Can This Nuke be Restarted?

April 27, 2023

I’ve tracked the Palisades Nuclear Plant since it was first being constructed – a troubled process.
During the construction phase, the Utility, then known as Consumers Power, sued the contractor, Bechtel, saying that defects in the construction process rendered the facility, one attorney told me – “a dangerous instrumentality”.
Nonetheless, Palisades, sited on the Michigan shore of Lake Michigan a couple hours north of Chicago, went into service, but the road was bumpy. Engineers encountered a number of then poorly understood problems, including corrosion of heat exchangers, so called “Green Grunge” that seemed to be exacerbated by the interaction of exotic alloys with high radiation.
For several years in the early 80s, Palisades availability was as low as 8 percent.
But over time, engineers worked the bugs out and were able to operate successfully. The plant was sold to a third party operator, and performed more or less steadily and economically for decades, until the last few years, when yet another operator took over, intending to manage shutdown and decommissioning.
At that point, anxieties about the need for carbon free power lead to several attempts to secure federal funding to keep the plant open. Those efforts failed, and the plant was abruptly closed in May 2022, due to some problems with seals on control rods.

Now there are efforts to restart, something that has never been done before with a plant of this type.

Detroit News:

The Florida-based owner of a shuttered nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Michigan is asking the State of Michigan for roughly $300 million in taxpayer assistance to help it restart operations at the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station.

Holtec International approached a few regional lawmakers recently about the plan, but a formal request has not yet been made to the state, said Rep. Joey Andrews, a St. Joseph Democrat who represents Covert Township in Van Buren County, where the nuclear plant is located.

“It’s bridge money to help them get from ending the decommissioning process to beginning operating against,” Andrews said of the funding request, which was first reported by The Herald-Palladium.

The more than 50-year-old plan was decommissioned by then-owner Entergy Nuclear last year before the company sold the facility to Holtec. The nuclear power plant shut down last May.

Holtec said it was approached by the state last month to restart the plant to address “the need for zero-emission clean energy.” Representatives for the energy company presented plans last month to resume operations at the plant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On Wednesday, the company said it was hopeful it’s discussions with the federal government and state would “produce a winning solution.”

“As we work with the Department of Energy through the loan application process, the financial commitment from Michigan and a power purchase agreement are both essential to making a return to operations feasible,” said Patrick O’Brien, director of government affairs and communications for Holtec International.

We appreciate the support we have received from the governor and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle as they understand the importance of this effort in providing clean and reliable energy generation as well as driving economic development and job creation in Michigan.”

State Rep. Angela Witwer, the Delta Township Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she had not yet received a formal request for the funding. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year said she wanted to support the Palisades restart as part of a goal to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. Holtec last month said it had spoken with the Whitmer administration about a “potential financial commitment.”

The Democratic-led Legislature has given hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development money to electric vehicle battery plants and $200 million for the expansion of a Upper Peninsula paper mill in recent months. But the $300 million inventive request from Holtec would rank among the largest in straight incentive payments the state has given to businesses.

The restart of the Palisades plant would mark the first time an American nuclear plant resumed operations after being decommissioned and, Holtec argues, would provide a stable source of carbon-free energy as Michigan invests massive dollar amounts into the EV industry.

Holtec currently is using a decommissioning trust funded by Consumers Energy customers to pay the salaries of the roughly 220 workers decommissioning the site. But the money is restricted to decommissioning efforts and can’t be used to restart a plant, Andrews said.

Andrews would like to see the money awarded to Holtec, noting the boon it would be in terms of jobs and tax revenue for the area. He also said the commitment from Michigan would go a long way to secure ongoing support from the U.S. Department of Energy, from which Holtec is also asking for aid.

Andrews said the funding would only be used for workforce, maintenance or capital expenditures, not debt payments or executive salaries.


A company that tears down closed nuclear power plants wants to do in Michigan what has never been done in the U.S.: restore a dead one to life.

Holtec Decommissioning International bought the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station last June for the stated purpose of dismantling it, weeks after previous owner Entergy shut it down. Fuel was removed from the reactor core. Federal regulators were notified of “permanent cessation of power operations.”

But with support from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmerand leaders in the Lake Michigan community where Palisades was an economic driver for 50 years, Holtec soon kicked off a campaign to bring the plant back. The 800 megawatt facility had generated roughly 5% of the state’s electricity.

“Keeping Palisades open is critical for Michigan’s competitiveness and future economic development opportunities,” Whitmer said in a letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, herself a former Michigan governor, requesting federal funding for the restart.


10 Responses to “Can This Nuke be Restarted?”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    How many more MwH can $300 million buy you with solar or wind compared to this single nuke? This seems a very bad idea.

    • John Oneill Says:

      Palisades had a 99.2 capacity factor in 2021. The only reason it was uneconomic was gas prices well below previous levels (and far below world prices, which at the time North America didn’t have enough LPG transport availablity to access.) That, and that wind could bid below cost on the grid while the Production Tax Credit was covering it.
      The PJM Interconnection (Pennsylvania New Jersey Maryland, but it covers thirteen states plus Washington DC) has 7.6 gigawatts of solar and 10.8 of wind. At the moment , the solar is contributing nothing – it’s dark – and the wind is doing 2.3 GW. There’s 1.2 GW of hydro. That one small reactor, in one state, would increase the clean generation over thirteen states by a quarter.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        That’s nice – but it doesn’t address my question at all. All those nice things you contend would be reborn at that price would be surpassed by the benefits of wind or sun.

        And that nuke was shut down because it had a problem with the core and it had also nearly reached the end of its design life. It remains a bad idea that will be a bad idea no matter how much bad money is thrown at it. Because it simply is not needed and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

        • John Oneill Says:

          ‘..The company invested more than $50 million to install…’ a 35MW solar farm in the TVA area, so $300 million might get you ~200MW. In Wikipedia’s article on ‘Solar power in Michigan’, in 2021 (the latest full year listed), the State had 758 MW of grid-connected solar, which provided 458 GWh, varying over the year between 21 GWh in January and 51 GWh in May. Also in 2021, according to Wikipedia’s article on Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, the plant provided 7,014 GWh, varying between 548 GWh in February and 607 GWh in January, March, and December.
          So if Palisades were to be relicenced, it could provide a bit less than 60x as much power as 300 million worth of solar, all day and all year, rather than only during daylight and mostly in summer. If it was licenced to 80 years, as other reactors have been, it would also last about as long as brand new solar. It had already been relicenced once, till 2031.

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            $300m is cheap by nuclear power standards, so re-license away!

            For new power plants the calculation should include
            – site costs
            – design costs
            – construction costs
            – operation (incl. fuel) and maintenance cost
            – GHG payback for construction and operation
            – time-shifting costs (local or grid storage)

            It’s a bonus if you can also have sheep grazing on the grounds of the nuclear power plant. 😉

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          If the $300million resolves those problems, then it’s worth it for helping to displace FF power.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            IF being the key word. I have big doubts.

            And then we get into how long it can stay open. Compared to, say, a PV field that will last for 100 years.

            At $24/MwH (Lazard’s 16’s lowest figure), $300,000,000 buys you 12,500,000 MwH of PV, which, if I am not mistaken (and I could well be – I can’t handle big numbers) compares favorably to the nuke plant which is still near the end of its lifespan.

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            IF being the key word. I have big doubts.

            Yeah, I get that.

            The issue in terms of FF plant replacement is timing. Can you hook up that much PV+storage to the grid (siting, permitting, transmission) faster than you can get Palisades back up and running?

            Also important: Is the money coming from the same wallet as those providing PV farms? That has a bearing on whether restarting Palisades represents an opportunity cost that affects PV/solar/storage growth.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    During the construction phase, the Utility, then known as Consumers Power, sued the contractor, Bechtel, saying that defects in the construction process rendered the facility, one attorney told me – “a dangerous instrumentality”.

    One of my go-to cautionary tales about the difference between thoughtful design and actual implementation:

  3. mboli Says:

    Last year Illinois passed a bill that extends the operation of several of that state’s nuclear generating stations, while at the same time mandating the closure of some coal powered stations. Mostly it was a question of subsidies, the nuclear stations cannot compete with gas and wind. But when you consider that the plants are already operating, and permitted far into the future, the marginal cost to keep them operating isn’t large price to pay for lowering the carbon footprint.

    But it was a close thing. The subsidies run for only a few years, they almost didn’t make it through the legislature.

    I don’t have any knowledge of the practicality of renewing Palisades, or whether the quoted price is realistic.

    My one thought is that if restarting that plant is a good idea, the costs should be shared. Unfortunately lower Michigan is largely its own egrid region, RFCM. But if costs were to shared troughout the RFC region, not just Michigan, it seems quite unlikely that legislators in states from Delaware to Wisconsin would be willing to chip in.

    We have this weird system where our electric grids do not coincide with state boundaries, but it is states which mostly regulate them. Sort of amazing that anything works.

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