Nuclear Plant Owner will Try Again for Restart Funds

December 21, 2022

Above, this photo from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows the proximity of Palisades Nuclear plant to Lake Michigan, and thus 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water.

Because there is no permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel in the US, waste from this plant is currently stored onsite, in (very stout, we’re told) steel casks. All told there are some 60,000 tons of such waste stored in similar proximity to water all around the Great Lakes. It’s understandable that this makes people a bit nervous.
That said, since 90 plus percent of the waste that is ever going to be produced at that location is already there, and since we are in a climate emergency, I don’t think that alone is reason enough not to operate the plant.
There is a safety issue. Obviously a meltdown here would be a bad thing. There’s a repair issue – seals on control rods are deficient. (that sounds important)
It’s a tough call, and I’m glad I don’t have to make it – but after what was supposed to be a final shut down of the plant a few months ago, there is a move again to try to re-open it. It will require federal funds (of course – the nuclear industry is famously dependent on taxpayer largesse) to make needed repairs and do a restart.
Meanwhile, there remains the need to keep siting wind and solar generation to replace plants like this which will eventually age out – a challenge that even most folks in the “green” establishment simply don’t understand.
Stay tuned.

Detroit News:

Holtec International, the owner of the Palisades nuclear plant near South Haven, will reapply for federal funding in an attempt to revive the shuttered plant.

The company applied for funds through the U.S. Energy Department’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program after the plant was officially shut down in May. It announced in November it had been denied.

The $6 billion program funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aims to keep existing reactors around the country running. Applicants must demonstrate that they will be closed for economic reasons and that carbon emissions and air pollutants will rise if they are closed.

“The repowering of Palisades is of vital importance to Michigan’s clean energy future,” said Patrick O’Brien, Holtec’s director of government affairs and communications. “As Michigan transitions from fossil-fuel generation to renewables and emerging advanced technologies, baseload nuclear generation is an essential backstop.”

Holtec acquired the plant from Entergy Nuclear last December and planned to decommission it.

The plan received scrutiny from Attorney General Dana Nessel and several environmental groups, which questioned whether the company had the finances to quickly and safely decommission the plant. The environmental groups also raised concerns it could threaten the Great Lakes if the company decided to ship nuclear waste to a storage facility out of state.

In September, Holtec announced it would seek federal grant funding to reopen the plant — a plan supported by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and clean energy groups that say nuclear power is critical to developing a carbon-neutral economy.

“The Palisades plant is a critical energy source and economic driver for the southwest Michigan region. That’s why we’ve been supportive of Holtec’s efforts to reopen a non-operational nuclear plant for the first time in American history, protecting 600 high-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual regional economic development,” Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said in a statement.

“We are in communication with Holtec and ready to support their efforts to seek federal funding to move the ball forward. In the meantime, the state continues to have enough energy to meet the needs of families, communities, and small businesses.”

While there are environmental issues related to mining and processing uranium fuel and the potential for radioactive releases should disaster strike, nuclear plants can produce lots of electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. 

O’Brien said the company received “supportive feedback” from the Department of Energy despite losing out on the last round of funding.

“This decision to reapply is one that we did not take lightly, but the support of the State of Michigan, local officials and key stakeholders — who recognize the significant benefit in providing a safe, reliable, carbon-free power source, as well as providing a significant economic impact through good paying jobs and the use of many local goods and services — leads us to believe this is the best path forward for the facility and our state,” he said.

In the meantime, Holtec will continue decommissioning the plant, O’Brien added, with a focus on “managing the spent fuel removal from the spent fuel pool to dry cask storage.”

Applications for the next round of funding begin in January 2023, according to the Department of Energy. The bipartisan infrastructure law appropriated $1.2 billion each fiscal year 2022-26 for the program.

There would be hurdles to reopening. Palisades shut down more than a week early in May as “a conservative decision based on equipment performance,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Affairs Officer Prema Chandrathil said at the time. The control rod drive mechanism had a degrading seal.

Oh, right. Defective seals on the control rods. That sounds important.

Michigan Public Radio:

After more than 50 years in operation, Entergy Corp. announced Friday that it had decided to shut down the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert Township more than a week ahead of schedule. 

In a statement, the company said that “control room operators at Entergy’s Palisades Power Plant safely removed the nuclear reactor from service for the final time on May 20.” Originally scheduled to be permanently shut down on May 31, the statement said that operators “made the conservative decision to shut down the plant early due to the performance of a control rod drive seal.” 

Val Gent, the communication specialist at the plant, described it as a practical decision. She said the rod drive seal did not pose a risk to the community and is “a piece of equipment that is easily replaceable when offline.” But she said it didn’t make sense to do that repair 11 days before the 800-megawatt facility along the shores of Lake Michigan was scheduled to be permanently shut down. 

The Entergy Corp. decision seems to put an end to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s attempts to save the plant. In April, Whitmer sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, asking for federal emergency aid to keep Palisades from shutting down. Whitmer cited the plant as an important part of her plan to make Michigan’s energy sources carbon-neutral by 2050 because nuclear power plants generate virtually emissions-free electricity.

The plant began commercial operations in 1971. Entergy Corp. announced its plans to shut Palisades down this year in 2017.


5 Responses to “Nuclear Plant Owner will Try Again for Restart Funds”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    quote from the first linked article: More than 60,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is stored on the shores of four of the five Great Lakes — in some cases, mere yards from the waterline — in still-growing stockpiles.

    “It’s actually the most dangerous waste produced by any industry in the history of the Earth,” said Gordon Edwards, president of the nonprofit Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

  2. John Oneill Says:

    “It’s actually the most dangerous waste produced by any industry in the history of the Earth” – despite which, in seventy years of civil nuclear power, the spent fuel has never harmed anyone, anywhere. As opposed to the almost yearly collapse of coal waste dams, killing people downstream and toxing up the environment. The spent fuel is fairly similar to that of nuclear submarines, which spend their working lives not only in the ocean, but deep under it at huge pressures. So far without any catastrophic effects, despite half a dozen Russian and two US navy boats being lost.
    The Candu reactors along the Great Lakes have done 90% of the heavy lifting in closing down Nanticoke, the world’s largest coal plant. The reduction in smog days in Ontario has contributed to the health of Canadians, and has offset the carbon from the tar sand oil production at the dirtier end of Canada. None of this seems to have registered with Gordon Edwards, or the ‘Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibilty.’
    As well as providing reliable power in winter, when Ontario solar does not, the reactors are also maxed out when summer heat waves strain the grid for air conditoning, and the province’s wind turbines sit motionless in the muggy heat.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I would agree that this waste ought to be manageable and I would fault overzealous greens for making a national storage repository impossible to site so far.
      Clearly the ad-hoc siting for this waste is sub-optimal, and could come back to bite us in the next 500 years or so.
      That said, most people don’t know about how serious the coal waste problem is, and that needs to be factored in.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Seriously, actually having a society capable of worrying about nuke waste, in 500 years, is more of a concern than the waste itself.

      • John Oneill Says:

        Since spent fuel casks just sit on a small plot of land, not misbehaving, there’s no particular reason to cart them right across the continent to a national repository. The US Congress has endorsed that view, and some of the states that had moritoria on new-build nuclear, till a repository was in place, have been rescinding them. In 500 years, 90 % of the fission products would have decayed to stable isotopes. The remaining long-lived fission products have very low activity, with half lives in the hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years, and mostly weak beta radiation. Some, notably technetium, could be very useful in industry. Technetium doesn’t occur in nature, but has similar properties to rhenium, an incredibly rare metal, used in superalloys and catalysts – only it’s lighter, which is handy in aircraft parts and turbines. Shorter lived, more energetic isotopes could be used to break down some persistent chemical pollutants like fluorides. The transuranics, making up a little over 1% of the spent fuel mass, and uranium, about 96% of it, will be available to power next-generation power plants on the same sites.

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