On April 4, 2016, a group of scientists, conservationists and philanthropists from Illinois and around the world urged Illinois' leaders and utilities to do all in their power to save Illinois' nuclear plants so they can provide clean energy for decades to come.

Signers include climate scientists James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira, Tom Wigley, Raymond Pierrehumbert, and Frank Abbot; Whole Earth Catalog Founder, Stewart Brand; Nobel Prize winner Burton Richter; President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Center, Peter Raven; Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Richard Rhodes; former President of the Nature Conservancy; and many others.


April 4, 2016


The Honorable Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois

The Honorable Michael Madigan, Speaker, Illinois House of Representatives

The Honorable John Cullerton, President, Illinois Senate

The Honorable Christine Radogno, Minority Leader, Illinois Senate

The Honorable Jim Durkin, Minority Leader, Illinois House of Representatives

Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Mr. Christopher M. Crane, CEO, Exelon

Mr. Mauricio Gutierrez, CEO, NRG


Dear Governor Rauner, Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, Attorney General Madigan, Minority Leaders Radogno and Durkin, Mr. Crane, and Mr. Gutierrez,

We are writing as scientists, conservationists and environmentalists to urge you to do everything in your power to keep all of Illinois’s nuclear power plants running for their full lifetimes.

Illinois generates more zero-emissions electricity than any other state. Most of it comes from the state’s six nuclear power plants, which produce about half of Illinois’ total generation and 90 percent of its low-carbon generation. These plants are in their prime and could stay in service many more years and even decades.

Unfortunately, Illinois is at risk of losing one or more of its nuclear plants and with them the progress the state has made in clean energy.

If Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants were replaced by natural gas, carbon emissions would immediately increase the equivalent of adding two million cars to the road. If they were replaced by coal, the carbon emissions would more than double.

The rise in conventional air pollutants from moving from nuclear to coal or natural gas will increase premature deaths.[i] One study found that world nuclear energy has prevented an average of 1.8 million premature deaths from fossil fuel pollution, and could prevent up to seven million additional ones in the future.[ii]

Using the same methodology, Clinton and Quad prevented 18,640 premature deaths from coal pollution. And if they run their 60-year lives, Clinton and Quad nuclear plants will prevent between 2,468 and 5,474 deaths from coal.[iii]  If their licenses are extended to 80 years, a possibility the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now considering for other plants, those numbers would double.

Illinois’ nuclear plants are at risk of being closed prematurely in part because they are excluded from federal and state clean energy policies. First, the federal production tax credit subsidy for wind is not available to nuclear energy. This credit sometimes turns Illinois wholesale electricity prices negativeby encouraging wind farms to overproduce during periods of low demand when no one wants their electricity and it threatens to overload the grid. Nuclear plants must pay to supply the grid during temporary wind surges, while wind farms continue earning money from the credit.

Second, the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, excludes nuclear, further disadvantaging Illinois’ largest source of clean energy.

It would take many years for the Illinois wind and solar sectors, which together comprise six percent of the state’s current generation, to grow enough to replace nuclear’s output. And because solar and wind cannot provide the reliable power of nuclear, much of the nuclear energy would have to be made up for with coal or natural gas.

We encourage all of you to find a fair and reasonable solution to keep all Illinois nuclear plants running for many years to come.

One solution might be to expand Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to include nuclear energy. Such a change would allow Illinois to be more ambitious, achieving 70 percent or more of its electricity from clean energy. The standard should be set so that renewable energy has plenty of room to grow while ensuring that Illinois does not go backwards.

Illinois is at an urgent juncture. Failure to keep all of Illinois’ nuclear power plants running for the full lifetimes will result in more air pollution, and further cause Illinois to underperform on climate. Action now would establish all of you as leaders in safeguarding clean air today and the climate for future generations.


Environmental Scientists


Dorian Abbot, Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago

Barry Brook, Professor and Chair of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania

Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution Dept of Global Ecology, Stanford University

Jerry Coyne, Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Evolution, the University of Chicago 

F. Stuart Chapin III, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Ecology, University of Alaska Fairbanks

David Dudgeon, Chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, China

Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Joseph Fargione, Ph.D, ecologist

James Hansen, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Chris Johnson, Professor of Wildlife Conservation, University of Tasmania, Australia

David W. Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

Pushker Kharecha, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

William F. Laurance, PhD, FAA, FAAAS, FRSQ, Distinguished Research Professor & Australian Laureate, Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation, Director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), James Cook University Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia

David W. Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California

Joe Mascaro, Program Manager for Impact Initiatives, Planet Labs

Robert May, Oxford OM AC Kt FRS, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley; Co-Founder and Scientific Director, Berkeley Earth

Reed F. Noss, Provost's Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida

Raymond Pierrehumbert, Halley Professorship of Physics, University of Oxford

Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001

Frank M. Richter, Sewell Avery Distinguished Professor of Geophysics, The University of Chicago 

Burton Richter, Nobel Prize Winner, Physics, 1976

Cagan H. Sekercioglu, professor of conservation ecology, Department of Biology, University of Utah; former senior scientist at the Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Utah.

Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology 

Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

Scholars, Conservationists and Environmentalists

     Daniel Aegerter, Chairman, Armada Investment

John Asafu-Adjaye, PhD, Senior Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs, Ghana, Associate Professor of Economics, The University of Queensland, Australia

Frank Batten Jr., President, The Landmark Foundation

Stewart Brand, founder, Whole Earth Catalogue

Gwyneth Cravens, author, Power to Save the World

John Crary, Crary Family Foundation

Christopher Foreman, author, The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Valerie Gardner, President, Climate Coalition

Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University

Gene Grechek, Vice President, American Nuclear Society

Garrett Gruener, Managing Director, Gruener Ventures

Mel Guymon, Guymon Family Foundation

Andrew Klein, President, American Nuclear Society

Steve Kirsch, CEO, Token

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

John Lavine, Professor and Medill Dean Emeritus, Northwestern University

Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University

Jessica Lovering, Director of Energy, Breakthrough Institute

Mark Lynas, author, The God SpeciesSix Degrees

Steve McCormick, Former CEO, The Nature Conservancy

Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress - Illinois

Norris McDonald, President, Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy/African American Environmentalist Association

Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Carl Page, President, Anthropocene Institute

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, Better Angels of Our Nature

Rachel Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund

Steve Rayner, James Martin Professor of Science & Civilization, Director, Institute for Science, Innovation & Society, Professorial Fellow, Keble College, University of Oxford

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Ray A. Rothrock, Partner Emeritus Venrock, venture capitalist

Rathin Roy, Director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi, India

Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India

Michael Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress, Time Magazine Hero of the Environment

Robert Stone, filmmaker, “Pandora’s Promise”

Samuel Thernstrom, Executive Director, Energy Innovation Reform Project

Stephen Tindale, Alvin Weinberg Foundation, former Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

Barrett P. Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation

Mason Willrich, author, Modernizing America's Electricity Infrastructure. 

[i] A. Markandya and P. Wilkinson, “Electricity generation and health,” Lancet. 2007 Sep 15;370(9591):979-90

[ii] Pushker A. Kharecha* and James E. Hansen, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power,” Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (9), pp 4889–4895

[iii] Low-end value based on Clean Air Task Force assessment of 7500 deaths in 2014 from coal use (http://www.catf.us/fossil/problems/power_plants/). High-end value based on EPA analysis for 2016 from N. Fann, C.M. Fulcher, and K. Baker, "The Recent and Future Health Burden of Air Pollution Apportioned Across U.S. Sectors", Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (8), pp 3580–3589.