Time for Illinois’s nuclear advocates to turn up the volume

May 21, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Photo: Teemu008/Wikipedia

As Illinois lawmakers race to hammer out a compromise clean energy bill before the current legislative session adjourns on May 31, advocacy group Nuclear Matters is asking members of the state’s nuclear community to speak up in support of state aid for the struggling Byron and Dresden nuclear plants, both of which are scheduled to be prematurely retired later this year by Exelon.

Nuclear Matters has launched a letter-writing campaign to encourage individuals to contact their representatives via a pre-drafted letter to urge passage of legislation that will provide that aid. The letter is one of general support for Illinois’s nuclear plants and not an endorsement of any specific measure.

From the letter: “Experts have sounded the alarm for years that Illinois needs nuclear energy to meet climate goals, like reaching a 100 percent carbon-free power sector by 2050,” the Nuclear Matters letter states. “But with the Byron and Dresden plants slated for closure later this year, there’s more at stake than climate goals. Not only do nuclear plants provide 87.6 percent of the state’s carbon-free energy, but the plants directly and indirectly provide 28,000 jobs and generate $3.8 billion in annual contributions to the state’s economy. That means billions of dollars funding local school systems, emergency services, and ultimately the livelihood of communities across Illinois is on the line if nuclear plants close in Illinois.”

The letter also points to the new study out from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering Department, Economic and Carbon Impacts of Potential Illinois Nuclear Plant Closures: The Cost of Closures, which finds that 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, the report says, the path that generates the lowest lifecycle carbon emissions.

The report: the 26-page report 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.

Listen up, 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. “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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