The law provides homebuyers some assurance that sellers aren’t hiding defects or problems with the property. Prescriptions are accompanied with a pamphlet listing all the warnings and medical contraindications for the meds. Even car buyers are protected by law against sellers knowingly pawning off lemons, and are given the chance to at least “look under the hood.”
Unfortunately pro-nuclear promoters are not troubled with such scruples or legally obliged to disclose the downsides of their newest product – small modular nuclear reactors (SMNRs). Consequently, current promotional materials trumpet the “wonders” of the next nuclear age — They’re small! Transportable! Made like Model-Ts in factories! Eat radioactive wastes! – with little to no serious fact checking or discussion of the downsides.
Legislators, enamored with the political catnip of more jobs and bigger tax bases (maybe even campaign contributions) rush to echo these fantastical claims, usually without thorough investigation or discussion of the actual and potential downsides of SMNRs. The media are similarly reduced to cursorily cutting and pasting the press releases of pro-nuclear legislators, nuclear sales staffers and websites, and the Dept. of Energy without time or effort to obtain critical background information or details from nuclear skeptics.
After Spring Legislative session Governor Pritzker wisely vetoed a sloppily crafted bill that would have repealed Illinois’ nuclear construction moratorium and promoted new reactors, largely on potential safety and cost grounds. He said though that SMNRs might be worth pursuing, and challenged pro-nuclear legislators to craft a revised bill he might support.
As Fall veto session begins, the Moratorium repeal veto and SMNR promotional legislation are on the agenda. Before mortgaging Illinois’ energy future and the renewable energy gains of CEJA, maybe it’s time to take a hard and more thorough “look under the hood” before launching another Illinois Nuclear Age
Despite nuclear advertisers’ glowing description of SMNRs being able to do almost everything from solving Ukraine’s energy shortages (no kidding) to curing herpes (kidding), SMNRs have serious and demonstrable downsides.
First, they don’t even exist yet, presently merely being the fevered imaginings of well-intentioned engineers. The first prototype of the ONLY SMNR design to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) won’t be built until December 2029. Assuming this design even works (no guarantees here), commercialization won’t occur until the 2030s under the most optimistic scenario.
This is significant since Illinois legislators are stressing the urgent need to repeal the Moratorium and promote SMNRs as essential for: job creation; transmission system reliability; meeting power requirements; fighting climate disruption. Yet, they fail to explain how fictional reactors not available until the 2030s will accomplish any of these goals NOW.
Two former NRC Chairpersons have publicly stated that SMNRs will have no appreciable positive effect on the climate crisis, with one even saying, “…the economic competitiveness of small modular reactors appears weak…the nuclear industry always promises better, faster and cheaper yet it fails to deliver.”
Reputable national and international energy analysts and economists warn that SMNRs will be more costly and produce 2-20 times more radioactive waste per unit of energy generated than even today’s uncompetitive, bailed-out reactors.
To cut costs SMNR designs require fewer operators and plant personnel, even suggesting reducing or eliminating security staff, and being built without protective containment buildings or local emergency planning zones. This trades safety for cost.
National security expert Brig. General Wendell Chris King, retired, Dean Emeritus, U.S. Army Commander, General Staff College, stated in a recent Pacifica Radio broadcast,
“ How do I protect and ensure the safety of those [SMNRs] from an external threat? And the more [reactors] you got, the harder it is to protect…If there’s a thousand of those scattered around, and someone’s moving them around at their own choosing, that’s a significant threat…That’s very, very risky from a force protection, from a national security standpoint. It would be very difficult to achieve national security goals in that domain.”
Finally, nuclear promoters seem to forget that past is prologue. SMNRs are proposed by an industry that can’t build reactors on time; is rife with cost overruns; has recently endured three major nuclear-related corruption scandals (OH, SC, and IL); and already cannot compete in Illinois’ energy market without needing $3.05 billion in ratepayer guaranteed bailouts. Are these the people and is this the energy innovation that will effectively address the climate crisis?
These and other facts were presented to Legislators and the Governor many times since Spring. The Legislature ignored them; the Governor’s Office did not reply. Nor did either offer their plan to deal with more radioactive waste, the very purpose of keeping the Moratorium.
Before chaining the pocketbooks of every Illinois energy customer to a highly speculative, currently imaginary technology with an extremely fraught history, Legislators and the Governor should aggressively invest in expanding renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage (NOT only batteries), and improved transmission grid – you know, the things we KNOW work, because they work successfully NOW.
As Einstein quipped, “Clever people solve problems. Geniuses avoid them.”