Report: Existing and advanced nuclear best for meeting Illinois’s climate goals

May 18, 2021, 12:10PMNuclear News

Among the 12 energy-mix scenarios analyzed in a new report from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, maintaining the current Illinois reactor fleet while also investing in advanced nuclear technology and renewable energy is the most economical path to zero carbon for the state. It is also, says the report, the path that generates the lowest lifecycle carbon emissions.

The 26-page report, Economic and Carbon Impacts of Potential Illinois Nuclear Plant Closures: The Cost of Closures, was coauthored by Kathryn Huff, who was recently appointed principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy, along with Madicken Munk, a research scientist in the university’s Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering (NPRE) Department, and Sam Dotson, a graduate researcher in NPRE’s Advanced Reactors and Fuel Cycle Analysis group. Financial support for the report was provided by Nuclear Matters.

Voice of reason: “The economic and carbon implications of these findings are far-reaching for the state’s zero-emissions goals,” Munk and Dotson stated in a May 17 news release. “Optimistic deployment of renewable energy sources is insufficient to replace all existing coal and natural gas generation in the state, let alone replace the electricity generation that will be lost from retiring nuclear plants. To achieve these climate targets and ensure Illinois has reliable access to the scale of energy the state needs, Illinois will need to augment existing nuclear with renewables and next-generation nuclear, while also expanding grid-scale battery storage. Even assuming significant cost overruns, the cost impact of advanced nuclear investment is marginal compared to all other reasonable projected approaches. In fact, this mix is the least expensive way to reach zero carbon by 2030.”

Key takeaways: Major findings from the report include the following:

  • Keeping Illinois’s existing nuclear plants open through 2050 avoids 25 million metric tons of lifecycle CO2 emissions—equivalent to taking 5.4 million cars off the road.
  • Without existing nuclear power, reaching zero carbon would require solar deployments to displace 10,000 km2 of critical Illinois farmland, representing nearly 15 percent of the nation’s corn and 14 percent of its soybean production.
  • Deploying new advanced nuclear generation is the least expensive way to allow Illinois farmland to remain farmland while reaching zero carbon by 2030.
  • Without the benefit of the reliable baseload provide by nuclear energy, extraordinary, possibly infeasible, grid-scale battery storage capacity is required to meet any zero-carbon target with significant renewable penetration.

Are you listening, Springfield? “In Illinois, nuclear energy supports thousands of jobs, contributes millions of dollars to local and state economies, and has significant potential to scale both areas with the advancement of next-generation technology, particularly in transitioning workers from emissions-heavy industries,” commented Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a member of Nuclear Matters’ Advocacy Council, in the release. “As this research demonstrates, there is no disputing that Illinois’s legislators must act in the near term to save the more than 1,500 full-time positions and 2,000-plus supplemental jobs tied to the Dresden and Byron nuclear power plants—supporting workers in rural communities that cannot afford to lose these family-supporting union jobs. The study also illustrates that advanced nuclear represents a significant opportunity to position Illinois and its workers as key players in the transition to an emissions-free economy. We should seize that opportunity.”

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