A group of the state's leading Republicans said Saturday they are satisfied with how spent fuel rods are currently being stored at the former Zion nuclear power plant and how the material will be stored in the immediate future.
But the group led by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, insisted that the ton of radioactive waste should someday find a permanent resting place far from the shores of Lake Michigan.
Spurred by the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant crisis in Japan, Kirk said the 2,226 fuel rod assemblies from the Zion plant, which was closed in 1998, must one day be shipped to the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada that has been a source of controversy at the national level for more than 20 years.
Placed on hold in the most recent budget agreement reached early this month, Yucca Mountain is envisioned as a place where nuclear waste can be stored 1,000 feet underground in secure conditions scientists believe will last for a million years.
Currently, the spent fuel rods at Zion are stored in water-cooled containment pools on the 250-acre site and will be moved next year to what are described as even more secure containment casks.
But Kirk and U.S. Reps. Robert Dold, a Winnetka Republican, and Joe Walsh, a McHenry Republican, said after a tour of the Zion plant Saturday that on-site storage of the spent rods cannot last.
"We cannot allow the spent fuel rods to be stored on the shores of Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for millions," Dold said. "It is time for the administration and Senate leadership to move forward on Yucca Mountain."
The group at the plant tour, who were joined by state Sen. Suzi Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican, and Zion Mayor Lane Harrison, laid the blame for the delay on Yucca Mountain's opening on President Obama and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
"Harry Reid is adamantly against Yucca Mountain ever receiving any nuclear waste, but hopefully he is going to retire someday," Kirk said. "Sen. Dick Durbin (an Illinois Democrat many believe could succeed Reid as majority leader) is in favor of using the facility, so there is bipartisan support."
Pat Daly, site manager for Zion Solutions, LLC., which is doing the disassembly of the plant expected to be completed in 2020, said the plans his corporation has in place for storage of the rods are safe against any natural or man-made disaster.
Kirk also said he intends to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expand the evacuation zone around the Zion plant from its current 10 miles to 13 miles.
"There are lessons to be learned from the Fukushima disaster and one of them is to have an adequate evacuation zone mapped out," Kirk said. "The evacuation zone around Fukushima is 20 kilometers (about 13 miles), which should be a 'lesson learned' for us."
Schmidt and Harrison said they both hoped that when the plant is completely torn down the acreage in now sits on will be given back to state and local government for recreation area.
"I want to see this area go back to what it was --- open to the public for recreation," Schmidt said. "There is a beautiful shoreline here everyone should be able to enjoy."