Pritzker defends nuclear bill veto, but leaves an opening

August 30, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News

Speaking at an event last week at the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker defended his recent veto of S.B. 76—the bipartisan bill that would have lifted the state’s decades-old moratorium on nuclear plant construction. At the same time, he extolled the promise of small modular reactors and said he would sign an amended version of the legislation.

“This is not that I wanted to veto the entire bill,” Pritzker told reporters on August 21. “I have the amendatory veto capability. The problem is the bill was written in such a way that you literally couldn’t cross out words to make it do what it should have done and what it was originally intended to do, which is to make small modular reactors available for use in the state of Illinois. . . . Small modular reactors are very beneficial. They are not ready for prime time yet, but they are being developed, and they do seem to work very well, and they do seem to be safe.”

Pritzker also suggested that the relative ease with which S.B. 76 passed the Illinois General Assembly (84–22 in the House, 36–14 in the Senate) may have been due in part to a less-than-thorough vetting by some lawmakers of an amendment adopted late in the bill-making process. That amendment, offered by Rep. Lance Yednock (D., Dist. 76), required any new power reactor built in Illinois to be an “advanced reactor” as defined in federal law.

“As you know, in the last couple of weeks, things go very quickly,” Pritzker noted. “And sometimes I think that it isn’t known to every legislator that an amendment actually made a major change, not just a minor change. And so, I believe that my veto will not be overridden, and I believe strongly that we should bring small modular reactors to Illinois.”

The governor’s office had earlier explained the veto in a press release, stating that the amended S.B. 76 contained “an overly broad definition of advanced reactors” that could lead to “the proliferation of large-scale nuclear reactors that are so costly to build that they will cause exorbitant ratepayer-funded bailouts.”

Another view: Pritzker’s interpretation of S.B. 76 is disputed by many, including the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Sue Rezin (R., Dist. 38). In an August 24 News-Gazette opinion piece that speculates on other possible motives behind the veto, Rezin called the bill a “perfect example” of bipartisan legislation, adding that everyone was “at the table,” including Pritzker. “We met with the governor,” Rezin said. “He indicated that he liked the technology. He requested an amendment to more narrowly define advanced nuclear technology, which we added in the House.” According to Rezin, the Yednock amendment “clearly does not allow for these big old reactors to be built.”

The senator has expressed her hope that House and Senate leadership will permit the bill to be called for an override vote during the upcoming fall veto session (held October 24–26 and November 7–9). However, as she told a local radio station recently, Speaker of the House Chris Welch (D., District 7) “has indicated he will not be calling the bill.”

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