WASHINGTON (MIRS News) – Palisades Nuclear Generating Station is on the path to decommission after the U.S. Department of Energy denied an application for federal funding, and the plant won’t likely reopen without an influx from the state.
The Palisades was purchased by Holtec International after the previous owner, Entergy Nuclear, shut down the reactor May 2022.
Holtec bought the plant with the intention to restart the reactor, and the company applied for a $1 billion influx to keep the plant operational through the Department’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a $6 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law program designed to keep existing reactors running.
But, despite a Sept. 9 letter of support from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to accompany Holtec’s application, the U.S. Department of Energy denied the request late last week.
Following an announcement on the outcome of the application, Holtec’s Communications Director Patrick O’Brien said the plant is now on the path to decommission.
“We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, re-starting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry,” he said. “While the DOE’s decision is not the outcome many had hoped for, we entered this process committed to working with our federal, state and community partners to see if the plant could be repowered to return to service as a provider of safe, reliable, and carbon-free generation.
“That commitment remains as our employees focus on the safe and timely decommissioning of Palisades to allow for potential reuse,” he added.
But Kevin Kamps, a watchdog with Beyond Nuclear and guest on Michigan’s Big Show, said there is still a chance the plant could come back online.
“Governor Whitmer seems to be all in on this proposal to restart it,” he said, and if she were to use some of the money still left on the balance sheet in 2022, the plant could have a chance.”
Whitmer was supportive of the plant coming back online during the application process. In her letter to the U.S. Department of Energy, she wrote, “keeping Palisades open will keep energy costs low, shore up domestic energy production, and increase Michigan’s competitiveness for future economic development.”
“I am proud to write in support today of Holtec International’s application for a Civil Nuclear Credit that, if granted, will empower us to keep fighting for economic opportunity for Southwest Michigan and protect 1,700 local jobs,” she wrote.
A Whitmer spokesperson told MIRS that it’s not likely the state would fork over the $1 billion needed to keep the plant open when there may be other options at the federal level.
But Kamps, who commended the decision by the U.S. Department of Energy, said he believes the reactor should stay shut down.
For one thing, restarting a nuclear plant is something that has never been done before, Kamps said.
“What was unprecedented, even in the entire world, is once a reactor has been shut down for good, it’s never been brought back into operation,” he said.
Kamps has been a watchdog over nuclear power in Michigan for nearly 30 years with Don’t Waste Michigan, a statewide anti-nuclear coalition, and he sits on the board representing the Kalamazoo area.
He said the Palisades plant has always been dangerous, in part because of its 51-year-old atomic reactor and reactor pressure vessel that has been damaged by neutron flow and nuclear reaction in the reactor’s core.
He called it the “worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., and now “granted, it’s eight inches thick, which sounds strong and robust, but the problem is it’s filled with microscopic holes and cracks.”
Kamps said if the liquid cooling system were ever activated, the reactor pressure vessel could be compromised because of the thermal shock.
“It’s like a hot glass under cold water, except that glass is at 2,000 pounds a ton of pressure per square inch at Palisades,” he said.
Kamps said the reactor also has a degraded reactor lid and worn out steam generators, which could have further contributed to a core meltdown.
Even if the plant is decommissioned, Kamps said the likely 700 metric tons of radioactive spent nuclear fuel still presents a significant risk.
The majority of it is stored in the indoor wet storage pool, and poses the risk of a loss of cooling water leading to a radioactive release. By transferring the material to dry cask storage, it is safer, but also involves the movement of very heavy loads over the pool.
Kamps added that Holtec has had other spills in New Jersey, and Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan and Michigan Safe Energy Future legally challenged Holtec’s takeover when it was announced.
Now, the groups are calling for a more secure transfer process into hardened on-site storage to protect radioactive material during the decommissioning process.