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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007 02:32 pm

Fission decision

The debate over nuclear energy in Illinois continues

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Not only is Illinois in the running for a nuclear-fuel-recycling center, but Chicago-based Exelon Corp. is also pressing for approval to build a second nuclear reactor in Clinton, about 60 miles northeast of Springfield.
PHOTO BY JOHN KRINGAS/MCT
Untitled Document Originally designed to serve as a nuclear-fuel-reprocessing plant, for almost 40 years the General Electric Morris Operation, in upstate Morris, Ill., has been used merely as a storage facility for high-level radioactive waste. However, that might soon change. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $16 million in grants to 11 commercial and public organizations, including $1.48 million to GE, to conduct site studies for one of three proposed spent-fuel-recycling centers under President George W. Bush’s controversial Global Nuclear Energy Partnership initiative.
The plan, unveiled one year ago, calls for the construction of three such recycling centers, which, Bush says, would use “new proliferation-resistant technologies to recover more energy and reduce waste.”
But because Illinois is home to 11 functioning nuclear reactors, some worry about the influx of radioactive materials to this state should the Morris GE Operation be chosen. Critics of GNEP also argue that the plan would pose health and environmental risks for people living close to the proposed recycling site.
 “We’re really in the bull’s-eye here. It’s like they said, ‘Bring it to Illinois; we’ve already screwed up Illinois,’” says David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, headquartered in Chicago. “This isn’t coming from the no-nukes kooks — we’re just the reporters stating what the experts are saying.”
The plan will be discussed at a public hearing in Joliet on Thursday, Feb. 22. Kraft is also urging Illinois’ congressional delegation, particularly U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, and Barack Obama, now a presidential candidate, to take a more assertive position on nuclear issues, which, Kraft argues, affect Illinois, the nation’s most nuclear state, more than any other state. (Obama has suggested keeping the nuclear option on the table for the time being; Durbin would rather focus on renewable sources of energy).
Bush maintains that his plan would limit the United States’ need for foreign sources of energy and promote prosperity, growth, and clean development around the world in addition to reducing nuclear proliferation around the world. Additionally, according to DOE officials, enhanced safeguards would be developed to prevent the technology from being used for nonpeaceful purposes. But Kraft isn’t convinced that it can be done.
He warns: “Once you recover it, it’s not always the good guys who get their hands on it. This is a very risky technology, and we’re sending message to the world during a very sensitive time of security that we’re going to make it even more of a security issue.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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