton Lake. The Clinton nuclear reactor relies on water from the lake to cool it, but additional generation capacity would require more water and may overtax and deplete the lake, especially in drought years when water levels are low. Such overuse may force the plant to shut down, since the loss of coolant is a serious safety problem that could lead to meltdown, and could make the lake less desirable as a source of recreation due to high water temperatures. The precise impact is unclear, since neither Exelon nor NRC has done a full analysis of how a new reactor would affect the lake temperature.

“Although we found plenty of issues that should prohibit the granting of a siting permit for a new reactor, this environmental review is mostly notable for what it doesn’t address,” said Brendan Hoffman, an organizer for Public Citizen’s energy program. “We feel that the early site permit process is designed to give the appearance that important problems are being considered and resolved, when the difficult questions are simply postponed or ignored altogether.”

The NRC’s environmental impact statement also fails to evaluate the security threat of indefinitely storing onsite the additional nuclear waste that would be generated by the proposed new nuclear unit. Another nuclear reactor at Clinton could create 20 to 30 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste annually. To date, there is no feasible solution to safely and permanently dispose of this waste, which must cool onsite for five years before it can be moved. Moreover, the environmental impact statement does not adequately consider the possibility and consequences of severe accident scenarios resulting from the transportation of spent nuclear fuel, Public Citizen said.

NRC regulations do not require consideration of the need for the plant, and a detailed consideration of need is absent from the agency’s impact statement.

Federal law does require a consideration of alternative energy sources, but the NRC’s review dismisses renewable energy as an alternative source of power, saying that such sources are not “environmentally preferable” to nuclear power despite acknowledging that Illinois has the untapped potential to produce as much electricity from wind as from nine additional nuclear reactors.

“These early site permits are costing taxpayers millions of dollars because the government has subsidized the process to encourage big energy companies to invest in nuclear power,” said Hoffman.  “We should be investing in renewable and energy efficient technologies, not 20th century technologies that suffer from the same fatal flaws now as they have for the past 50 years.”

Taxpayers are helping out Exelon – they foot half the bill for license applications. Yet Exelon is not a very good corporate citizen in return. Because it has taken advantage of new electricity deregulation rules, its property tax payments have declined from 80 percent of DeWitt County’s total property tax revenue in 1996 to 53 percent in 2002. This resulted in an annual revenue loss of $8.8 million to the county; local officials report that their economy has “reached bottom,” and Clinton School District 15 has been forced to cut its budget by $3 million and spend reserves over the past several years.

To read Public Citizen’s comments, click here.

To read Public Citizen’s new series of fact sheets on the five fatal flaws of nuclear power (cost, safety, security, waste and proliferation), click here.