JUST AS JAPAN wrestles with
fears of a meltdown at tsunami-battered nuclear reactors, an American
company is tearing down what was
once the world’s largest nuclear-power
supplier—the Zion, Illinois, plant just
outside of Chicago. When it started up
in 1973, Zion provided power to roughly
2 million homes. Exelon Corp. shut it
down in 1998 because it was no longer
profitable. For the past 12 years, Zion
has sat in mothballs as Exelon paid
about $10 million annually to babysit it.
Now the federal government is allowing
Exelon, in a first-of-its-kind deal, to
transfer custody to EnergySolutions,
a nuclear-waste-disposal outfit.
As part of the complex process,
EnergySolutions will remove the
dormant spent-fuel rods from inside
t wo reactor buildings and cart off
less-radioactive material. What’s in it
for EnergySolutions? Nearly $1 billion
in business from a fund that Exelon set
aside years ago for this purpose with
utility-customer fees. The dismantling
and transportation require technical
skill and an innovative business
plan that might become a model for
other plants gone dark. At right, we
highlight five steps in the process.
As we all have seen, nuclear power is a dangerous business. Even tearing down a plant is no easy feat.
BY KEVIN GRAY
BRYAN CHRIS TIE DESIGN
place the 2,224 bundles
of nuclear-fuel rods
into dry cask storage.
The bundles are packed
into 61 steel canisters,
known as casks, and
the casks are lowered
into a concrete sleeve,
able to withstand temperatures up to 1,475
degrees, tornado winds,
and impact from objects
the size of a vehicle traveling 126 miles per hour.
Storing nuclear fuel
sleeves, which weigh
157 tons each, are transported to and then placed
on a concrete pad that’s
3 feet thick and about the
size of a football field.
They will remain on the
site indefinitely, with
armed guards watching
over them. Vegetation
will hide the pad from