Gov. J.B. Pritzker has cracked open the door to new futures in nuclear energy by lifting Illinois' longstanding moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants—a move set to take effect on June 1, 2024. This strategic pivot inked into law on Friday, courts innovation via small modular reactors (SMRs), which promise cleaner energy but have sparked a voltaic divide among lawmakers and experts alike.
The move, a delicate political maneuver, seeks to simultaneously embrace modern nuclear technology while placing a strict size cap on new reactors. Endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats, the bill to allow SMRs carries a notable limit—a nameplate capacity that doesn't exceed 300 megawatts—and stipulates a study to inform regulations, aiming to firmly establish Illinois in the low-carbon future. However, as WTTW reports, the new law doesn't guarantee any rapid deployment of reactors, with the earliest possible projects materializing in the 2030s due to federal permit requirements.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker's decision marks the state's renewed interest in nuclear as a key player in the carbon-free energy game. This comes despite some environmentalists' concerns that this focus could detract from the development of renewable energy sources and invest in what they view as costly and unproven technology.
Detractors of the new law, like David Kraft from the Nuclear Energy Information Service, worry openly about the untested nature of SMRs in the United States. Kraft's critical voice resonates with those who are wary to not just swiftly pivot but to precisely look before leaping at novel nuclear technologies. Meanwhile, some industry players, such as Constellation Energy—currently operating 11 nuclear reactors in Illinois—expressed a lukewarm response, stating they "have no plans to build new nuclear plants in Illinois" as per the Tribune.
The bipartisan support that thrust the bill into law also showcased state Sen. Robert Martwick's hand in pension reform for Chicago police. The new legislation, which Pritzker signed alongside the nuclear bill, aims to put cops' pensions on par with firefighters', ironing out disparities and scrapping a 30% cap on lifetime increases. As local leaders applaud, the city's balance books brace for a multi-million dollar impact. This development suggests Illinois is charting a path both industrious and judicious—or so the hopes of the Pritzker administration.