Nuclear concerns highlighted

By Heather McGraw

Japan’s dire nuclear situation has many Americans concerned about the state of nuclear power in the U.S., causing a surge in preventative medication purchases and re-evaluation of the country’s nuclear energy needs.

When Japan was hit with a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, it caused a fatal tsunami and shifted the tectonic plates, moving Japan 13 feet closer to the U.S. These natural phenomena caused the nuclear reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which sits near these plates, to eventually malfunction.

With Japan’s recent nuclear crisis, many people have the U.S.’s nuclear power plants on their minds. Four of Illinois’ 11 generating plants have similar reactors to the Fukushima plant and share the same containment designs.

Illinois is home to the most nuclear generating stations in the country, with reactors at six different sites, some of which sit on the line of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. In 2008, this zone produced a 5.2 magnitude earthquake. In the regulation of any nuclear generator, plans are made to allow for an earthquake larger than the strongest one ever recorded in the area.

In 1998, four Illinois nuclear plants were on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s watch list, which comprised six total plants.

In 1998, four Illinois nuclear plants were on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s watch list, which cited six U.S. plants.

The plants in Braidwood, Byron and Dresden were more recently the focus of a lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan when a radioactive runoff leaked into groundwater.

Exelon Nuclear, which owns and operates all of the state’s nuclear plants, paid $1 million to settle the lawsuit. Exelon also owns around 20 percent of the entire nation’s nuclear power.

Viktoria Mitlyng, spokeswoman for the NRC Midwestern office, said she thinks with certainty that residents are absolutely secure and should not be worried about the safety of the state’s power plants.

According to Mitlyng, all nuclear power plants are built and inspected to extremely high standards in the U.S.

All plants have two resident inspectors on-site at all times running checks. She also said regulations are constantly being updated as new information is gathered and plants grow older.

“It’s a dynamic system there to ensure any potential problem is addressed before it can become an actual damaging situation,” Mitlyng said.

David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, said there is reason for state residents to worry.

“The ‘unexpected’ seems to happen more and more often,” Kraft said. “Eventually, ‘design limits’ will be exceeded again, maybe in Illinois, maybe in Canada, maybe in New York.”

The Nuclear Energy Information Service is an organization that labels itself as the state’s nuclear power watchdog. According to Kraft, the organization always thought there were too many reactors in Illinois.

The NEIS also thinks nuclear power should be phased out, and the U.S. should transition into renewable energy instead of only planning for future problems.

Radiation concerns are causing citizens around the country to rush to pharmacies and online dealers to find potassium iodide tablets, which have been said to minimize radiation reactions.

Many online stores, like, were sold out of the drug as of press time.

The supplements can protect the thyroid gland from absorbing harmful iodine from radioactive chemicals by keeping its iodine level at full capacity, according to Kraft.

“For a long time, our group has advocated that within the federally mandated 10-mile planning zone around each reactor, every household should be given a stockpile of potassium iodide,” he said. “We have been advocating that for 30 years.”

However, the Illinois Department of Health released a statement on March 17, cautioning residents against taking the supplement.

Some possible side effects of the drug include intestinal upset, allergic reactions, rashes and inflammation

of the salivary glands, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“[People have] been going to pharmacies, looking for potassium iodide, thinking they need to take it,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Health. “And there’s absolutely no need for it.”

Arnold said as of March 17, official sources and experts said it would not be a concern at all.