Guest columnist state Sen. Mark Walker: Nuclear energy ban holds back our climate, economic success

  • Sen. Mark Walker

    Sen. Mark Walker

 
By Sen. Mark Walker
Guest columnist
Posted5/3/2022 1:00 AM

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Climate & Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), a nation-leading initiative dedicating Illinois to a 100% carbon-free energy grid by 2050. I was proud to co-sponsor CEJA as it's a critical step in our fight against global climate change. But passing the bill was only the first step. Now, we must meet our goals. To do so, we must have a strong, attainable foundation for success. That's where nuclear energy comes in.

Let's start with what we know: nuclear energy is among the safest, most efficient and most reliable forms of energy we have. And, it's 100% carbon free. On any given day, nuclear power generates over 50% of Illinois' electricity supply and has been a critical part of our grid for over 60 years -- all with a perfect safety record.

 

Under CEJA, we will begin taking steps to decommission our fossil fuel plants. However, we don't currently have the renewable energy technology needed to ensure the lights stay on when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Meanwhile, climate science experts tell us we have roughly 50 years to reduce carbon emissions before there's no turning back. While I'm hopeful for advances in renewable energy, I'm not willing to gamble our children's and grandchildren's futures on the bet that those inventions may come to fruition.

Facing these realities, nuclear energy needs to be part of the conversation. However, since 1987, Illinois has had a moratorium on building new nuclear reactors for our energy grid. This ban went into effect in a different time when we had different goals for our energy sector and a different understanding of the role nuclear can play. But it's not the 1980s anymore. Achieving a clean energy future means taking a realistic look at our options.

If we're to meet our CEJA goals, we must take an "all of the above" approach to decarbonizing our energy grid. As a strong supporter of CEJA, I believe renewable energy absolutely must be in the mix. But nuclear energy must be our foundation. Arbitrarily taking nuclear energy off of the table, as we have with the moratorium, decreases our likelihood for success. When it comes to fighting climate change, failure is not an option.

To that end, I've introduced House Bill 5589 to remove Illinois' moratorium on new nuclear power. There are many factors to consider when discussing nuclear power, from safety to economic feasibility. But as we stand today, we can't even have those conversations with a ban on the books.

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While expanding reliable, clean energy is one of our main priorities for nuclear energy, Illinois can also benefit from other forms of nuclear power should we lift the ban. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a world-class nuclear engineering department that trains some of the best nuclear scientists around. In addition to private startups, UIUC and others in Illinois are developing advanced nuclear reactors that could retrofit shuttered fossil fuel plants and could be placed at industrial sites like factories or data centers, powering the next

generation of our economy. Combine that with our highly-trained workforce and many good-paying jobs in this sector and Illinois is ready to be a leader in clean, safe and reliable energy -- if we can only get out of our own way.

Thanks to CEJA, Illinois is a leader in our nation's fight against climate change. By removing the nuclear ban, we can also build on a unique legacy. Nuclear power was invented here in Illinois and our state has remained a leader in nuclear power and advancements ever since. Opportunity is knocking at our door. It's clear that nuclear energy needs to be back on the table. For the sake of our state, it's time we repealed the moratorium

• State Sen. Mark Walker is a Democrat from Arlington Heights.

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