Illinois State Senator proposes lifting nuclear reactor moratorium

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CHICAGO – Illinois State Senator Sue Rezin’s bill to lift the state’s moratorium on building new nuclear reactors has stirred a debate on whether opening new nuclear plants in an era of closures is really the best idea for Illinois.

Sen. Rezin introduced Senate Bill 76, which aims to remove the language that prohibits the commencement of construction on new nuclear power plants in the state. The state currently has six nuclear stations that have been operating safely for nearly four decades.

The bill would allow public utility and energy companies to choose whether they want to invest in the construction of traditional, large nuclear reactors or new, small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be placed in existing infrastructure. Sen. Rezin believes that building new nuclear power plants will help increase the state’s energy capacity while providing carbon-free, reliable, and resilient nuclear power. 

Additionally, new power plants could also provide a boost to local economies in coal communities that have been struggling due to the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants.

However, opponents of nuclear energy point to events like the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 as reasons to continue to close, not open new plants. 

Three Mile Island marked the most serious nuclear accident in U.S. history and took place at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The brand-new facility was lauded for its state-of-the-art design, efficiency, and affordability during an era of energy crises.

TMI 2 reactor failed shortly after going online in 1979.  Unit 1 at the facility remained in operation for another four decades before being shuttered in 2019.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), there are currently 92 nuclear reactors powered across the United States. At the height of nuclear energy, in 2012, there were 104 reactors in operation. Since then, 12 have gone offline. 

Another seven U.S. reactor retirements have been announced through 2025, with total generating capacity of 7,109 MW (equal to roughly 7% of U.S. nuclear capacity).

The debate over whether Illinois should open new nuclear plants in an era of closures is set to continue as Senate Bill 76 advances to a vote by the full Senate chamber. If passed, the legislation would mark a significant shift in Illinois’ energy policy, providing a path for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state after years of being prohibited from doing so.

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