“Illinois Just Got ‘Nuked’”

This afternoon the Illinois House passed legislation to strip away a long-standing and effective means of protecting Illinois from excessive radiation hazard and abuse when it repealed the 1987 Illinois nuclear construction moratorium.  The law simply stated that no new nuclear plants could be constructed in Illinois until the Federal Government provided a permanent disposal solution for the deadly and long-lasting high-level radioactive wastes (HLRW — currently at ~11,000 tons, the most in the Nation, and growing annually) that all reactors produce.

Dog owners are required by law to pick up their pet’s excrement; if they don’t they are often fined.  With this Moratorium repeal, the message the House just sent to the nuclear industry is, “You’re doo-dooing just fine; no fines, keep it up, and give us more.”

While the Moratorium law was originally designed to deal with the disposal of HLRW, that topic was barely mentioned let alone dealt with responsibly during the 6 hearings and floor debates that occurred about the repeal.  The REAL reason for the repeal was to open up Illinois for the construction of PROPOSED new nuclear reactors designs call “small modular nuclear reactors” – SMNRs.

What did Illinois get in exchange for giving up deserved nuclear safety?  Nothing.  Absolutely and quite literally — NOTHING.  The reason:

SMNRs do not even EXIST yet.  And according to both industry websites and testimony during the Legislative hearings they won’t even exist as proof-of-concept demonstrations for the next 7-10 years.  Commercialization will take longer – well into the 2030s.

As the joke goes:  How are SMNRs and unicorns alike? A.: Neither exists.  How are they different:  A:  Unicorn waste isn’t hazardous for 250,000 years.

Throughout the Spring, a number of issues were raised by legislators in favor of SB76.  Among them:

“Illinois needs the jobs!” —  What jobs, if the commercialization of SMNRs won’t take place until the 2030s?

“We need to provide adequate power and transmission reliability, especially downstate in the MISO transmission area.” —  How do reactors that don’t even exist and won’t until the 2030s – assuming the proposed designs even work — provide power and system reliability?

“We need nuclear power in the climate fight!” – How do non-existent reactors fight climate change?  What do legislators know that two former CHAIRS of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) don’t know when they clearly and unambiguously state that SMNRs are NOT a climate solution?

These questions were never responded to when NEIS asked them during the hearings, along with a few others:

Q.: “What is the Legislature’s plan to DISPOSE of – not store – DISPOSE of its current 11,000 tons of HLRW; the 11,000 additional tons that will be produced by extending the operating life of Illinois 11 currently operating reactors, and the as yet uncalculated amounts of HLRW that NEW SMNRs will produce?”

A.: Crickets.

Q.: “If today’s reactors needed more than $3 billion in ratepayer guaranteed nuclear bailouts to stay open because they could not be run economically , how many more bailouts will be required when hundreds of SMNRs are added to Illinois’ nuclear fleet?

A.:  Double crickets.

Q.: “What will happen to the lofty renewable energy goals of CEJA when more SMNRs come and compete for market share and scarce transmission access?”

A.:  Black hole.

To be sure – opening wide the gate to Illinois’ energy future to a demonstrably corrupt and corrupting nuclear industry by repealing the nuclear construction Moratorium was a Trojan Horse designed to kickstart the potentially lucrative SMNR industry.  More nuclear reactors of any kind will mean: more radioactive waste with no disposal, more nuclear power bailouts going to a demonstrably corrupt industry, more nuclear rate hikes, continued accident threat, and LESS renewable energy and efficiency.  At its core is the sabotaging of the renewable energy goals in the 2021 CEJA legislation.

We had hopes that the recent ComEd convictions and the discrediting of former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s nuclear “Reign of Error” would result in progress towards a 21st Century energy transformation based on more renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and a vastly improved transmission system.

The SB76 vote to repeal Illinois nuclear construction moratorium instead sends a much more ominous message:

“Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.”

We sincerely hope that Governor Pritzker will recognize the threat to all the work he and others did to get CEJA passed in 2021, and veto this retrograde motion – before Illinois gets nuked for real.

[MORE INFORMATION about SMNRs, the Illinois Moratorium, and objections to the repeal can be found here.]





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