Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs measure allowing new small-scale nuclear technology in Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed House Bill 2473 into law, allowing for the limited development of new nuclear power generation Technology in Illinois. The measure does not permit new large-scale power generation facilities like the existing six plants in the state, but rather allows for new smaller-scale emergent Technology. This marks a significant change, as the state has had a moratorium on new nuclear power construction since 1987. The law will go into effect on June 1, 2024, but the earliest a nuclear project could be brought online in Illinois would be in the 2030s due to the lengthy federal permitting process.

HB 2473 creates a regulatory structure for the construction of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) with a nameplate capacity limit of 300 megawatts. Supporters argue that this step is necessary as Illinois aims to reduce its reliance on carbon-emitting power sources over the next two decades. However, opponents of the bill suggest that it could distract from efforts to deploy 100% renewable energy production and endorse unproven Technology.

The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, and its sponsors believe it has the potential to enhance Illinois’ electric grid reliability as the state’s energy mix becomes more reliant on intermittent technologies like wind and solar. However, some critics, such as David Kraft, head of the advocacy group Nuclear Energy Information Service, remain concerned about the unproven nature of SMR Technology.

It is important to note that since 1987, the state has had a moratorium on any new nuclear power construction until the federal government designates a long-term disposal site for nuclear waste, which has yet to occur. While 11 states currently have some level of nuclear construction bans on the books, five states have either repealed or weakened their bans in recent years, paving the way for SMR Technology.

It is worth mentioning that the largest U.S. player in the SMR industry, NuScale Power, recently faced setbacks when it cancelled its “Carbon Free Power Project” in Utah. This project would have been the first commercial project with a NuScale reactor. Despite this, the company remains committed to its other projects at various stages of regulation and planning.

Pritzker signed the bill along with several others that were sent to his desk following November’s fall veto session, showing a continued commitment to making impactful energy-related decisions. This move aligns with Illinois’ broader goal of transitioning to more sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of energy production.

In conclusion, the signing of House Bill 2473 in Illinois represents a significant shift in energy policy and marks a potential turning point in the state’s energy landscape. The new law paves the way for the development of small modular nuclear reactors, which supporters believe will contribute to Illinois’ mission to reduce carbon emissions and transition to more sustainable energy sources. However, uncertainties regarding the unproven nature of SMR Technology and the challenges associated with the federal permitting process remain. As the state continues its transition to cleaner energy, it will be interesting to see how the implementation of this law shapes the future of Illinois’ energy sector.

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