Nuclear moratorium bill amended

New language could mean revival of dead nuclear plants

click to enlarge Nuclear moratorium bill amended
When it was enacted, the nuclear power moratorium would be in effect until a solution is found for long-term storage of nuclear waste. Now lawmakers are considering repealing the moratorium, without a long-term waste solution.

On May 9 the Public Utilities Committee approved an amendment to a bill which would lift the moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. That amendment to SB 79 would exempt "relicensure" of nuclear power plants from the requirement that they use "advanced nuclear reactor" technology, which would be required for new construction. The proposal, submitted by Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, passed the committee unanimously. The bill currently has a May 19 deadline for passage.

David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based organization opposed to the proliferation of nuclear power, called the new amendment a "bait and switch" tactic because all discussion of the bill until the May 9 hearing was about Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, while no mention was made during hearings of applying more liberal rules to existing nuclear plants. Kraft's organization is joined in its opposition to the measure by the Illinois Sierra Club, Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Under current law, no nuclear power plants may be constructed in Illinois unless there is a method for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste approved by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Illinois legislature. SB 76 would eliminate that restriction. The measure has widespread bipartisan support.

SB 76 and its companion bill HB 1079 were introduced in January at the beginning of the legislative session and in the next four hearings proponents of the bill presented evidence that focused on a new technology currently in development called Small Modular Nuclear Reactors. Their claim is that SMNRs are safer, cleaner, more portable and less expensive than traditional nuclear power plants. However, the technology will not be ready in the United States at least until 2029 and it could be years after that before production reaches a scale large enough to have an impact on energy production. Critics of SMNRs argue that not only is the technology immature but SMNRs are actually dirtier, more expensive and more susceptible to terrorist attack and other proliferation risks.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency may grant a license renewal to an existing license. "Relicensure" is potentially different. If that term is interpreted to apply to an already-shuttered plant, then the plant could be restarted without the need to use advanced nuclear reactor technology.

In fact, the issue of relicensure has already arisen in Michigan.

The Palisades nuclear power plant outside of Kalamazoo was recently decommissioned. However, the owner of the plant is hoping to receive federal money to help pay for restarting it. The Associated Press reports that it would be the first time an American nuclear power plant has resumed operations after being decommissioned. According to the Detroit News, the owner of the plant expects an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars before Palisades is fully operational.

Three nuclear power reactors have been decommissioned in Illinois.

Don Howard is an intern at Illinois Times while completing his master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting at University of Illinois Springfield. He can be reached at [email protected] or 336-455-6966.

About The Author

Don Howard

Don Howard is an intern with University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting master's degree program. He is a former lawyer and Spanish speaker who has lived in both Mexico and Spain, and most recently relocated to Illinois from Georgia.

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