Guest opinion: Beware a Trojan Horse for nuclear bailouts
With the nuclear reactor crisis emerging in Ukraine as a backdrop, a bill -- HB 5589 -- has been introduced in the Illinois legislature that would remove a decades-old moratorium on constructing new nuclear reactors in Illinois.
This moratorium was enacted in the late-1980s to protect Illinois from becoming a de facto high-level radioactive waste dump. It simply says no more reactors will be built here until the federal government honors its legal obligation to build and operate a permanent disposal facility for the dangerous spent-fuel radioactive waste. This facility was supposed to open by 1997 but didn't. Current government estimates claim we won't have one before 2048. As a result, Illinois' 14 reactors (11 still operating) have created more than 11,000 tons of spent-reactor fuel with no place to go. It's presently stored at reactor sites.
Imagine Chicago authorizing the construction of the Sears Tower without bathrooms and you get a sense of the absurd license to pollute that the nuclear industry has been granted. Legislators wanted to make sure that Illinois would have to manage as little of this waste as possible, prior to permanent disposal.
While this explains the origin of this common-sense moratorium, current events demonstrate what a Trojan Horse for potential nuclear disaster on numerous fronts HB5589 represents.
First, what's the rush? No utility in its right mind wants to construct new reactors in the U.S. The only two under construction are $17 billion over budget, and five years behind schedule, showing how inept, sluggish and inefficient building reactors is.
Since 2916 ratepayers have bailed out Exelon (now Constellation) reactors to the tune of $3.04 billion because they've been "economically distressed" (i.e., money losers). Would new reactors be any less distressed? Guess who would be forced to bail them out. Adding more reactors to a money-losing market only worsens the situation.
Adding more reactors would mean adding more high-level radioactive waste with no disposal facility -- the very thing the moratorium was created to prevent. The First Rule of Holes applies here.
Adding more reactor market-share to an already uncompetitive, glutted energy market would crowd out market share for the renewables that the governor and legislature want built, indefinitely delaying the 100% clean-energy by 2050 goal in CEJA.
Lastly, any new reactors would be built and managed by a nuclear industry demonstrating a hefty track record for political corruption, extending beyond ComEd's $200 million guilty plea and Michael Madigan's indictment. Ohio and South Carolina nuclear projects have also resulted in FBI investigations, indictments and guilty pleas worth billions of dollars. Is this the business partner Illinois wants to create its Clean Energy Future?
HB5589 is clearly a Trojan Horse for something not being stated, attempting to solve a nonexistent problem. Worse, it would potentially put Illinois ratepayers in line for endless rate hikes once again and kill a renewable energy future.
• David Kraft, of Chicago, is a co-founder and executive director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service.