Pritzker was right to keep moratorium on new Illinois nuclear plants

The bill the governor vetoed would have opened the door to negative environmental impacts and higher costs for consumers while jeopardizing progress toward Illinois’ clean energy future.

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This June 2, 2016 file photo shows Exelon Corporation’s Clinton Power Station in Clinton, Illinois. Last summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed a bill to lift the state’s decades-old moratorium on building new nuclear reactors to generate electricity.  

The Clinton Power Station is seen in downstate Clinton in 2016.

John Dixon/AP file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s veto of Senate Bill 76 on Friday solidifies his national reputation as an environmental leader. SB 76, which would have removed the ban on new nuclear power in Illinois, was moved forward without careful consideration, and signing it would have opened the door to increased risk, negative environmental impacts and higher costs for consumers, all while jeopardizing our progress toward Illinois’ clean energy future.

The original concerns about constructing new nuclear power plants that led the General Assembly to impose the current moratorium remain today and, in fact, those concerns are arguably greater now than they were in 1987.

We are no closer to a national solution for the disposal of dangerous high-level nuclear wastes. Illinois already has the most nuclear reactors in the country and bears the burden of storing this waste in our communities, including along the shores of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. These wastes have significant safety risks and threaten our drinking water and communities. We should not add to the growing stockpiles of hazardous waste.

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Nuclear power is also extremely expensive. Efforts in other states to build new nuclear plants are plagued with high-cost overruns and extensive delays. These exorbitant costs not only dwarf those associated with readily available clean energy technologies, but they also threaten to derail the progress Illinois is now making to deploy win-win solutions like clean energy, storage and energy efficiency programs.

Illinois should continue prioritizing these investments, which support good union jobs and pathways to prosperity for our marginalized communities, rather than encourage highly speculative proposals for new nuclear energy.

Illinois does not need the massive, decades-long rate hikes it would take to attempt to site and build new nuclear power plants that wouldn’t be available for over a decade. Illinois does need action and investment now in transmission, storage, energy efficiency and demand response solutions to ensure adequate capacity and protect consumers from spikes in fossil fuel prices.

Keep the focus on clean energy

While Illinois hosts roughly 11 gigawatts of nuclear power, over 700 gigawatts of additional power are awaiting interconnection approval from regional energy markets across the country. The majority of these resources waiting in line are solar, wind and battery storage — proven technologies that are already creating good jobs and delivering consumer savings. These smart solutions should remain our focus.

The rules, regulations and oversight for all nuclear plants are not up to date. SB 76 would have removed the moratorium on nuclear power without a full study and review of whether current rules and regulations are sufficient to site, build and operate a nuclear power plant safely. In addition, the siting laws for nuclear are completely insufficient. Any plant could be built anywhere at any time, with only approval at the federal level. The issue is even worse in the case of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors — small units that have been proposed to be deployed inside shipping containers within communities. Projects could, in theory, be deployed near residences, for example.

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Our community is proud of the work we did together with Pritzker and the General Assembly to enact the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021. CEJA gives Illinois a roadmap to a clean energy future that generates high-quality jobs equitably and attracts global investments in our communities. To sustain that progress, we must stay the course in implementing that vision and reject proposals that would distract our resources from this framework. The veto of SB 76 will help Illinois implement this clean energy vision, and Pritzker’s veto should be upheld by the General Assembly.

Jen Walling is the executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. Jack Darin is director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.

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