SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – A bill to end the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction passed a committee in the House Tuesday. The proposal, which received 18 votes in favor and three against, now heads to the House floor for a vote.
“It got in our way of developing new nuclear power, and it got in our way of meeting the energy needs of the state, and it especially is problematic because I want to meet the clear air standards that we set forward in the legislation we passed in the past two years,” Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights), the bill’s sponsor, said.
As the state moves towards a clean energy future focused on eliminating carbon emissions, Walker believes nuclear energy can play a role in that.
“We have to save the planet from the ravages of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Walker said. “I think we all have finally come to realize that’s a fact.”
In 2021, Governor Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act to put the state on a path towards completely clean energy by 2050.
“We might not be able to reach our goals for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with wind and solar alone, especially if the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing,” Walker said.
The moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants in Illinois has been in place since 1987, and opponents say repealing it would do more harm than good.
“Two former chairpersons of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that these small reactors will not play a role in meeting the climate crisis, they are not set up to do that,” David Kraft, the director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), said. “They’re too small, they’re too expensive. They won’t even be available in numbers that would have any meaningful effect until the mid 2030s.”
For the moratorium to have ended, the federal government needed to build its own permanent disposal facility for the nuclear waste those plants produce, but that didn’t happen.
“It would be like, if Chicago built the John Hancock building and all subsequent high rises without bathrooms,” Kraft said.
If the proposal passes, Kraft said he’s concerned where the waste would go.
“Illinois has not only the most nuclear plants, we’ve had 14 reactors over the years, 11 are operating now, but it’s generated about 11,000 tons of high level radioactive waste, with no place to be disposed,” Kraft said.
Illinois is the only state in the country with its own high level radioactive waste storage site, and Walker said new technologies have been created to store the waste more safely.