The devastating news out of Japan continues to get worse. Explosions at nuclear reactors and leaking radiation led the government to order the quarantine of 140,000 people. While the tragedy is halfway around the world, the safety of nuclear power plants is a major issue for Illinois. (You can follow the latest video from Japan here.)
The Prairie State has 11 nuclear reactors, more than any other state, and more generating capacity than all but seven nations. And while Illinois is unlikely to suffer an 8.9 Richter scale earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the events in Japan are forcing Illinois officials to examine procedures at the state's nuclear power plants, four of which use reactors that have the same design as the reactors now in crisis in Japan.
Experts say there's no reason to be concerned about the safety of nuclear power in Illinois, and some are worried that the disaster in Japan will prove a set back for nuclear energy. Citing rising gas prices and global warming, one former nuclear power plant employee told the Daily Herald, "Nuclear power's comeback is probably going to be placed on hold for a while at a time we need it most." And U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin defended the use of nuclear power, arguing that although nuclear waste storage remains an issue, the energy source is "part of our future."
Even with the massive amounts of nuclear power in Illinois -- half of the state's electricity comes from the 11 reactors -- Illinois has not built a new plant since 1987. In the wake of the news from Japan, 2011 is unlikely to be the year the moratorium is lifted.