Illinois Lifts Decades-Long Nuclear Power Moratorium

Illinois is set to begin a new chapter in its energy history with the lifting of its four-decade moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. The reopening of the development of nuclear facilities is expected to focus on small modular reactors (SMRs) rather than traditional large-scale nuclear facilities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed the bill lifting the moratorium into law last week after a lengthy legislative battle. Ultimately, the assurances that new plants will be based on SMR designs proved to be the deciding factor in balancing efficient energy production with environmental and safety concerns.

Nuclear facilities in the U.S. have been known internationally for their overall exceptional safety record over the last 80 years. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), American nuclear plants are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities of any type operating in the country. The NEI emphasizes that nuclear energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and has a proven power plant safety record, making it a critical component for America’s energy independence and lowered dependency on carbon-intensive power.

Comprehensive safety procedures and strict federal regulations require U.S. nuclear facilities to maintain the highest operational safety, security and emergency preparedness standards.

The World Nuclear Association highlights that modern SMR designs exceed the exceptionally tough safety requirements set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The modern designs have a “theoretical core damage frequency” far lower than traditional large-scale reactor models. The risk of radioactive accidents is substantially lowered as a result of the engineering designs used to develop SMRs.

Although the complete ban on new nuclear development in Illinois has been lifted, the path to actually opening any new nuclear projects in the state still faces significant hurdles. Regulatory, economic and environmental challenges at the federal and local levels will surely cause substantial delay and expense before any new SMRs come online.

Nuclear power’s capacity to provide clean, reliable and affordable power makes it a compelling alternative to carbon-intensive electricity generation.