Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Small reactor bill sets terms for negotiating state’s nuclear future

Hurry up and wait.

That, more than anything, is the takeaway from last week’s passage of House Bill 2473, which could pave the way for construction of more nuclear reactors in Illinois.

There are many things the bill doesn’t do, including allocate state money for any such projects, lift the 1987 ban on full-scale reactors or undercut ongoing wind and solar investments. HB 2473 might make such developments more likely, but only in the sense that renewing my passport gets me closer to visiting the Isle of Man.

If you see headlines, such as one from WBEZ-FM that read “Illinois could see more nuclear reactors by 2026,” please apply a healthy dose of patience. As Capitol News Illinois explains, what the law calls for is that the state Emergency Management Agency, by January 2026, adopts rules for regulating small modular nuclear reactors.

Officials will spend the next 13 months studying that issue and presenting rules for formal adoption. SMRs, as they are called, have a capacity limit of 300 megawatts, which is only one-third the size of the smallest of Illinois’ six full capacity generating stations. But nuclear plants of any size are subject to federal regulations, and absent changes at that level we should still expect any permitting process to last between six and eight years.

In other words, my fourth-grader should have a high school diploma before any Illinois SMR goes online. And that’d be a best-case scenario for an industry that makes private space travel resemble a bull market. There are only 11 states with any sort of formal ban on nuclear construction, but only one company’s SMR design has earned federal approval, and that company canned a project in Utah last week because it can’t attract enough investors.

So why bother? The same reason I need to renew my passport. It’s a necessary step if I ever want to see the ancestral homeland, the kind of detail that must be sorted before shopping airfare and boarding the dogs. Lawmakers agreed, with only seven no votes in the Senate and 15 in the House, all from Democrats.

The effort’s leaders are state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa. They’re practically neighbors in a significant portion of Exelon’s Illinois footprint and have long fought to bridge partisan and union lines to advance legislation (some of which increased ratepayer expenses) to bolster the industry. Whether borne of intent to sunset conventional generation or the basic truth of ComEd nuke plants as economic engines, the end result is the same.

The future holds significantly more talk than action, but that’s why paying attention now is important. Advocates and opponents now know the terms, let the real negotiations begin.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at