January ends with a jolt in Illinois
Problems at a nuclear power plant, followed by a minor earthquake, leave residents shaken.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 16:02
STARTING 2012 WITH A BANG: Problems at a nuclear power facility and a minor earthquake rattle the state. (Photo: Paul J Everett/Flickr)
January is screeching to a vicious halt in Illinois.
On Jan. 30, our state perched on the edge of panic when news of an unexplained problem with a nuclear reactor at the Exelon Corporation's plant just northwest of Chicago spread. A very good reason to ramp up our anxiety levels, especially after all that happened in Japan last year.
The reactor in question, Unit #2, lost power and was shut down just after 10 a.m. While the diesel generators kicked in to resupply the plant with power, workers had to vent steam to keep the reactor cool. According to officials, this was released from the section of the plant producing electricity, not from within the reactor itself.
Deemed an "unusual event," which is the first level in the emergency classification system for nuclear power plants, the incident poses little to no threat to the employees of the plant or the general public. The only concern seems to be with the levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, that released with the steam, although the amount was so small that it did not trigger monitors around the facility.
Officials at the Byron Generating Station announced early Tuesday morning that the power outage was caused by a bad electrical insulator in a switchyard.
The plant is located 95 miles northwest of Chicago.
As if that wasn't enough, late Monday night Illinois was joggled with a 2.4 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter just 11 miles from Woodstock, a suburb of Chicago near the Wisconsin border.
Residents reported hearing something similar to a sonic boom, and while the magnitude was not large, hundreds felt it shake their homes and thought that something nearby had exploded. Coupled with the rumors of nuclear reactor problems earlier in the day, this didn't make anyone sleep very well.
While residents of our great state are familiar with the minor earthquakes that come for a visit every few years, the timing of the two events, so close to the anniversary of the horrible events in Japan, is a great reminder of the fragility of our lives and planet.