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Could Illinois Reactors Withstand Japan-like Disaster?

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CBS St. Louis (con't)

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CHICAGO (AP) -  Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk have asked federal and state nuclear experts to attend a forum to discuss the safety of the state’s nuclear reactors and whether Illinois is prepared for an emergency, citing Japan’s still-unfolding crisis.

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Exelon Corp. and environmental groups say they plan to attend the meeting Friday at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.

“I have no reason to believe we have a particular concern (in Illinois), but what happened in Japan, I think, is fair warning that we ought to periodically review this,” Durbin said Tuesday.

Some watchdog and environmental groups, however, have said they’re concerned that four of the state’s 11 reactors – at the Dresden and Quad City generating plants – are of the same design and about the same age as those involved in Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Dave Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, an Illinois watchdog group, said the Mark I boiling-water reactors are flawed because spent fuel rods are stored above the reactor containment chamber instead of at ground level, and the containment system around the reactor is too small and could allow pressure to build quickly in the event of an emergency.

The head of the Illinois Environmental Law and Policy Center, Howard Learner, said he is concerned about plans by Exelon to “uprate” or rev up the amount of electricity generated by the Mark I reactors, all of which already are more than 40 years old.

“It’s time for Exelon and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hit the pause button and go back and carefully reassess the risks and rewards,” squeezing more power from the plants, Learner said.

“I’m not throwing stones at the nuclear plants, but it would be prudent and wise at this point.”

President Barack Obama has called on the NRC to review the nation’s nuclear plant safety and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said the state also will conduct a “full-scale” review.

Quinn also wants to increase the annual fees Exelon pays to Illinois – currently pays about $20 million annually – to ensure the state Emergency Management Agency has what it needs to oversee safety at the plants.

Illinois has six nuclear plants, with a total of 11 reactors, more than any other state in the U.S.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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