The Future of Nuclear Energy in Illinois

Patrick Perrier
March 3, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Aerial View of Clinton Nuclear Generating Station. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the world continues to place growing emphasis on the transition towards renewable sources of energy, nuclear energy has played a crucial role. In some states, such as Illinois, the dependency on nuclear energy is significant from both an economic and environmental perspective. Leading into December 2016, the futures of two of Illinois six major power plants were in jeopardy. [1] Despite this uncertainty, the Illinois State Legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill on December 1st, 2017. [1] This new law saved Exelons Clinton (shown in Figure 1) and Quad Cities nuclear power plants from closing. [1] This would have significant ramifications on Illinois energy portfolio and carbon footprint. At the time of the legislations passing, half of Illinois energy came from nuclear power. [1,2] This is significant because nuclear energy does not provide a significant negative impact on Illinois carbon footprint. [1]

Economic and Environmental Advantages

FFrom an economic and renewable energy perspective, the generation of nuclear energy can be seen as very beneficial for the state of Illinois. According to the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI), nuclear energy has provided some environmental benefits to the state of Illinois. [3] According to an ILEPI report, Illinois had 48.43 percent of its net electricity generation come from nuclear energy. [3] If Illinois were to completely remove nuclear power from its electric portfolio; carbon emissions would be substantially higher. Utilizing 2014 numbers, the new portfolio would be expected to include 84 percent coal, 10 percent renewables, and 5 percent natural gas. [3] Coal has a substantially larger footprint than nuclear power; therefore, Illinois net emissions would skyrocket. [3] Further complicating the issue, under standards set by the federal Clean Power Plan, Illinois would have to develop a plan to reduce emissions at 17 coal plants and 6 natural gas plants in order to meet state targets. [3] Meanwhile, nuclear power can be considered beneficial to the Illinois economy. Thousands of workers are employed at Illinois nuclear facilities. [3] A transition from nuclear power to more wind and solar plants will lead to a short-term influx of new jobs. [3] However, once the construction of new wind and solar energy facilities is completed, this increase in jobs will disappear. [3] It takes more jobs to operate a nuclear facility than a wind or solar facility; therefore, Illinois would see a net reduction of jobs if nuclear energy were substituted for an alternative clean energy. [3] This is assuming that non-renewable energy cannot be swapped in place of nuclear power. Given this information, it appears that the future of energy in Illinois should still include nuclear power as a significant source.

Disposal Debate

Although the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy prophesizes future benefits in the state of Illinois, the political battle over the disposal of nuclear waste can affect that future. Under a political measure, Illinois nuclear waste generated over the last thirty years should have been permanently buried under Yucca Mountain out in the Mojave Desert. [4] However, political debate has led to the halting of the Yucca Mountain project. The halting of the project has led to tens of thousands of nuclear waste being stored at temporary sites near the actual plants. [4] This has been a major concern in Illinois because many of these sites are closer to population centers. [4] This is a significant hazard. A typically used nuclear reactor fuel rod after ten years emits radiation at has a surface dose rate of 100 Gy per hour, assuming gamma radiation and a very short distance to the waste. [4] This is significantly greater than the short-term fatal whole-body dose of 5 Gy for humans. [4] As a result, the temporary storage facilities are an insufficient long-term solution for nuclear waste disposal. However, there is controversy surrounding storing nuclear waste in a remote location, such as Yucca Mountain. [4] People debate whether it is fair or not to have one location get the benefits of nuclear energy, but another has to deal with the negative waste, even if the disposal site is fairly remote from civilization. [4] This debate can create issues regarding the feasibility of nuclear energy in Illinois. The benefits are significant, but there are still issues that need to be resolved for nuclear to be the safe renewable energy of the future.

© Patrick Perrier. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Conca, "Illinois Sees the Light Retains Nuclear Power," Forbes, 4 Dec 17.

[2] B. Austin, "Nuclear Power Industry in Illinois," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[3] M. Craighead, "Nuclear Energy in Illinois: The Foundation of a Clean Energy Future," Illinois Economic Policy Institute, 14 Nov 16.

[4] K. McDermott, "Illinois Issues: The Prairie State's Nuclear Waste Conundrum," National Public Radio, 20 Jul 17.