Osmond said she first became interested in lifting the moratorium when she
worked with the decommissioning of the Zion nuclear power plant in her district
five or six years ago. She said she believes nuclear power is a clean source of
energy that can create jobs and business opportunities in Illinois. “It just
didn’t seem like Illinois should shut down the door for future development,”
Jacobs also said lifting the moratorium would keep business options open for
the state. Jacobs is the chairman of the general assembly’s energy committee.
“I certainly do think we should do everything in our power so that Illinois is
in the running to build nuclear power,” said Jacobs. “Nuclear power has long
proven to be a relatively safe form of power and I felt that Illinois should
put itself in a position of growth in that industry.”
However, Jacobs expressed concern over the economics of nuclear power,
especially with an announcement by Exelon that they may close three nuclear
power plants by the end of the year if a better financial plan isn’t found.
Exelon, which is based in Chicago, is the largest operator of nuclear power in
the country. Exelon currently runs all the Illinois plants in addition to
three plants in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.
In an email statement, Krista Lopykinski, director of nuclear communications at
Exelon, said the company currently has no plans to close any nuclear plants
before their licensed operating lives end, but that “the combined effect of low
wholesale power prices and the unintended consequences of current energy
policies is challenging the economics of several of Exelon’s Illinois nuclear
In Illinois, Exelon has mentioned they might shut down the Byron, Quad Cities
and Clinton plants—a total of five reactors.
Electricity, jobs and money
Nationwide, nuclear power provides 20 percent of the country’s electrical generation, and has since 1990. Renewables, such as wind and solar, provide about 12 percent of the country’s electrical generation.
In Illinois, nuclear provides about 48 percent of the state’s electricity. With six nuclear plants and 11 reactors, Illinois represents about one-eighth of the country’s nuclear power.
Highlighted states have restrictions on nuclear power. Zoom in to see where Illinois' nuclear plants are located.
“I don’t know how the nuclear industry is supposed to compete with power so cheap,” Jacobs said. “The price of natural gas has so crippled the nuclear industry that it’s difficult for them to make money right now.”
Jacobs said he does not foresee new nuclear construction in Illinois in the near future, but is interested in giving the state the option of building a diverse energy portfolio. He also said nuclear construction would create a large number of jobs in Illinois. “We have to be aware that Illinois is a leader in nuclear power. It behooves us… to show that we appreciate their business,” he said.
The flip side
the bills to lift the nuclear moratorium move through the state legislature,
environmental groups are making moves to slow and stop their progress.
“We’re not taking any chances,” said David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy
Information Service, a non-profit organization against nuclear power. Kraft
said he worries that debate over the bill in the legislature could lead to
compromises on legislation for renewable energy like wind or solar. “If it gets
down to the nitty-gritty, it might be one of those ultimatums,” Kraft said. “We
don’t want it to get that far.”
Instead of finding ways to make nuclear work economically, Greenpeace nuclear
policy analyst Jim Riccio said the country should be focusing on energy
efficiency, wind and solar power. “I’d much rather put a solar panel on a bunch
of people’s homes than put them at risk by putting a nuclear plant in their
backyard,” he said.
Although the Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore made waves by switching to a
pro-nuclear stance a few years ago, Riccio said Moore’s move does not reflect
Riccio also said he found the finances of nuclear energy to be a nearly
insurmountable obstacle, especially with natural gas prices being so low. “The
economics just don’t add up and they’re not going to add up in the future,” he
The largest expense from nuclear comes from capital costs, which include the
cost of construction and licensing fees. Nuclear advocates maintain that
capital costs balance out over time because nuclear plants have low operational
costs, uranium (nuclear fuel) is a readily available resource, and more
advanced plants are being designed to operate for up to 100 years.
However, time is relative for many anti-nuclear advocates. It takes about five
years to build a nuclear plant, not including the time necessary for planning
and licensing. “Why would you choose something that’s dangerous and won’t have
another impact for another decade?” Riccio said.
David Kraft works at the NEIS office in Chicago.
Photo from Exelon
Clinton Power Station.
Photo from Exelon
Byron Nuclear Generating Station
Photo from Exelon
Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station.