116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: Cordova nuclear plant still operating
Quad Cities’ plant opened 2 years before Duane Arnold, narrowly avoided shutdown in 2018
Riverboat trips on the Mississippi take passengers past the Quad Cities Generating Station near Cordova, Ill., the nuclear power plant that started operating a few years before Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center, began operations near Palo.
The Cordova plant went online in 1972, supplying electricity to northwestern Illinois and parts of Eastern Iowa. It was originally owned by Commonwealth Edison of Chicago and Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Co. of Davenport.
The Duane Arnold plant, which has been decommissioned, began generating energy in 1974.
The Palo plant was a single-reactor, 520-megawatt station. The Quad Cities plant had two reactors, each with 809 megawatts of capacity.
Loosely, that means the Palo plant could provide electrical power to 200,000 to 470,000 homes a year, depending on their electrical usage. Cordova could power to 650,000 to almost 1.5 million homes a year.
Construction of the Cordova plant began in early 1967 on a 488-acre industrial park about 3 miles north of Cordova.
“The station’s first boiling water reactor unit is scheduled for service in 1971,” The Gazette reported, with “the second unit to be completed in 1971. General Electric Co. will build both units for approximately $168 million.”
Ed Hartman, Cedar Rapids district manager for Iowa-Illinois, said the plant would “bring 345 kilovolt (KV) service from Chicago and from this plant to our Hills substation and there tie in to the 345 KV line from Minneapolis to St. Louis, which can be seen near Walford. At Hills, it will tie to the 161 KV Iowa net, which all Iowa utilities have access to and are a part of.”
The Cordova plant’s construction was not without mishap. In May 1967, steel framework for a wall collapsed, knocking down concrete forms and injuring seven workers.
The plant was ready to go online in December 1971, but a federal judge issued an injunction halting its startup until an environmental impact study could be completed. The Izaak Walton League and the United Auto Workers had sought the injunction, claiming the plant might cause ecological damage.
The suits were dismissed, and the Atomic Energy Commission authorized the Cordova plant to begin operation at 20 percent of power under a temporary license. The plant began generating power in April 1972 and was fully operational a year later.
Through the years
The Atomic Energy Commission reported in 1974 that the plant’s emissions exceeded regulations 11 times that year but that the leaks were too small to endanger the public.
In 1975, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the plant’s owners $25,000 after an inspector gained entrance to the plant through “an open, uncontrolled gate,” according to the NRC.
By 1981, the Cordova plant had only two years of storage left for its spent fuel rods, and It applied to expand its storage capacity.
Tennessee scientists explained the disposal method: Spent rods are transported to reprocessing centers for salvage of reusable energy. The remaining waste is bonded to the stable mineral monzonite, then encased in glass and buried in underground stainless steel vaults.
The Cordova plant ranked third in the nation for employee radiation exposure in August 1982. The Duane Arnold plant ranked 23rd. In neither case was any employee exposed to more radiation than allowed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules, according to news reports.
The Cordova plant became the first boiling water reactor to generate 100 million megawatt hours of electricity in 1993.
In 2000, the plant came under the corporate umbrella of utility giant Exelon.
Eventually, Exelon, faced with rising costs and financial losses, asked the Illinois Legislature for help. When no answer came, Exelon announced in June 2016 it would shut down the plant June 1, 2018.
That got the attention of Illinois lawmakers, who bailed out the state’s six nuclear power plants in the Future Energy Jobs Bill, which also funded energy-efficiency programs.
In February of this year, Constellation Energy began operating the Cordova plant after spitting from Exelon, its parent company. Constellation’s license to operate the plant extends through 2032.
Constellation owns 75 percent of the plant, and MidAmerican Holdings, headquartered in Des Moines, owns 25 percent.