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Holtec says there’s still hope for Palisades

Palisades Nuclear Generating Station
Wikipedia Media Commons
Palisades Nuclear Generating Station

The owners of the Palisades Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan say there’s still hope for restarting the out-of-service facility.

Last month, the federal government denied grant funding that the company, Holtec International, hoped would help resume Palisades' operations.

Now, Holtec plans to re-apply next year.

Patrick O’Brien is the company’s director of government affairs.

“We’re just looking to see what we can do to help the region, the state, with energy needs and ultimately if it’s not successful, that would be disappointing again but we can say we gave a good effort and we’ll move on, whichever direction it ends up being,” O’Brien said.

Palisades has been out of operation since the spring. Holtec finalized a purchase agreement for the plant and took control of it for decommissioning work shortly after.

O’Brien said the company only had a few days between taking over the plant and the deadline to apply for the federal Civil Nuclear Credit Program. He said this time will be different.

“We were a little bit of a—say a non-traditional application because I think the initial program, I think was designed for plants that are still running but could shut down, so I think we got a better understanding I think of what the Department of Energy wants to see in the applications across a number of different areas they were concerned with,” he said.

No nuclear plant in the U.S. has successfully restarted after officially closing.

In a statement, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it would be speculative to discuss how that process would play out.

“The only documents the NRC has from Holtec regarding Palisades relate to the plant’s decommissioning, and we are proceeding on that basis. No plant has ever sought permission to restart after certifying permanent cessation of operations and defueling of the reactor,” agency spokesperson Scott Burnell said in an email.

Some groups are questioning whether Palisades should relaunch.

Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist with the group Beyond Nuclear, said Palisades had numerous problems before it went out of service.

“It was a lemon for many decades on end and had some very serious incidents after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan in 2011. So, a very bright public spotlight was shined on the problems at Palisades and all of that contributed to its closure earlier this year,” Kamps said Monday.

Both Holtec and state government officials are pointing to the plant as a piece of Michigan’s transition away from fossil fuels.

But Kamps said the risks outweigh any benefits.

“It is now time to safeguard and secure the high-level radioactive waste stored on-site, to clean up the widespread hazardous radioactive contamination of the property before it further threatens Lake Michigan and adjacent groundwater aquifers, and to carry out a just transition for the workforce and host region, into the long overdue clean, safe, and affordable renewable and efficient energy system of the future,” he said in a press release.

Holtec expects applications to apply for the civil nuclear credit to open again in January.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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