MORRIS, Ill. – A stretch of cold weather means in addition to providing carbon-free power 24/7 to more than 1.8 million homes – even in the most extreme conditions – Dresden Station is also prepared to help Will County deploy water from the plant’s cooling lakes to melt ice build-up on the Kankakee River.
The Kankakee River is prone to ice jams that cause flooding, and for more than three decades, cooling lake water from Dresden’s nuclear reactors has been used by Will County EMA to help melt a pathway for river water to keep flowing, preventing ice chunks from building a natural dam that can flood more than 250 homes west of Interstate 55 along Cottage Road and in the Phelan Acres area.
“We’re glad we can help our neighbors in this unique way,” Site Vice President Pete Karaba said. “In the spirit of community, this is a simple way we can demonstrate our commitment to our friends, families and neighbors who support us so much.”
Last year, Exelon Generation announced the early retirement of Dresden and Byron stations, both financially challenged as the result of flawed market policies that fail to compensate nuclear for the carbon-free characteristic of the energy produced by the stations.
Dresden Station, located about 10 miles east of Morris, Ill., is positioned near where the Kankakee and the Des Plaines rivers converge into the Illinois River. As a matter of process, the station pulls water in from the Kankakee River through the water systems that cool the reactor and returns the water the cooling lake at higher temperatures.
Ice on the Kankakee River can sometimes freeze up to a few feet thick. As temperatures get warmer, the melting ice breaks apart, jams up the river and can cause unexpected water blockages and flooding, said Will County EMA Director Harold Damron.
“Ice is a very powerful thing,” said John McDade, who has lived along the Kankakee River since before the siphon lines were constructed to transport the warm water to the icy river. “One year, we had chunks of ice three feet thick in our yard until May. It buried our trees – completely wiped them out. The water from Dresden’s cooling lake melting the ice has been a godsend to us and to our neighbors who are more at risk for flooding.”
History of Dresden siphon lines
Dresden Station and Army Corp of Engineers installed these siphon lines nearly 35 years ago to deliver water to the river during cold stretches like the current cold snap, and the Will County EMA has deployed water from the lines to melt ice in 75 percent of winters since.
Damron credits the siphons for creating a pathway when a massive upstream ice jam broke loose in 2019, creating sudden flash flooding that quickly receded due to the melted ice near the siphon lines.
“Two years ago, I have no doubt that flooding would have been significantly worse without the water from Dresden Station’s cooling lake thinning the ice,” Damron said. “River water was able to keep flowing because of the water from the siphon lines, and that prevented many more homes from being flooded in Phelan Acres and along the shoreline.”
Without reactors operating to heat the water siphoned to the river, Damron said there aren’t many options for dealing with the ice jams.
“You have no real way to deal with the ice without the power plant,” he said. “You can’t move the water or build a sandbag wall to contain it. Flooding will happen, and it’s going to create a difficult situation for residents along the river when the plant shuts down.”