NEIS sent the following today to Illinois state and federal legislators, as well as to its entire media list.  We share it with you now:

We hope that this latest installment of our energy transformation series finds you well, and as you wind down towards the end of the Spring legislative session, that your work is successful.

Former NRC Chair Greg Jaczko

We share with you a critically important op-ed that appeared today in the Washington Post, written by the former Chairperson of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – Dr. Gregory Jaczko.  (before proceeding here, please read his article, “I oversaw the U.S. nuclear power industry. Now I think it should be banned.”).

Currently, there are a number of major pieces of energy legislation before the Legislature:  CEJA, the Exelon Bill, the ComEd/Ameren Bill, Path to 100, maybe more.  Realistically, no single bill from this group will or should pass before the end of this Spring legislative session; and in all probability, a large, omnibus energy bill in the Fall Veto Session is the most likely outcome.

NEIS has come before four legislative committees in recent months, and has had to testify against all of these bills, for two simple reasons: 1.) they encourage the continued bailout/subsidization of failing, hazardous nuclear power, and 2.) the Legislature has continuously failed to urgent and corrective action on significant gaps and omissions in current law dealing with a number of critical nuclear-related issues.

As early as 2013-14, when Exelon Corporation first started its nuclear bailout campaign, NEIS pointed out these significant issues, which include:

  • Continued nuclear plant operation only adds more high-level radiative waste (HLRW) to the 10,000+ tons Exelon reactors have already generated (most in the U.S.) and store at reactor sites in Illinois – with no place to permanently dispose of it.
  • Exelon’s threatened reactor closures represented “nuclear hostage crises,” fanning the flames of local job and tax-base loss unless the Legislature would bail them out – instead of arguing that it was the affected communities, not the profitable private corporation that needed transitional assistance and economic support.
  • Exelon’s threatened reactor closures prominently highlighted the absence of meaningful “just-transitions” programs designed to minimize the negative impacts of reactor closures (and those of coal plants and mines as well) by establishing pre-closure escrowed funds and post-closure economic incentives to help economically damaged communities deal with the loss of their largest employer and source of tax revenue.
  • Exelon’s threatened reactor closures signal the inevitability of reactor “decommissioning” – the process of literally tearing down the retired reactors, and cleaning up the site of residual radioactive contamination to meet NRC post-closure standards. NEIS pointed out the serious gaps in fiscal accountability and lack of transparent, independent oversight of the decommissioning process that we observed with the Exelon/Zion-Solutions tear down of the two Zion reactors north of Chicago.
  • In the climate disrupted world that we are entering, where water will be even more precious than it is now, nuclear reactors will be less-efficient at producing electricity, and more costly to continue to operate as they age – suggesting additional scenarios for future Exelon bailout proposals.

To date, five years later – none of these very real gaping flaws and hazards have been rectified by the Legislature.

Instead, we see proposals to extend the operation of uneconomic nuclear reactors; to falsely define nuclear power as “clean” and “zero emissions” (claims which we proved are false in previous testimonies); to reward uneconomic nuclear reactors and Exelon’s anachronistic business model for one single environmental attribute – lower-carbon emissions – while totally ignoring the constant production of environmentally threatening high-level radioactive waste; to water down or outright oppose the institution of “just transitions” for power plants destined to be shut down —  as if the best way to plan for retirement is to ignore that it’s coming.

There are those in the Legislature, in our Illinois Delegation to Congress, and our past Governor who are all too eager to dismiss our testimonies and analysis as hyperbole or uninformed.  Admittedly – we are not formally trained in nuclear engineering (and neither are any of these aforementioned critics, with one exception that we know of).

However, when the former Chairperson of the NRC makes many of the same criticisms, and warns the Nation outright that,

“This [nuclear] tech is no longer a viable strategy for dealing with climate change, nor is it a competitive source of power. It is hazardous, expensive and unreliable, and abandoning it wouldn’t bring on climate doom.”

it becomes an entirely different situation.

One can legitimately have a professional disagreement with former-Chairman Jaczko’s analysis and multi-year experience as the nation’s top nuclear regulator. If you do, however, we would love to be appraised of your supporting evidence and greater expertise.  Perhaps before the Legislature or the Governor prematurely enact any more nuclear bailouts, Dr. Jaczko should be invited to testify at future energy committee hearings.

In the meantime, as the Legislature deals with the upcoming major energy legislation, which will have an enormous impact on Illinois energy and economic future, we sincerely urge you to take Dr. Jaczko’s critique and conclusions seriously.  As the most nuclear-reliant state in the U.S., we have the most to lose if you chose wrong.

As Einstein once posited, clever people solve problems; geniuses avoid them.  Your call.  Just realize – you can’t build an energy future by bailing out the past. ■

Here’s the link to the Washington Post article by former NRC Chair Greg Jaczko:

I oversaw the U.S. nuclear power industry. Now I think it should be banned.

The danger from climate change no longer outweighs the risks of nuclear accidents.

Gregory Jaczko

Gregory Jaczko served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2005 to 2009, and as its chairman from 2009 to 2012. The author of “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator,” he is the founder of Wind Energy LLC and teaches at Georgetown University and Princeton University.