Illinois relies on nuclear energy more than any other source. And it’s about to lose two of its plants.

Eleven nuclear reactors provide almost half the state’s electricity and 90 percent of its carbon-free energy. These plants provide a constant source of energy, even on the hottest and coldest of days, employ thousands of employees on a $40 million payroll and pay almost $300 million in taxes, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Due to $800 million in losses over the past seven years, Exelon Corp. has announced plans to close two.  

“Nuclear power is so vital,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson at a forum discussing nuclear energy in the state. “We can’t as a nation keep our energy grid secure and online while reducing our carbon footprint without nuclear.”

The forum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Oct. 18 was designed to focus public and legislative attention on the impact of the closings. Stephenson was joined by other speakers from labor, federal and state government, academia and industry groups.

The Clinton Power Station is scheduled to close June 1, 2017, with the Quad Cities Generating Station following a year later. Springfield, Ill., Local 51 represents employees at Clinton, and Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15 represents those at Quad Cities.   

Two state Senate bills have been introduced to keep the plants operating. One would provide clean air credits to nuclear plants, recognizing their clean energy contributions and making them more competitive in the energy market, said Local 51 Assistant Business Manager John Johnson.

The other bill addresses the regulatory process and how prices are determined. The current system puts nuclear plants in a deregulated market like the one in Illinois at a disadvantage, said Johnson, who has been lobbying the Senate and Assembly on the issues, along with members from Local 15 and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

The Senate is in recess until Nov. 15. If the legislation doesn’t pass by the session’s end, the window for saving the plants closes and nearly 300 members of Local 51 would likely lose their jobs, Johnson said.

In Rock Island County, home to the Quad Cities, Exelon is the single largest taxpayer, said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who spoke at the forum and whose district encompasses the area.

“We need nuclear,” Bustos said, noting that New York recently faced a similar situation and reached a legislative solution, something she is advocating in Illinois.

About 350 members of Local 15 would be affected if the Quad Cities plant closes, not to mention the thousands of workers who are employed during shutdowns and refueling, said Local 15 Assistant Business Manager Bill Phillips. Phillips attended the forum with Business Manager Dean Apple.

“There was a lot of support in the room for what nuclear offers,” he said, noting the number of legislators present. “I’m optimistic about the legislation. I think we can get it to the floor for a vote.” 

As a zero carbon-emitting energy source, nuclear is seen as a crucial component to an energy mix that meets the Clean Power Plan standards, an EPA rule that requires states to reduce power plant emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

“Sustaining the current fleet of nuclear power plants and building new nuclear capacity can play an important role in meeting this goal [the CPP] and is also critical if the U.S. is to maintain its global leadership as the world looks to nuclear power to meet its clean energy needs,” said John Kotek, acting secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

Kotek noted that the plants would close at the same time the CPP would go into effect. The Department of Energy has been studying the economic challenges facing the nation’s nuclear plants and is looking into solutions to properly value them, he said.

Operating at 96 percent capacity for the last 10 years – above the industry average – this baseload energy source provides reliable electricity that also helps offset price volatility, an NEI report found. 

“Illinois is the birthplace of nuclear power,” said Jim Stubbins, head of the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering. “The state has been an international leader in the development and uses of nuclear energy. We should value and preserve them [nuclear plants] all for their major current and long-term contributions.”