Ikes Explore Exelon Plant and Fish Repopulation Work

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt

    By Olivia Dorothy, IWLA Regional Conservation Coordinator, Upper Mississippi River

    Exelon, a generous supporter of the Izaak Walton League’s conservation work, invited a group of Ikes to visit the Quad Cities nuclear power plant September 25th. League members from Illinois and Iowa gathered at the Exelon plant in Colona, Illiniois, where we met Bill Stoermer, Exelon Generation Communications Manager and our very knowledgeable guide, and Jeremiah Haas, lead biologist at the Exelon fish hatchery.

    Bill led us through security check points that put airport security to shame. Once inside the plant, we visited the reactor, which is really just a big wall that contains the fission process. From the heat of the reaction, water boils to create steam that turns turbines to generate power. The turbines were totally encased, but we could hear the rumbling – even through our earplugs. At the top of the reactor, we were allowed to peer into big pools of water that contained spent fuel rods cooling down and waiting to be encased in concrete and moved to a longer term storage facility elsewhere on the property.

    A lot of the questions from Ikes focused on safety improvements implemented since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster last year in Japan. Bill responded that the Fukushima failure was due in large part to the inability of the operators to bring needed supplies into the plant before meltdown. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is mandating that all nuclear plants be outfitted with standardized equipment so that materials can be shared between companies if necessary. Additional emergency equipment will be held offsite so that if a catastrophic disaster wipes out on-site emergency and back-up measures, additional materials can be brought in within hours.

    After our tour of the plant, Jeremiah took us to the Exelon fish hatchery on the banks of the Mississippi River. Even before the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws were put in effect, Exelon began working with groups like the Izaak Walton League to monitor and protect the Mississippi River. Exelon staff have been surveying fish populations in Pool 14 (located between LeClaire and Clinton, Iowa) since the early 1970s, focusing mainly on freshwater drum populations.

    The hatchery is dedicated to raising and releasing freshwater drum, but right now they are also raising hybrid stripped bass and alligator gar. The hybrid bass are fun sport fish, and many of them are being shipped to Clinton Lake near Champaign, Illinois, to eat shad, which have turned into a nuisance on the lake. Jeremiah’s team is also helping federal agencies raise alligator gar to repopulate lakes and backwaters in Southern Illinois and Missouri where they were once common but now are rare sights.

    Probably the most exciting event on the trip was getting up close and personal with an alligator gar. Alligator gars must be handled with care. They are aggressive and true to their name, with large, alligator-like snouts full of spiky teeth. Their scales are razor sharp and serrated. Jeremiah was not comfortable handling one without a Kevlar glove. Out of the water, alligator gars can breathe air through a special bladder. They are a frightening and amazing sight. 

    We also peered into what we thought was an empty raceway of water, but the bottom was lined with tiny mussels. Jeremiah’s team is working with other hatcheries to reestablish mussel beds along the Upper Mississippi River. Mussel populations have been all but wiped out because of the drastic changes in the Mississippi River substrate that occurred when dams were built and erosion increased from farming practices.

    Hopefully the efforts of Jeremiah and his team at Exelon will help restore aquatic populations along the Upper Mississippi River and continue to provide valuable information for management decisions. Thank you to Bill and Jeremiah for taking the time to meet with League members for an exciting and educational afternoon.

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