Restarting a Restart at Michigan Nuclear Plant

March 3, 2023

Holland Sentinel (Michigan):

A second effort to secure funding for the reopening of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant has been officially submitted.

Holtec International, which purchased Palisades shortly after it closed in 2022, has filed an application for funding through the U.S. Department of Energy to reopen the plant. 

“Holtec filed an application for funding through the U.S. Department of Energy to support the repowering of Palisades,” Nick Culp, senior manager of government affairs and communications at Holtec, wrote in an email to The Sentinel. “We are encouraged by the broad-based public support we have received from the local community and State of Michigan who recognize the benefits of this important effort. 

“The restart of Palisades not only supports jobs and the regional economy but provides a vital source of safe and reliable baseload generation for Michigan families and businesses.”

The plant closed in May 2022 after more than 50 years in operation. In late June, it was sold to Holtec for decommissioning. Holtec applied for federal Civil Nuclear Credit funding in early July to reopen the plant. The application was made public in September, with support from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but was denied in mid-November.

In December, Holtec announced it would apply for the second round of CNC funding when the application window opened. However, Holtec is taking a different route with its second attempt at funding. 

Rather than applying through the CNC program, the company applied for funds from the U.S. Department of Energy loan office.

Holtec has acknowledged there will be “a number of hurdles” to reopening the plant even if funding is secured. Those include financial commitment from the state, procuring a power purchasing agreement, upgrading the switchyard, partnering with a licensed operator for the restart, rehiring qualified and trained staff and maintenance and delayed capital improvements of the facility — the plant closed earlier than planned due to failure of a control rod drive seal.

The control rod problems at Palisades are long standing. Although the plant has, in recent years, performed relatively well, it has had a spotty history, particularly in the earliest years of operation.

NPR Michigan Radio 2012:

This is the second time this year Palisades shut down to fix a leak related to these control rod drives. Back in January, they replaced some seals on the rods that were worn out.

But the Union of Concerned Scientists notes control rod problems at Palisades that go back decades.

David Lochbaum directs the Union’s Nuclear Safety Project.

“Other plants have similar designs and have at times in their past experienced problems but they were able to find the problem and fixed it the first or at worse, second time. Whereas Palisades is at more than a dozen times. Something’s wrong there and the company has yet to figure out what it is and fix it,” Lochbaum said.

Indeed, Palisades’ spokesman Mark Savage says they have yet to determine the cause of the leak.  Savage says they’ll completely replace at least one of those 45 control rod drive packages.

David Lochbaum with the Nuclear Safety Project says that’ll only work if it resolves the underlying problems. He says the NRC needs to do more to make sure the root cause is identified and fixed this time.

“At plants that we monitor that are doing a good job on nuclear safety; they don’t tolerate problems. They don’t allow problems to reoccur. They do their best efforts to go in and find out what’s causing a problem and fix it right the first time,” Lochbaum said. “At some point the regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, needs to step in and compel (Palisades) to get to that successful destination.”

Chandrathil says the NRC is doing everything it can. “We have a questioning attitude. We look at very specific areas and we have gone ahead and identified deficiencies at the plant. It’s up to the plant to improve their performance,” she said.

My take: It would have been a good idea to get a handle on the nuclear waste problem 40 years ago. Now that waste, at least 60,000 tons of it, is stored in casks at nuclear sites around the Great Lakes – 20 percent of the world’s non-frozen fresh water. That’s definitely sub-optimal.
It looks like there will be a concerted effort to reopen the plant. Given that most of the waste that is going to be produces is already sitting there, it seems reasonable to get the low carbon power back on line. There is a non-zero accident risk with any kind of facility like this, but we are in a global emergency, and running out of choices.
Meanwhile, important to get all forms of low-carbon energy up and running as quickly as possible.


One Response to “Restarting a Restart at Michigan Nuclear Plant”

  1. Anthony O'Brien Says:

    Not enthusiastic about reopening a plant that has already gone beyond it’s expected lifespan. Here are some considerations

    However, Holtec should be capable of doing the job properly. But done properly you are talking a massive expense.

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