A man in a protective suit works next to a locomotive Monday in Wetteren, Belgium, where hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and exploded last week. Some environmentalists worry about a similar scene in Illinois involving radioactive waste. (Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images)
Back in the 1970s, then-Illinois Attorney General William J. Scott kept vowing he would not let Illinois become the "nuclear dumping ground of the nation."
But a proposal in the U.S. Senate that would create "centralized interim storage" sites for nuclear waste has some environmentalists worried that Illinois could become home to much more radioactive waste and also vulnerable to spilled waste if freights carrying it through the state derail. A discussion draft is open until May 24.
Critics have said the plan would make Illinois the "bulls-eye" for nuclear waste.
The bill grows out of President Barack Obama's blue-ribbon commission on America's nuclear future, which put out its report in January 2012. Centralized interim storage was its main priority. It would be the biggest change in the nation's nuclear waste policy since 1983.
Illinois already has more than 8,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste on the sites of its 14 reactors, 11 of which are still operating.
Environmentalists worry that the CIS concept would create a serious hazard on the nation's roads, railroads and waterways as hazardous nuclear waste is shipped around. For example, barge shipments are proposed on Lake Michigan, which could create a nightmare if one sank. Some of the proposed rail routes go within a quarter-mile of the Art Institute of Chicago. Will the lions out front have to be fitted with lead suits?
Some environmentalists prefer that nuclear waste be kept where it is in "hardened on-site storage."
Now, 75 percent of the waste is kept in pools, but if the water boils or drains away, the waste would catch fire. Every pool nationwide is expected to be full by 2015.
The other 25 pecent is stored in dry casks, which costs more. It costs tens of millions of dollars to build a pad to hold the casks, which themselves cost a couple of million each, according to nuclear waste specialist Kevin Camps of Beyond Nuclear.
The CIS plan would benefit utilities, because once the nuclear waste leaves their sites, it becomes the taxpayers' problem, not theirs.
But moving all the nuclear waste already piled up around the nation to centralized sites would take 25 years. And then, if a final depository is created, it would have to be moved again.
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