The University of Illinois wants to install a test nuclear reactor (“micro-modular reactor”) at the Abbott Power Plant on the UIUC campus. It has submitted a letter of intent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) advising that it intends to apply for a license to construct the reactor. An application for a license to operate the reactor would then follow.
I believe this proposed project is a bad idea, especially the location at which the reactor would be placed. A number of my environmentally conscious colleagues and friends agree with me.
The proposed location of the test nuclear reactor is in the heart of the Champaign-Urbana-UIUC-Savoy metropolitan area. A large UIUC dormitory complex is situated just a few blocks east of where the proposed reactor would be housed. The reactor site would be within two miles of downtown Champaign and within one mile of Campustown.
The reactor would be housed in a building next to the current UIUC power plant and would become part of the power plant. The UIUC power plant sits immediately east of, and adjacent to, the main branch of the Canadian National Railroad (CNR) tracks. One of the major north-south arteries in the city of Champaign, US Route 45, runs along the west side of the tracks.
Numerous freight trains and passenger trains pass over the CNR tracks adjacent to the UIUC power plant daily. The freight traffic on the CNR tracks includes tanker cars with explosive/flammable contents. The train tracks are elevated well above the ground level of the power plant, so any accident could throw train cars and/or contents tumbling down the hill towards the power plant and the reactor. The presence of the reactor near the railroad tracks could make a derailment far more catastrophic than it would otherwise be without a nuclear reactor being in the mix.
In May of this year, a 17-car derailment occurred on this same CNR line approximately 15 miles south of Champaign, near Pesotum. Seven cars toppled on their side towards the east. As a result, Route 45 was closed for a couple of days. Cleanup time was estimated to be at least two weeks.
According to a recent article by Edwin Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety for The Union of Concerned Scientists, the new nuclear reactors similar to the proposed UIUC test reactor are not likely to be significantly safer than today’s nuclear plants. Furthermore, the fuel for these test reactors would have to be enriched more than the fuel used by today’s nuclear reactors, thus making the newer breed attractive to terrorists.
Another recent article, by Michael Bernard and posted on Medium.com, also debunked various claims being made in praise of small nuclear reactors. The title of Mr. Bernard’s article sums up what he has to say: “Small Nuclear Advocates Refuse to Learn the Lessons of the Past.”
UIUC is not without other options for its proposed test nuclear reactor. The Clinton Nuclear Power plant is nearby. A location there would offer fuel security. Also, the decommissioned Chanute Air Force Base in nearby Rantoul has a large remote area that could possibly provide a home for this test reactor. These locations would be within easy traveling distance for UIUC students. While the Clinton and Rantoul locations would not allow the test reactor to be used for the dual purpose of producing steam heat for the UIUC campus (which the University proposes to do), the reactor is projected to satisfy only 10 percent of UIUC’s steam heating needs. Even if UIUC’s projection is accurate, the 10 percent loss would be negligible compared to the safety of the UIUC students living on or near campus, the other residents of Urbana, Champaign, and Savoy, and the many visitors who flock to various UIUC events, such as football and basketball games and concerts.
UIUC must obtain licenses from the NRC to construct and operate the proposed test reactor. If you oppose UIUC’s plans, please contact the NRC and ask it not to grant any construction or operating permits to UIUC for this proposed project. All communications to NRC should reference Project No. 99902094. Communications to NRC may be emailed to Mr. William Kennedy at William.Kennedy@nrc.gov, and also to Mr. Adrian Muniz at Adrian.Muniz@nrc.gov. Both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Muniz are NRC employees involved with reviewing UIUC’s plans for the proposed test nuclear reactor. Written communications in opposition may also be mailed to the NRC at the following address: ATTN: Document Control Desk, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. Again, Project No. 99902094 should be referenced.
Letters or emails in opposition to UIUC’s proposed nuclear reactor may also be sent to the three NRC Commissioners. In addition, please write or email Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Representative Rodney Davis, and tell them that you oppose the proposed UIUC reactor.
Five other local concerned citizens have joined me in voicing opposition to the proposed UIUC nuclear reactor. They are Ann Burger, Donald Fournier, Dr. Jack Paxton, Joe Hooker, and Pamela J. Richart, co-director of Eco-Justice Collaborative.
Those who live, work, and go to school in the Champaign-Urbana-UIUC-Savoy metropolitan area should band together to stop this misguided UIUC nuclear project. I invite you to join me and my colleagues and friends in doing so.
This is an edited version of an article published in Smile Politely on October 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
Dr. Bruce Hannon is an emeritus Jubilee Professor at the University of Illinois, where he led the Energy Research Group at the U of I’s Center for Advanced Computation for 15 years. He has a Ph.D in Engineering Mechanics from the U of I.
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