With the nuclear reactor crisis emerging in Ukraine as a backdrop, a bill – HB 5589 — has been introduced in the Illinois Legislature that would remove a decades-old moratorium on constructing new nuclear reactors in Illinois.
This moratorium was enacted in the late-1980s to protect Illinois from becoming a de facto high-level radioactive waste dump. It simply says – no more reactors will be built here until the Federal Government honors its legal obligation to build and operate a permanent disposal facility for the dangerous spent-fuel radioactive waste. This facility was supposed to open by 1997, but didn’t. Current government estimates claim we won’t have one before 2048. As a result Illinois 14 reactors (11 still operating) have created over 11,000 tons of spent-reactor fuel with no place to go. It’s presently stored at reactor sites.
Imagine Chicago authorizing the construction of the Sears Tower without bathrooms and you get a sense of the absurd license to pollute the nuclear industry has been granted. Legislators wanted to make sure that Illinois would have to manage as little of this waste as possible, prior to permanent disposal.
While this explains the origin of this common-sense moratorium, current events demonstrate what a Trojan Horse for potential nuclear disaster on numerous fronts HB5589 represents.
First, what’s the rush? No utility in its right mind wants to construct new reactors in the U.S. The only two under construction are $17 billion over budget, and 5 years behind schedule, showing how inept, sluggish and inefficient building reactors is.
Since 2016 ratepayers have bailed out Exelon (now Constellation) reactors to the tune of $3.04 billion because they’ve been “economically distressed” (i.e., money losers). Would new reactors be any less distressed? Guess who would be forced to bail them out. Adding more reactors to a money-losing market only worsens the situation.
Adding more reactors would mean adding more high-level radioactive wastes with no disposal facility – the very thing the moratorium was created to prevent. The First Rule of Holes applies here.
Adding more reactor market-share to an already uncompetitive, glutted energy market would crowd out market share for the renewables that the Governor and Legislature want built, indefinitely delaying the 100% clean-energy by 2050 goal in CEJA.
Lastly, any new reactors would be built and managed by a nuclear industry demonstrating a hefty track record for political corruption, extending beyond ComEd’s $200 million guilty plea and Michael Madigan indictment. Ohio and South Carolina nuclear projects have also resulted in FBI investigations, indictments and guilty pleas worth billions of dollars. Is this the business partner Illinois wants to create its Clean Energy Future?
And if none of the local considerations matter, it should be recognized that upwards of 40-50% of the uranium used in U.S. reactors comes from Russia. The Nuclear Energy Institute – the trade association of the nuclear industry, which has Exelon as its main contributor – lobbied the White House on March 1 to exempt imported Russian uranium from sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ah, nothing like “home grown” nuclear power.
HB5589 is clearly a Trojan Horse for something not being stated, attempting to solve a non-existent problem. Worse, it would potentially put Illinois ratepayers in line for endless rate hikes once again and kill a renewable energy future.[NOTE: A subject matter hearing on HR5589 is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21, 2022, at 4 p.m. CT in the House Energy and Environment Committee.]