Planet Earth

published : 2023-11-09

Senator Proposes Plan to Lift Nuclear Moratorium and Implement New Oversight Rules

Governor Pritzker Signs Bill Requiring Illinois to Produce Only Carbon-Free Power by 2045

Senator Sue Rezin speaking at a press conference, advocating for the lifting of the nuclear moratorium in Illinois. [Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV]

In a surprising turn of events, a Republican Illinois senator has put forth a groundbreaking legislation that aims to lift the longstanding moratorium on new nuclear reactors. This proposal also includes the implementation of fresh rules and regulations to govern these reactors, addressing concerns that led to a previous veto by Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker.

Senator Sue Rezin, hailing from the town of Morris, managed to gain overwhelming support for her initiative last spring. Her plan sought to replace the 1987 ban on new nuclear operations with an emphasis on small modular reactors. However, Governor Pritzker vetoed the bill, aligning himself with environmentalists who voiced worries about outdated regulations and the ongoing challenge of waste disposal.

Instead of pursuing an override vote during the current legislative session, Senator Rezin has presented a new and intriguing plan. This plan not only addresses the concerns raised by the governor but also proposes reducing the allowed size of small modular reactors. Moreover, it envisions the creation of modernized rules and regulations to effectively handle these reactors.

Small modular reactors, contrary to traditional power plants, are designed to provide electricity to a specific site where they are installed, such as a large factory, rather than feeding into the wider power grid. However, they still have to undergo a lengthy federal permitting process that can span up to eight years, similar to the process traditional plants must undergo.

The aim of lifting the nuclear moratorium in Illinois is to demonstrate the state's interest in adopting this innovative nuclear technology as part of its future energy portfolio. Senator Rezin passionately emphasizes the importance of considering advanced nuclear options alongside other carbon-free energy sources.

Governor J.B. Pritzker signing the bill requiring Illinois to produce only carbon-free power by 2045. [Taken with Nikon D850]

Governor Pritzker, in an effort to combat climate change, signed a law two years ago requiring Illinois to exclusively produce carbon-free power by 2045. While the law heavily invests in wind and solar power, it also sets aside $700 million to maintain the operation of two nuclear facilities in Byron and Morris.

Senator Rezin sees this commitment to nuclear energy as a validation of her stance. However, environmental advocates disagree, successfully influencing Governor Pritzker's veto. Nonetheless, the latest proposal addresses the governor's concerns head-on. It instructs the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to develop guidelines on reactor decommissioning, environmental monitoring, and emergency preparedness by January 1, 2026.

Additionally, the new plan seeks to reduce the maximum size of each small modular reactor to 300 megawatts, a decrease from the previous limit of 345 megawatts. This adjustment aims to enhance safety and efficiency in these compact reactors.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Executive Committee heard Senator Rezin's measure, but no vote was taken. Mark Denzler, the president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, testified in support of the plan, emphasizing the crucial need for reliable energy sources to sustain the state's manufacturing sector, which alone accounts for one-third of the nation's energy consumption.

Denzler highlighted that many manufacturing plants, particularly those processing corn and soybeans, rely on steam power, which cannot be generated from wind or solar energy. This underscores the importance of having a diverse energy mix that includes nuclear power.

A close-up shot of a small modular reactor, representing the future of nuclear technology in Illinois. [Taken with Sony A7 III]

While environmental advocates were absent from the committee hearing, Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, dismissed the ongoing debate as largely rhetorical. Since the construction of a new reactor could still be a decade or more away, Darin believes it is premature to lift the moratorium without conducting comprehensive studies and developing new regulations.

Highlighting the need for thorough analysis before proceeding, he stated, 'Those are the studies we should be doing before lifting a moratorium. So we're saying, ‘Go ahead and build them if anybody wants to'—and nobody does right now—and we’ll start thinking about different ways these could be problematic.'

In summary, this daring proposal to lift the nuclear moratorium in Illinois, combined with the inclusion of new oversight rules, has sparked captivating discussions among legislators, industry experts, and environmentalists. While it aims to create a more diverse and sustainable energy future for the state, the proposal still faces opposition and calls for further study.

As the Illinois Senate considers this groundbreaking legislation, the fate of the state's nuclear energy potential hangs in the balance. Will Illinois redefine its energy portfolio and embrace advanced nuclear technology, or will it maintain the status quo? Only time will reveal the outcome of this gripping debate.