Palisades owner seeks federal grant to restart Michigan nuclear plant

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The owner of a western Michigan nuclear power plant has applied for a federal grant to allow the facility to restart power generation, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Friday, but warned it would also take state money to help fund the reopening.

Whitmer sent a letter in support of the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy, his office said. An official from Palisades owner Holtec International said a successful effort to reopen the nuclear plant would include a “financial commitment” from the Whitmer administration, which it also referenced in its announcement.

“Keeping the stockades open will keep energy costs down, bolster national energy production, and increase Michigan’s competitiveness for future economic development,” the governor said. “I am proud to write today in support of Holtec International’s request for a Civilian Nuclear Credit which, if granted, will allow us to continue to fight for economic opportunity for Southwest Michigan and to protect 1,700 local jobs.”

New Jersey-based Holtec International purchased Palisades from Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. in May. When Entergy announced the deal, the Mississippi-based company described Palisades as “closed permanently.”

Holtec International has already begun dismantling the plant, according to its website.

Employees completely removed the fuel from the plant’s reactor vessel and placed it in the spent fuel pool to cool it. Once done, Holtec said the fuel would be placed in steel drums and transported to an on-site storage facility before the plant is dismantled.

But those plans could change if Holtec is approved for the civilian nuclear credit program and gets money to resume operations in Palisades. Holtec applied to the program July 5, Whitmer’s office said.

The credit program was created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which put $6 billion into a fund to help prevent US nuclear reactors from shutting down for economic reasons. But owners must demonstrate that shutting down a reactor will lead to increased air pollution and that the reactor can continue to operate safely to receive the subsidy.

Palisades has not yet been approved for the credit program. The deadline to apply was Tuesday.

“We commend Governor Whitmer for her leadership in recognizing the vital importance of Palisades to Michigan’s clean energy future as a safe and reliable source of carbon-free electricity,” Holtec CEO said. International, Kris Singh.

What are the obstacles that Holtec faces

Getting a federal grant would help Holtec “meet energy needs” until new nuclear technologies, such as the small-scale reactors the company is developing, are ready, said Nick Culp, senior director of Holtec’s government affairs, in an email Friday to the Detroit News.

Culp posed a series of hurdles to overcome in an effort to resume power generation in Palisades, including receiving a “financial commitment from the State of Michigan”, undertaking maintenance and delaying capital improvements of the facility, securing a power purchase agreement from a power supplier the buyer, upgrading the switchyard, partnering with a federally licensed operator, and hiring approximately 400 qualified employees and trained.

“While this is a first step, there are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be overcome, but we will be working with the state, federal government, and a third-party operator that hasn’t been identified yet to see if that’s a viable option,” Culp said.

In a letter Friday to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Whitmer said the state stands ready to support Palisades by “identifying state funding and facilitating a power purchase agreement.”

Consumers Energy, which built Palisades and operated it from 1973 to 2007 and bought power from the plant until this year, is not involved in efforts to resume operations there, said Consumers spokesman Josh Paciorek.

“The future of Palisades depends on its owner Holtec,” Paciorek said. “Consumers Energy is not involved in efforts to keep Palisades open, and our perspective has not changed. We are committed to providing clean, affordable, and reliable energy to our customers, and we will be able to do so through to our Clean Energy Planner.”

Palisades had supplied 800 megawatts of electricity, or about 10% of peak consumer demand. The utility plans to replace that electricity by helping customers reduce their energy use.

The application follows fears of dismantling

Some environmental groups worry that keeping Palisades offline will hamper Michigan’s prospects of building a carbon-free economy by 2050. Others say nuclear power isn’t worth the risk, citing the potential for health disasters and the environment in the event of a problem and the failure of the federal government to develop a safe and permanent site for the disposal of radioactive waste.

But decommissioning Palisades and removing it from the power grid, which had been Entergy’s plan since 2016, also drew criticism from environmental groups and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who in 2021 attempted to intervene in corporate requests to transfer the factory license from Entergy. at Holtech.

Nessel said Holtec’s plans for decommissioning the plant, which involved spending little money beyond what was saved decades ago in a half-billion-dollar trust funded by Consumers Energy customers through surcharges on their bills and possibly shipping radioactive materials across Lake Michigan, raised “significant health, safety, environmental and financial concerns for residents.” of State. “

After: State fears nuclear nightmare on shores of Lake Michigan

Holtec had planned to rely exclusively on this trust fund of approximately $560 million to pay for decommissioning, site restoration and spent fuel management. He told the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission that he should delay the dismantling, which is expected to cost $644 million, to allow confidence to build.

Nessel’s office criticized the plan, which lawyers said was based on “a series of unreasonable assumptions” and underestimated the cost of safely dismantling the facility.

Other critics, including anti-nuclear activist Kevin Kamps, said Holtec’s plans to decommission Palisades on a shoestring budget prompted the company to cut corners and be lax on safety.

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