Illinois Public Media News
When a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last week, Michael Bekiares was on the 19th floor of an office building in Tokyo. The building shook for 11 minutes during the quake. Bekiares grew up in Champaign and studied economics at the University of Illinois. He moved to Japan about 13 years ago for a job in finance, and now lives about 200 miles from the earthquake's epicenter. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Bekiares from Tokyo using Skype.
(Photo courtesy of Michael Bekiares)
As Japanese officials scramble to stabilize nuclear reactors following last week's earthquake and tsunami, the focus has also shifted on the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States.
James Stubbins, head of nuclear engineering at the U of I, said of Illinois' 11 reactors, six are boiling water reactors similar to ones affected by the devastation in Japan. One is about 40 miles away from Urbana in Clinton. Stubbins said there is no reason to be concerned about the stability of these reactors because it is unlikely they will be faced with a tsunami, like the one in Japan.
"When we understand better what happened in Japan," Stubbins said. "We'll assess what really led to the problems and upgrade systems where necessary or upgrade methodologies where necessary to ensure that similar kinds of things can't happen here."
Stubbins said because the Clinton reactor is younger than those affected by the tsunami, it has a more up to date safety system in place.
In a recent New York Times editorial, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that the primary challenge for the Japanese reactors was losing their normal and back-up power supplies.
"The reactors were designed to cope with this situation for only eight hours, assuming that normal or back-up power would be restored within that time," Lochbaum said. "But the accident failed to follow that script, leading to serious problems cooling the reactor cores."
Lochbaum said "the one-two punch" from an earthquake and tsunami disabled numerous emergency systems.
According to Lochbaum, most reactors in the U.S. are designed to cope with power outages lasting only four hours. He said following the situation in Japan, measures should be taken to increase the chances of restoring power within the "assumed time period or providing better cooling options when that time runs out."
He noted that the incident in Japan is a reminder of the need to revisit emergency plans to make sure people are protected when a disaster hits.
An initiative in Indiana to provide incentives for companies to invest in clean energy, including nuclear power, is stalling because of recent events in Japan.
The incentives could have lead to the building of Indiana's first nuclear power plant.
But any such plans may have to wait.
Indiana Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says his state will need additional sources of energy in the coming years.
But Long says the earthquake in Japan that caused extensive damage to a nuclear plant there is forcing more review of Senate Bill 251.
"We need to take a step back, try to understand how this happened, what the circumstances were, was it human error, was it all caused by the natural disaster? If so, what part of it, was it the tsunami, was it the earthquake," Long says. "We don't have the answers to that right now, and we need to have some answers."
Past nuclear attempts in Indiana included the building of a nuclear power plant in Porter County.
Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) proposed building the Bailly Nuclear 1 Power Plant in the 1970s and 1980s along Lake Michigan.
But opponents and the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island forced NIPSCO to scrap its plans just two years later.
Indiana continues to need additional sources of energy since a study group told state legislators that the state will likely need 30 percent more electricity by 2015.
This at a time when the Obama administration plans to clamp down on coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution.
Indiana gets most of its energy from coal.
University of Illinois Trustees could postpone their decision next week on constructing a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
Audit and Budget Committee chair Ed McMillan said it is likely the U of I will seek another extension of the grant covering $2-million of the project. Trustees will meet March 23 on the Springfield campus. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing addressed the committee Monday, citing citizen concerns about noise pollution and shadows. She said the U of I has failed to address those areas, and meet with the public.
"The city does support alternative energy, but these things have to be very carefully placed," Prussing said. "And this is in violation right now of the Urbana wind turbine ordinance, and we'd like to see it corrected so it would be in a good place. And we're also concerned about the total cost."
Cost for the turbine project exceed $5-million. The head of a University of Illinois Student group pushing for turbine construction says delaying the project by a few more months, after two prior extensions, won't be a large setback. Student Sustainability Committee Chair Suhail Barot predicts the turbine will remain at its current site, by the U of I's South Farms.
"I think the university's position is correct in terms of its zoning," he said. "And it terms of the overall concerns, I think issues outstanding will be resolved."
Barot said students have more doubled their financial commitment to the project through sustainability fees, and not completing the turbine soon jeopardizes losing the grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. He said the U of I should feel 'morally responsible' for putting up the turbine.
Prussing said the university has also failed to consider wear and tear to township roads from the project, and suggests the U of I consider investing in an existing wind farm.
Gov. Pat Quinn dealt a major blow to plans for two coal gasification plants Monday, using his veto pen to strike down legislation that would have locked in rates for the facilities.
In a veto message, Quinn said plans to build the synthetic natural gas facilities in southwest Jefferson County and in Chicago's south suburbs would result in higher utility bills for Illinoisans.
"Our investments in clean coal must not come at the expense of consumers," Quinn noted. "As we lead the way out of this historic recession, we must always be mindful of the effect our policies will have on the people of Illinois."
Both plants were touted as potential new users of Illinois coal, as well as major job creators. The Illinois Coal Association earlier estimated the facility near Waltonville to be built by Aurora-based Power Holdings LLC could use as much as 2 million tons of coal annually and employ hundreds of people.
The company was planning to use coal mined in nearby Washington County.
"It's a shame the governor chose to do this," said Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, who co-sponsored the legislation. "Governor Quinn has proved once again he's running jobs out of the state of Illinois."
A number of southern Illinois groups supported the plant, including Southern Illinois University, local chambers of commerce, state and federal lawmakers and mayors of towns from Mount Vernon to Marion.
The legislation would have allowed the company to enter into long-term contracts to sell the gas the plant would produce. Ameren and other gas suppliers would have had to purchase the synthetic gas for the next 10 years, even if cheaper natural gas was available elsewhere.
Quinn signaled he was committed to boosting clean-coal technology, but said the two measures would allow the companies to lock in unusually high rates.
The measures, which were approved in the lame duck legislative session in January, were opposed by the Citizens Utility Board and Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.
Chicagoans are paying steep prices at the gas pump lately. It's prompted one Chicago congresswoman to call for action against the oil companies.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, said Monday gas prices are so high, they could create another recession.
"I think we need to put on the table everything, including dipping into the reserves, in order to avoid that," Schakowsky siad. She said the U.S. government should end its subsidies to oil companies because their profits are so high.
Meantime, new statistics from AAA show Chicagoans are paying an average of $3.72 per gallon at gas pumps. That's 37 cents higher than last month.
"We're seeing very, very high oil prices for, really, any time of the year," Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the organization, said. "The situation in Libya, the unrest in Libya, has prices very, very high."
Mosher suggests commuters stick to public transit - since prices aren't expected to come down for at least the next few weeks.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The decision to pick Morgan County over three competing sites to host an underground carbon dioxide storage facility was a close one, according to FutureGen Alliance CEO Ken Humphreys.
The site --- announced by the FutureGen Alliance on Monday --- will store carbon dioxide produced at FutureGen's power plant in Meredosia, retrofitted with experimental low-emissions coal burning technology.
Humphreys said Morgan County's geology, and its proximity to the power plant made it a front-runner over competing sites in Christian, Douglas and Fayette counties.
"Any one of these four sites could be, would be amenable to storing the 39 million tons of CO2 from Meredosia," Humphreys said. "If one were to look at possibly expanding the storage site, there might be more differences."
But Humphreys said at this point it is premature to look at expanding the pipeline, adding that major construction should begin within a couple of years.
The site will be located about 30 miles away from the power plant North of Interstate 72 and west of Interstate Highway 123 on the eastern edge of Morgan County. FutureGen officials say this is not a pin pointed spot for the site, additional evaluations will have to be completed. The FutureGen project is expected to bring in 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another thousand jobs for suppliers across the state.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said plans by FutureGen to store carbon dioxide in Morgan County should give the area an economic boost.
"Bringing together all the components of FutureGen 2.0 will be a boost for Morgan County and result in thousands of good-paying jobs," Durbin said. "As host of the storage site, Morgan County will be on the map as a leader in clean coal research and technology attracting visitors from around the world."
While politicians and the business community cheer FutureGen's selection of Morgan County as the storage site, not everyone in the county is pleased with the decision. Andy Davenport owns farmland near FutureGen's selected area. When talks first started on where to put the leftover carbon dioxide he circulated a petition and got more than 300 people to sign. He said for a sparsely populated area, those numbers show people closest to the site do not want it.
"It's just very frustrating to be to have the people's voices ignored that own the land and live on the land out here," Davenport said. "We're going to be the ones that take the risk on this project, not the people in Jacksonville."
Davenport said the farmland he has owned for more than 30 years could be overtaken if the storage facility expands. He also said he is concerned about any environmental impact if the carbon dioxide leaks.
Meanwhile, this is strike two for Douglas County, which earlier lost out on its bid to host the original version of FutureGen.
But Brian Moody of Tuscola Economic Development in Douglas County says the work they did on their site proposal will help them compete for similar sequestration projects expected to come in the future.
"We've got a couple of those that look like they're going to be underway in Illinois," Moody said. "There's a project at ADM already. So we'll kind of wait and see what companies continue to look at the area. And again, I think we have a lot of the information that will spare them a lot of work in their site selection processes."
The U.S. Energy Department is committed to paying most of the cost of the $1.3 billion FutureGen project. The next step for FutureGen is an Energy Department environmental review, including comments from the public.
Developers of the FutureGen project have chosen Morgan County in western Illinois as an underground storage site for carbon dioxide generated by a nearby power plant they plan to refit with experimental low-emissions coal technology.
The FutureGen Alliance told The Associated Press on Monday that it picked Morgan County over sites in Christian, Douglas and Fayette counties. Project planners say the sequestration site will mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
Carbon dioxide is linked to climate change. CO2 generated at the plant in Meredosia, which is in Morgan County, would be moved to the site through a pipeline that would be built. The current project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental plant in Mattoon.
The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.
The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.
The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.
Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.
The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.
Plans for a wind turbine on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus could be in jeopardy if a funding plan isn't in place by Monday.
U of I Sustainability Coordinator Morgan Johnston said it needs to be set by then to place the item on the March agenda for the university's Board of Trustees. She said without that notice, bids for the project will expire, and a $2-million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation could also be lost. The U of I is seeking an additional $700,000 for the project, a cost Johnston said the U of I's Student Sustainability can handle. The proposed $4-point-5 million project now exceeds $5-million.
"They do have funds available right now that they're allocating for which projects to spend that money on this year," Johnston said. "What we're asking is that they would, rather than support new projects and additional projects, commit that $700,000 to this project to make it to be able to move forward."
Johnston said the U of I will provide more detail later this week on why it's seeking the additional funding.
Urbana City Council member Eric Jakobsson has been an advocate of the wind turbine project, but says he can't support the additional cost.
"It's all, in a certain sense, public money," Jakobsson said. "So the heart of my question was, how do you justify spending public money in a manner that is cost ineffective, especially when everybody is being either to pay more taxes or to tighten their belts?"
The Student Sustainability Committee is already putting half a million dollars into the project. Amy Allen, President of Students for Environmental Concerns, said that should be the limit.
"They've met their commitment to this project," she said. "We want to work with the University to get this done, but it's their responsibility to find that money."
Members with the student committee are requesting a meeting with the U of I's President and Urbana Chancellor about the turbine cost, including items that they don't think should be included in the project.
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