A bipartisan effort in the Illinois General Assembly to repeal the state’s decades-old prohibition on new nuclear plant construction made some progress this week when the House Public Utilities Committee voted 18–3 to advance a bill lifting the ban.
Introduced on January 12 by Rep. Mark Walker (D., 53rd Dist.)—who sponsored identical legislation last year—H.B. 1079 would delete language in the Illinois Public Utilities Act that prohibits nuclear plant construction in the state “until the director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency finds that the United States government, through its authorized agency, has identified and approved a demonstrable technology or means for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste, or until such construction has been specifically approved by a statute enacted by the General Assembly.” The bill has 31 cosponsors—four Democrats and 27 Republicans.
Supporters of H.B. 1079 argue that nuclear plants could replace Illinois coal and natural gas facilities likely to be forced into retirement as a result of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act—the broad overhaul of the state’s energy policies signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2021. (CEJA is aimed at phasing out fossil-fuel power generation and making Illinois a 100 percent carbon-free energy producer by 2050.)
Testifying virtually before the committee at its February 28 hearing, ANS member Alyssa Hayes, a University of Illinois nuclear engineering graduate and current University of Tennessee Ph.D. candidate, said, “When we replace these [fossil-fuel] facilities with carbon-free ones, it is our responsibility to ensure a just job transition so that the same coal and gas workers may continue to provide our communities with reliable heat and electricity without moving to other towns.”
Meanwhile: On January 20, Sen. Sue Rezin (R., 38th Dist.) introduced similar legislation in the Illinois Senate—S.B. 0076. In addition to stripping the nuclear moratorium from state law, Rezin’s bill would specifically allow for the construction of small modular reactors. Eight Republicans have joined Rezin as cosponsors of the measure, as have seven Democrats.
“An important factor is these smaller nuclear reactors can be placed in preexisting coal-fired power plants, which means we wouldn’t have to spend as much time and money building new infrastructure as we currently have to for new renewable projects,” Rezin wrote in a February 27 Crain’s Chicago Business opinion piece. “Another added benefit to micro-nukes is that they offer large companies seeking to reduce their carbon footprint the ability to replace their carbon-producing power plants with carbon-free, reliable, and resilient power.
“New nuclear power plants, whether they be traditional or micro-nukes, would also greatly benefit the local economies of traditional coal communities in Illinois that are currently facing the potential loss of hundreds to thousands of permanent jobs once their coal plants’ fires are extinguished. Building 24-hour-producing nuclear power stations in traditional coal territory would infuse millions of dollars by providing good paying jobs within communities that have become blighted over decades of job loss while dramatically increasing our state’s energy capacity.”