Daily Herald opinion: State’s bipartisan shift toward nuclear power leave open the serious …


It is interesting to see in 2023 that one of the rare issues attracting true bipartisanship in the Illinois legislature is nuclear power.

Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a measure sponsored by Republican Sue Rezin of Morris on a 39-13 vote that would lift a 30-year moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants in Illinois. A similar bill sponsored by Arlington Heights Democratic state Rep. Mark Walker, passed in committee on an 18-3 vote and awaits action by the full House.

The politics of nuclear power, once as partisan as any major issue dividing pro-environment Democrats and pro-business Republicans, have undergone a serious transformation since the “China Syndrome” alarms of the 1970s and ’80s. The tipping point? Climate change.

With wind and solar energy options still far from sufficient to replace our reliance on coal, nuclear power has emerged as an available, clean alternative to help make up the difference. It also provides opportunities to replace jobs lost as the state phases out fossil fuels on the way to a legislated goal of 100% carbon-free energy production by 2050.

Rezin, whose bill specifically promotes the use of small “micro” nuclear reactors that can even be installed in existing coal plants, noted in committee that other states have lifted similar bans, recognizing that “advanced nuclear reactors are a potential answer to the reliability and resiliency problem within their energy portfolio.”

In a Daily Herald guest column last year, Walker cited research toward such reactors being done in Illinois, declaring, “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.”

So, the state’s movement toward a familiar source, which already provides more than half the energy used in Illinois, is understandable and intriguing. But it also represents an unstated sense of resignation, a shoulder-shrugging acknowledgment that the state, the nation and the nuclear industry aren’t going to deal with a significant problem of nuclear power — what to do with the waste — any time soon.

That question, not any concern about safety or potential for disaster, is the subject of the state’s moratorium. Now, the urgency of climate change has pushed it to the background.

That is no insignificant matter. It is the one troubling factor looming over the potential for a renewal of nuclear power development, in Illinois or anywhere else.

It is gratifying to see leaders of both parties in state government focusing on the clean potential of nuclear power. But the waste issue is serious and cannot be ignored. It is just as important that our congressmen join the process, and begin nurturing the same kind of bipartisanship at the federal level for dealing with that problem as we’re seeing at the state level for dealing with climate change.

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April 22, 2023 at 05:36PM

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