Many of us here in Rockford can heartily empathize with our brethren on the East Coast after their experience with an electrical blackout. Though it hardly lasted as long as ours, already were hearing calls for fixing the electrical grid. Unfortunately, plans call for funding new nuclear power plants and little to shore up the distribution system
I must be up front and admit that I opposed the operation of our own Byron nuclear power plant. Back in the 70s, I was a proponent of the peaceful atom, of turning the atomic bomb into a generator of electricity to run our kitchens and factories. But when I saw environmentalists go over the wall at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, I had second thoughts. Protesters call them nukes and say they leak like sieves, cost billions of dollars, have a potential for contaminating large swaths of land, and produce some of the most dangerous waste in the world. Some of this nuke waste can make nuclear weapons, thus turning the peaceful atom into a bomb.
With a major accident at Three Mile Island (March of 1979), which quickly destroyed a $3 billion plant, and an even bigger disaster in the Ukraine called Chernobyl, nuclear power stopped growing. Our own pair of nukes at Byron was one of the last reactors to get a license to operate, and then only after lengthy appeal and fixing some problems. Since then, the utilities have been deregulated, and a mega nuke conglomerate named Exelon arose from nowhere and purchased a lot of the reactors across the country. Some accuse Exelon of just being a holding company for ComEd.
With the present U.S. administration trying to jump-start nuclear power plant construction, Exelon applied for and received monies to begin the process of building a new reactor. And guess where they want to build it? In Clinton, Ill., just north of our state capital. Theres already a nuke plant there, a General Electric reactor that started after many problems in the 1990s. The present Clinton reactor is still not running smoothly, but Exelon would like to build another one right next to it. This is pretty close to the University of Illinois, and many professors and engineers, not to mention environmentalists and peace activists, are up in arms. Already theyve organized an anti-nuke group, (sorry, they arent eligible for government grants).
Exelon has sucked up federal funding, but they havent figured what type of reactor they want to build. It could be another GE model; that way, you wouldnt have to retrain the already existing control room operators. Or it could be one of the newer models that might be even cheaper (theres been a number of technological advances since the 1980s). Then again, they dont know. No matter what the outcome, its going to cost us, the taxpayers, lots of money. George W is giving our cash to the utilities to get them back into nuclear power generation. Nobody in Washington, of course, is talking about wind, solar, or other alternative energies, and youll never hear the word conservation. Too bad. We could save ourselves trouble and money if wed look in those circles instead of dumping all our eggs in the nuclear basket.
Youll hear a lot more about nukes in the future.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.