It will take 10 years before the now-shuttered Zion nuclear power plant is completely decommissioned. By the time all is said and done, all that will remain of the 38-year-old plant is a 10-acre lot where the reactor's spent fuel rods will be stored.
"I would just love this area to go back to the way it was, and to have the availability here for the public to once again enjoy that shoreline," said State Sen. Susan Schmidt.
Before that can happen, however, there is the process of moving the fuel rods from their current pool storage to the dry canisters. Kirk, along with U.S. Reps. Robert Dold and Joe Walsh, toured the facility to learn about the plans for doing this and also to call on the federal government to finish construction of a permanent underground storage facility in Nevada where the waste can eventually be moved.
"In the long run, I hope that the fuel leaves the shoreline of Lake Michigan because storing nuclear fuel long-term next to the GreatLakes, a source of 95 percent of the freshwater of the United States, is irresponsible," Kirk said.
In the meantime, the company managing the decommission process, Zion Solutions says the dry storage facility will be perfectly safe, licensed initially for 20 years.
"It's absolutely perfectly safe from seismic earthquakes, tornadoes, floods. They're passive. They require no electricity or water to maintain the fuel integrity and keep them cool," said Patrick Daly with Zion Solutions.
The visit also comes in the wake of the tsunami in Japan, which severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leaking radiation into the area. This is why Kirk is calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expand the current emergency preparedness zone from the existing 10 miles to 13 miles.
"The Illinois Emergency Management Agency, IEMA, and FEMA can make sure that we have proper radiation sources, evacuation plans, et cetera, that encompass a wider area, given what happened at Fukushima," Kirk said.