Clinton nuclear facility similar to one under duress in Japan

Clinton nuclear facility similar to one under duress in Japan

The crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan are the same type and are of the same design as the single nuclear reactor at the Clinton nuclear site in DeWitt County.

The main difference between the two is that the containment structure – the protective enclosure around the nuclear reactor – is larger at the later-generation Clinton plant.

The Clinton station, operated by Exelon Corp., is located about 35 miles west of Champaign. Like the reactors at the troubled Japanese plant, it is a boiling-water reactor designed by General Electric. But it has a later-generation Mark III containment vessel. Twelve of the 104 nuclear plants in the United States use either a Mark II or Mark III containment system from General Electric.

Twenty-three others use the Mark I system that is the same containment system as at the damaged plant in Japan.

"One has more volume so it is better able to absorb more pressure," said Viktoria Mitlyng, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In any case, a University of Illinois nuclear engineer said, central Illinoisans needn't be concerned about a similar disaster scenario here.

"I don't see where there's any need to be concerned about the plant at Clinton," said James Stubbins, head of the department of nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering at the University of Illinois. "I can't imagine that that set of circumstances could repeat itself here or almost anywhere."

The biggest problem, Stubbins said, is that after an earthquake shut down the reactor, a tsunami disabled the diesel generators at the site that were to have powered the pumps to cool the reactors.

"The real problem in Japan is that while the reactors were shut down safely, the issue is that the backup power for the cooling systems didn't operate," Stubbins said. "I don't see a scenario in which that could happen here. The backup diesel generators are tested all the time for these plants."

But David Kraft, director of anti-nuclear group the Nuclear Energy Information Service, said there have been problems with diesel-powered backup systems in the United States.

"Sure, we don't have tsunami capabilities and we don't have the same earthquakes, but if you don't fill your diesel generator tanks they're not going to operate," said Kraft at the Chicago-based NEIS. "Many reactors in the United States have received fines for emergency backup diesel generators that were inoperative. They would not have gone on if they had been needed. In one case, it was determined that the generators had been in that condition for five years."

Kraft accused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of lax oversight of the industry.

"Who's watching this stuff? We have lost faith in the whole regulatory process here," said Kraft, who said he is a "self-taught" expert on nuclear power. "There is a total lack of real regulation."

Kraft said he also has concerns about the Clinton plant's proximity to the New Madrid Fault, which is centered in southeastern Missouri.

"We're on the fringes of the impact zone of the New Madrid Fault. So while we won't get a tsunami, the type of earthquake we get here in the continental interior tends to liquify the soil," he said. "It's sort of like having things put on Jell-O. So we don't know what that would do to the pools where the spent fuel rods are stored or the dry casks of fuel rods."

The biggest New Madrid earthquakes occurred in 1811 and 1812 and had estimated magnitudes of 7.0 to 7.7.

Kraft predicted the Japanese disaster could mean the death of nuclear power in the United States.

"The administration's so-called commitment to these new nukes, it's just a total waste of money. It's an energy source that should have dried up a long time ago. We really believe that this Japanese situation is the end of the nuclear age," he said.

Stubbins said it "could be a setback" but said the industry would emerge stronger.

"I think there's going to be a lot of thoughtful deliberation about what should happen in the future," he said. "Despite these kinds of things the nuclear power business has been very good about sharing information, and making a lot of effort to understand what faults could lead to what consequences. This kind of experience has been shared internationally."

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Techman588 wrote on March 15, 2011 at 7:03 am

What I find when I read the articles that either compare our US nuclear reactors to those in Japan and or articles that give voice to the Anti-Nuclear faction that of course are going to try making the Japan Disaster seem to be a Very Valid and sound argument against Nuclear power and new reactor installations. OF COURSE the ANTI nuclear people are going to be doom and gloom!! The Name is ANTI after all They would try to convince people that because grass was once growing in a field that it could cause a reactor built there to fail, if they thought they could convince evn neen of the view they are promoting!
The thing is it isn't the US nuclear Reg Commission that has had lax enforcement it would appear that who ever was in charge of the Japanese program was neglegent for sure, the backup generators should have been located above the local tidalwave predicted maximum level, the Maximum possible High water mark is posted everywhere a tsunami could have effects. Also the operating policies are presumably different as well as the fact that not only is Clintons reactor vessel a generation more advanced than those in Japan but Clinton and all US reactors also have a little thing not present in japan A SECONDARY CONTAINMENT you know the foot thick concrete dome building vs the tin shed the japs have!!
Long live Nuclear Power, if you don't like nuclear power at least propose a alternative Groups with Anti in the name generally don't have any good to say or help & seem to have a large number of very negative members. Quit trying to say See See We told you cause no I don't think there is any comparison between the reactors in Japan and those In The US except a name tag with a G.E. on it (which means nothing more).
Research a little more please before printing headlines that are less than 10% accurate!!