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Could a Storm Spell Disaster at Dresden Station?

If a storm knocked out power to Dresden Station, just how dangerous could it be?

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Generating Station in Plymouth, Mass. lost outside power for several days after a winter storm last week. The station is one of 31 in the United States that are built similarly to Fukushima in Japan. The Dresden Generating Station, just outside Channahon is another.

The local National Public Radio Station, WBEZ aired a lengthy report on the state of Dresden and stations like it on Thursday evening, during the Marketplace show.

"The Fukushima reactors, and their 31 U.S. cousins, including Dresden and the Pilgrim Station, are old Mk I and II boiling water reactors, built by General Electric, the story states. "The safety enclosures for the reactors are too small. If their cores start to melt down, the containments could fail in several ways, including radioactive hydrogen gas building up and exploding ...as at Fukushima. There's an increasingly politicized dispute between the industry and the NRC over how to make preventing meltdowns safer."

Although Dresden Generating Station is across the river from the Village of Channahon, residents in The Highlands subdivision are close enough that when they open their windows in the summer they can hear the hum of the plant. Nearby Minooka Community Consolidated School District 201 has an emergency evacuation plan in place that brings students to the Tinley Park area in the event of a nuclear emergency.

Patch first wrote about the risk at Dresden because of its similarity to Fukushima in March 2011.

Bob Osgood, Dresden Station Site Communications Manager in Morris, said in that story that plant officials engage in several drills throughout the year that allow officials to react to scenarios that could happen because of a nuclear meltdown. The exercises are graded by Exelon to make sure the power plant is meeting safety regulations.

“Every cog of the wheel has to perform as expected in a real-life scenario,” Osgood said.

At issue in Dresden and similarly built stations is a question as to whether or not the venting system, which is the way the plant could release hydrogen if power and back up systems fail, should also have filters.

"External filter vents would be an additional approximately $15-20 million per unit," said David Czufin, an engineer who runs the Dresden plant for Exelon said in the WBEZ story.

WBEZ goes on to report that Exelon has 10 more of these reactors, so filters could cost the company more than $200 million -- on top of many other precautions, he said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is voting on the issue of filters now, but the results of that vote could be weeks away.

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