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Illinois Set to Repeal Nuclear Ban

A reversal worth acknowledging, with 11 other states holding similar policies

Illinois is poised to repeal a ban on new nuclear power plant construction that has been on the books since 1987. 

In the Public Utilities Act 85-377, there is a provision banning the construction of new nuclear power plants without statutory consent of the General Assembly. It states that, “no construction shall commence on any new nuclear power plant to be located within this State, and no certificate of public convenience and necessity or other authorization” can be issued unless the state EPA director asserts that a means of disposal for high level waste has been identified and approved of with the only exception being if the plant’s construction has been specifically approved by a General Assembly Statute. 

A current bill, S.B 0076, would delete this language from the Public Utilities Act, and remove this artificial barrier to new nuclear power plant construction in the state. The bill as written would have lifted the blanket ban on nuclear plants in the state, and would therefore have allowed construction of all NRC licensed designs. 

Governor J.B. Pritzker expressed fear around opening it up to all reactor designs, and in talking of small modular reactor designs said, “These are smaller, less prone to an accident, more likely for us to be able to maintain them for a long period of time, that’s something that’s worthy of consideration,” Pritzker said. “Now the devil’s in the details and we want to make sure that we’re not just opening this up to nuclear everywhere or any type of nuclear.” 

Later,  House Floor Amendment No. 2 was added to the bill, changing the language to allow only advanced nuclear reactors as defined by U.S. Code section 16271 which defines an advanced reactor as having significant improvements as compared to reactors operating on December 27th, 2020, and would therefore cover nearly all reactors likely to be built in the U.S. at this point including the AP1000, and new small modular reactor designs.

The bill and amendment have both been approved by the state House and Senate and are headed to the Governor’s desk. 

One of the biggest points of contention regarding nuclear power in the U.S. has been the issue of spent fuel disposal. Although current storage methods are safe, there have long been talks of a permanent repository for spent fuel and other high level waste. For years, Yucca Mountain was the planned location for such a repository, but that project has fallen by the wayside after years of political battles on the issue spearheaded by former Nevada Senator Harry Reid. 

The U.S. has also been historically unwilling to pursue spent fuel recycling similar to that in France that can allow up to 96% of the reusable material in spent fuel to be recycled. 

There are a variety of answers to the nuclear waste problem, but an unwillingness to utilize nuclear power in the meantime does not serve to further these goals. 

Including Illinois, twelve states currently have some kind of ban on new nuclear plants in the state. Some of these are pending some sort of waste requirement while others have no such provisions. Illinois’ move to amend its ban to allow for new nuclear reactors is a good one, and hopefully more states reassess these policies going forward. 

This is an important step because even if no one builds an advanced nuclear plant in Illinois any time soon, the ideal energy framework should allow for all viable sources to be built. A ban on nuclear construction precludes it as an option, and therefore artificially constrains the energy market of any state that employs such a ban. States benefit from policy structures that allow for innovation and creative problem solving, and categorically excluding a type of energy generation, especially a reliable base load source, creates unnecessary limitations. 

Paige Lambermont is a Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the Center for Energy and Environment. She covers the electrical grid, energy regulation, nuclear power issues, and other free-market energy topics. Paige has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from American University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Idaho. She is also a Columnist Fellow at Catalyst.
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