Saving Nuclear Energy in Illinois

Dresden 5x7 315x225

Dresden Nuclear Generating Station (Photo courtesy Exelon Nuclear)

By Will Davis

August 2012 was hot in Chicago. It was one of those times, while the American Nuclear Society was assembled there for its annual meeting, when the air was so hot and laden with humidity that it palpably hit you when you walked outdoors. All air conditioners, everywhere, were running at their maximum just to keep the buildings in the city habitable.

As a bus load of us toured the Dresden nuclear station on one of those intolerably hot days, it occurred to me that the two nuclear units running there at full power were what was in large part driving all of those air conditioners back in the city where my hotel was, but also all over parts of Illinois.

Now, however, there is a threat that some of Illinois’ nuclear plants might be closed due to the skewing of economics and the fact that the plants aren’t recognized or compensated for what they really provide. Preparing to stand in the breach and halt this closure is a new effort, which takes off Monday, April 4, with a presentation open to the public and organized by a new group called Environmental Progress Illinois (EPI). The event will take place at the Medill School, 303 East Wacker, room 1600 in downtown Chicago, and is scheduled to run from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

Clinton Power Station - presently under threat of closure.  Photo courtesy Exelon Nuclear.

Clinton Power Station: Presently under threat of closure. (Photo courtesy Exelon Nuclear)

ANS Nuclear Cafe had the opportunity to connect with Alan Medsker, who helped organize Envionmental Progress Illinois. The new group is getting prominent, environmentally minded people who are for nuclear energy to step out in favor of doing what’s required to keep Illinois’ nuclear plants open.

Medsker told the Cafe that “Our case is pretty simple. We currently enjoy one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the nation, by virtue of the fact that we have so many nuclear plants here. Shutting even one of those down changes that situation dramatically, and we lose ground on both our climate and our pollution goals.” Medsker related that the April 4 EPI event is really “only…the beginning of what we expect and hope to become a significant movement here in Illinois to preserve the nuclear energy we benefit from and ultimately even possibly expand it.” He said there will be further “events and meetings” after this kickoff event that interested persons can attend.

The EPI event will feature three noted speakers: James Hansen, well known as a climate scientist; Michael Shellenberger, co-founder and Senior Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute and now Founder and President of Environmental Progress; and Rachel Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fund. All three are in favor of the use of nuclear power in light of climate considerations.

Rachel Pritzker c Environmental Progress Illinois

Rachel Pritzker (Photo courtesy Environmental Progress Illinois)

Pritzker was asked by the Cafe why she was involved in this project and what she’d like for it to accomplish. Some of her thoughtful response is reproduced below.

“I feel a personal connection to Illinois since my family arrived there in the 1880s and has been deeply connected and committed to improving the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois ever since. Illinois has been good to us and we’ve done our best to return the favor. I would feel a tremendous sense of pride if Illinois were to find a way to price clean, reliable energy in such a way that it could help improve the state economy and provide an affordable model to the rest of the country and world for how to decarbonize.

As someone who (now) lives in California, I’ve seen what putting all of our eggs in the intermittent energy basket has accomplished, and it’s not terribly impressive in terms of emissions reductions. And our baseload forms of zero carbon energy (in California) are going down; hydro power is being reduced due to drought and nuclear is going down due both to unfounded fears and a political failure to provide any financial support to help it compete with cheap natural gas.”

Pritzker told the Cafe that no one seems to have actually accomplished “leveling the playing field for zero carbon energy sources,” adding that she’d love to see Illinois lead the way in this effort. In a remarkably balanced approach, she also pointed out that such moves can be done in a politically bipartisan way to achieve the following: lower energy prices that support industry and manufacturing; support a variety of energy sources that are popular on both sides of the political spectrum and that are valued appropriately; and adequately address the climate change issue through this “new path forward.”

“This is not only an environmental issue,” Pritzker said. “Finding ways to power the world with affordable, reliable power is a human rights issue. People all over the world need to power their lives; whether it’s to climb out of poverty or to continue a high-quality modern life, reliable power is the only way to support the hospitals, schools, and businesses we all deserve access to.”

ANS has spearheaded similar efforts promoting Nuclear Policy in the States. For more information these endeavors and to download your copy of the Nuclear in the States toolkit, visit www.nuclearconnect.org.


Will DavisWill Davis is Communications Director and board member for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and will serve on the Book Publishing Committee beginning in June. He is a former US Navy reactor operator.

6 thoughts on “Saving Nuclear Energy in Illinois

  1. Kirk Gothier

    Best of luck to this nascent effort!

    Our “ultimate energy source” is nuclear power from the sun, and the huge exponent in Einstein’s elegant equation provides all the guidance humans need to deliver clean air and water, sustainable communities and prosperity, for billions, forever…

    Fortunately, the EPA Clean Power Plan clearly supports nuclear power “to protect the planet for future generations” as part of an “all of the above” energy strategy: http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-opportunities-nuclear-power.

    Unfortunately, industrial and special interest groups continue to oppose this strategy, while billions live in poverty and tens of millions die each year from energy poverty and air pollution: http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/eia-forecast-fossil-fuels-remain-dominant-through-2040/ http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/ http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/3-MP-PovertyFacts-E.pdf.

    We either start making decisions based on scientific consensus, or continue to rely on some other metric, which will insure smarter species evolve to replace humans: http://www.pewinternet.org/interactives/public-scientists-opinion-gap/, http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/15-IEPR-01/TN206418_20151023T095707_Kirk_Gothier_Comments_2015_IEPR_Update_Outline.pdf.

  2. michael monostori

    Sorry I could not attend the April 4th event.
    My first visit to Dresden was in 1960 while in grade school.
    Michael Monostori

  3. G SCHWEI, Port Engineer, NS Savannah

    Saving nuclear power everywhere, including the NS Savannah

  4. Jim Hopf

    Pritzker’s statements about California are spot on (an understatement, actually). The state has already gotten the San Onofre plant closed (through political pressure, not because of economics), and they are now going after Diablo Canyon. In the meantime, the state (taxpayers, ratepayers, etc..) have spent enormous sums on subsidized/mandates wind and solar power generators. The net result will be an enormous amount of money spent and no progress at all on reducing power-sector emissions.

    The Diablo and San Onofre plants, together, generate(d) ~50% more electricity than all of the wind and solar built to date in CA. Thus, the emissions reductions of all those (expensive) renewables will be *more* than neutralized by the nuclear plant closures. Fossil power generation has actually gone up, and will even more if Diablo is closed. Even if a large amount of additional renewable generation is eventually erected, CA will merely be back where they were before the nuclear plant closures (and before any significant solar and wind generation existed) in terms of emissions.

    It’s very similar to Germany. What a tragic situation, and pointless waste of money and effort.

    I’ve been trying to explain the facts above in letters to the editors of CA papers, so far to no avail. It’s a message/truth that they don’t want to hear; one that doesn’t fir into the political narrative.

    Policies that treat nuclear and renewable sources far differently are clearly indefensible, and counter-productive to any emissions reduction effort. Makes me wonder how a significant fraction of policy-makers could support such policies (I know Rod has ideas…). Under any sort of fair, even-handed policy, you would not see any nuclear plant closures at all.