NEIS Statement on the Legislature’s Partial Repeal of Illinois’ Nuclear Construction Moratorium, and Embrace of Small Modular Reactors
Nov. 10, 2023
“Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee, that wilfully will nother heare nor see.” — writer John Haywood, 1546
The Illinois Legislature has voted overwhelmingly to support a next-generation of nuclear power plants in Illinois. Governor Pritzker is expected to sign this legislation, feeling “satisfied” that his initial safety and cost concerns would be addressed by two studies to be done by IEMA-OHS.
But the Universe seems to have a sense of humor. Ironically, this embrace of new nuclear came one day after the nation’s only small modular nuclear reactor (SMNR) company with a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved license design – NuScale – pulled the plug on its only viable project – a 462 MW reactor complex slated for development in Utah/Idaho. The reasons? Couldn’t get enough “subscribers” for the joint project because of escalating projected costs, which jumped from $53/MW to $88/MW this year, and seemed primed to rise further. No other SMNR prospects have had their designs certified by the NRC to date.
In 7 legislative hearings over the past 2 years, NEIS has attempted to alert the Legislature to the inherent problems associated with development of SMNRs and by extension, their implications for Illinois’ energy future. No arguments seem to register at any appreciable level in either the House or Senate, and certainly not with Legislative “Leadership” and the Governor’s office – which, BTW, never responded to any of the numerous detailed and sourced information packets sent his way.
It would seem the Ghost of Michael Madigan Past still haunts the hallowed halls of the Legislature, wiping minds clean of any discomforting memories of utility corruption or $3.05 billion nuclear bailouts – replacing them with happy thoughts of “clean, green, climate fighting, low-cost, built-on-time nuclear power, for sure!”. Similar to what Lucy says to Charlie Brown about kicking footballs.
No amount of sourced studies, expert testimonies and commentary from internationally renown energy analysts like Amory Lovins (“Arithmetic is not an opinion!”), former Chairs of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, former heads of public utility commissions, climate disruption experts, or national security specialists had the slightest effect on a Legislature that clearly had its mind made up long ago to support another round of nuclear power in Illinois, as an “investment possibility.”
NEIS likens it more to a Las Vegas casino bet – on a technology that does not even exist yet except as designs, and even if workable, would not be commercialized in meaningful quantities before the 2030s. So much for “fighting climate disruption, or creating jobs and tax base increase, or providing power and grid reliability,” the arguments legislators frequently cited as rationalizations for their votes.
Suggestions to place those energy bets on more renewables, more efficiency, energy storage (which is farther along in development AND deployment than SMNRs), and sorely needed transmission improvements were met largely with blank stares, and NO, NADA, ZERO questions about our arguments during the hearings we testified at.
If past really is prologue, the legislature has seemed to conveniently forget that SMNRs are being 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?
Perhaps the most distressing response of all those legislators gave for “needing/exploring/researching/investing-in” SMNRs is a large and growing belief that renewable energy, efficiency, increased energy storage, and transmission improvements are “not enough” to meet future energy demands; and even worse, that they “don’t exist.” While we grant that this is admittedly a complex and often arcane issue, this sentiment displays appalling lack of understanding or even denial of reality of what has been happening in the U.S. over the past decade in the energy sector – either of which can be reality-checked by readily available search means. Or at least by reading the testimonies, attending briefing sessions, or using ZOOM conference links we have provided them.
As our friend and colleague, engineer and former nuclear executive Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education once demolished this nuclear marketing ploy thusly:
“We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day,” he said, “but the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time human kind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me that doesn’t make sense.” [Source: Forbes, “Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power?,” May 1, 2015]
This glaring lack of faith in a technology approach that is ALREADY producing the results and benefits today that address that long list of legislative rationalizations is alarming. Worse though, they instead grasp at the shiny nuclear object that does not even exist yet as their preferred solution. Can you say “cognitive dissonance”, boys and girls?
This is a serious and major issue that will have to be massively confronted and corrected by the Illinois environmental and safe-energy movement and vendors, or the goals of CEJA will be gradually eroded away with future excuses and rationalizations justifying more nuclear. Nature abhors a vacuum, and one created by our movements’ collective failure to make our case is one the nuclear industry will happily move to fill until and unless the enviros and renewable vendors make a far more compelling argument than they have so far that a renewable energy future is indeed possible – and necessary
In conclusion NEIS wishes to acknowledge those legislators – both those who disagreed and agreed with us — who extended us great courtesy and patience in listening to and discussing these views. In particular we wish to thank those who had the courage to publicly say that the Nuclear Emperor is still naked:
In the House: Reps. Kelly Cassidy; Mary Flowers, Robyn Gabel (absent for vote, but supportive); Sonya Harper, Norma Hernandez; Hoan Huynh, Lillian Jimenez; Joyce Mason; Rita Mayfield.
In the Senate: Sens. Sharon Feigenholtz, Laura Fine; Julie Morrison, Mike Simmons; Natalie Toro; Celina Villanueva; Ram Villivalam.
Einstein once quipped, “Clever people solve problems. Geniuses avoid them.” This vote to support another round of nuclear power in Illinois seriously puts the Legislature’s application to MENSA in jeopardy.