Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker has signed legislation allowing the first nuclear development in the state, in the form of small modular reactors (SMRs), since the state enacted a moratorium in 1987 preventing new nuclear facilities from being built in Illinois until a permanent waste storage option was available.

Gov. Pritzker signed House Bill 2473 on Friday, enacting several changes related to nuclear power in the state. Besides allowing the development of small modular reactors, the bill:

Legislation to lift the moratorium passed with bipartisan support in May. But Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed the bill in August, saying the vague definitions in Senate Bill 76 would “open the door to proliferation of large-scale nuclear reactors that are so costly to build that they will cause exorbitant ratepayer-funded bailouts.”

Gov. Pritzker has expressed support for SMRs in the past. In his comments following the veto, he said SMRs have “real potential” but that the bill provided no regulatory protections for the health and safety of Illinois residents who would live and work around them.

In November, Sen. Sue Rezin, a Republican from Morris, Illinois who sponsored SB 76, proposed fresh legislation.

To answer the governor’s concerns, the latest plan instructed the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to develop guidelines on decommissioning reactors, environmental monitoring, and emergency preparedness by Jan. 1, 2026. It also reduced the allowable maximum size of each small modular reactor to 300 MW, down from 345.

The Illinois Senate approved the plan in November, followed by the House.

Environmentalists have criticized the plan, noting that small modular reactors are a decade or more from viability. Sponsoring Sen. Sue Rezin, a Republican from Morris, said that’s the reason, coupled with a federal permitting process of as much as eight years, her legislation is timely.

“If we want to take advantage of the amazing advancements in new nuclear technology that have occurred over the past couple of decades and not fall behind the rest of the states, we need to act now,” Rezin said in November.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, 19 states considered legislation and 12 states enacted policies to support existing and new nuclear generation in 2022. West Virginia and Connecticut repealed their nuclear moratoriums last year.

But Illinois is notable because it generates more electricity from nuclear energy than any other state, accounting for one-eighth of the nation’s total nuclear power generation. In 2022, the state’s 6 nuclear power plants, with 11 total reactors, produced 52% of the state’s electricity net generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Illinois aims to produce strictly carbon-free power by 2045.

This article contains reporting from the Associated Press.

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