Lawmakers Pass New Bill Lifting Nuclear Moratorium

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After months of behind-the-scenes discussion, state lawmakers have approved a proposal that would allow nuclear construction in the state for the first time since 1987.
The subject has been the source of much debate since May, when a different bill, Senate Bill 76, passed with bipartisan majorities before being vetoed by Gov. JB Pritzker. The governor cited concerns over the bill’s lack of “regulatory protections for the health and safety of Illinois residents.”
The new bill, House Bill 2473, achieves a similar end – allowing new nuclear construction in Illinois – with much stricter regulations on the type of nuclear reactors that could be built and more state-level oversight. Under the proposal, only nuclear reactors with a capacity of under 300 megawatts – around one-third the size of Illinois’ current smallest reactor – would be permitted.
The Senate passed the bill November 8 by a 44-7 margin, and the House passed it 98-8 with no changes on November 9, the last day of the fall veto session. One of the House sponsors, state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., said the Governor is expected to sign this bill.
“With passage of this bill, Illinois has utilized another option to provide reliable carbon-free energy as we progress in this transition of our energy sector,” said Walsh, D-Elwood.
State Rep. Harry Benton, D-Plainfield also was a sponsor in the House. Senate sponsors included state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris; state Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex; state Sen. Laura Ellman, D-Naperville; and state Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood.
“Ending the decade-long moratorium on the construction of small modular nuclear reactors improves our state’s energy portfolio – creating a sustainable energy future for decades to come. The repeal sends the signal that Illinois is open to innovation and investment …,” Ellman said.
“I thank Senator Rezin for working with the governor’s office, labor representatives and the Illinois Environmental Council to pass a measure that continues the state on a path toward being a leader in nuclear power.”
Rezin, the lead sponsor of the original legislation and sponsor of the new bill, said the new nuclear technologies can be used in industrial and agricultural settings to alleviate some of the pressures of transitioning away from fossil fuels.
House Bill 2473 lifts the ban on next generation nuclear reactors less than 300 MW beginning Jan. 1, 2026, according to Rezin’s legislative website. Additionally, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Office of Homeland Security will be directed to establish rules for reactor decommissioning, environmental monitoring, and emergency preparedness by January 1, 2026. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will also provide consultation.
House Bill 2473 also authorizes the Governor to commission a brand-new study to research the State’s role in guiding the development of new nuclear technology and makes conforming statutory changes, including updating references to IEMA-OHS in preexisting Illinois law.
“The federal regulatory permitting process already takes six to eight years, so if we want to take advantage of the amazing advancements in new nuclear technology that have occurred over the past decade and prevent our state from falling behind the rest of the nation, we need to end this moratorium now,” Rezin said.
“Nuclear provides clean, reliable, and secure energy that we can count on as we strive to reach our clean energy goals in Illinois. …”
Pritzker vetoed the original bill amid lobbying efforts from environmental advocates who oppose nuclear energy. Jack Darin, the head of Illinois’ chapter of the Sierra Club, co-signed a letter to Pritzker requesting the veto, outlining concerns over cost, waste management, concerns over nuclear locations and more.
Darin said he and the Sierra Club remain opposed to the new bill.
“At best, it’s a distraction,” Darin told Capitol News Illinois Wednesday. “At worst, it’s opening a can of worms.”
Despite lingering environmental opposition, the new bill drew support from many Senate Democrats and is sponsored by a Democrat in the House.
During debate on the bill Wednesday afternoon, Joyce said his father Jerome Joyce, who was also a state senator, sponsored the state’s original nuclear moratorium in 1987.
“As technology changes, we need to make sure that we change with it,” Joyce said. “This is a good step.”
Capitol News Illinois and Farmers Weekly Editor Nick Reiher contributed to this story.

 

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