Dozens of environmental groups on Friday filed a letter with federal energy officials pleading with them to deny funding to a New Jersey company seeking to reopen a nuclear power plant in western Michigan.
Palisades Power Plant should not qualify for the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a $6 billion fund created by the bipartisan infrastructure law, the groups argued in a Friday letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and officials of the Department of Energy.
That’s because Palisades closed its doors for good in May, according to new owner Holtec International and former owner Entergy Nuclear. The Federal Program Lists Nuclear Reactors should be projected to cease operations due to economic factors – which environmental groups claim Palisades is not included because it no longer produces or sells electricity.
“It is unequivocally clear that the (program provides for) subsidizing only operational reactors under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program,” the letter from environmental groups reads. “The program is simply not considering financing a closed reactor that has ended its operations.”
The Michigan Sierra Club, Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and anti-nuclear groups in Michigan and the United States have signed the letter.
Bringing Palisades back to the grid “would be a huge success story” for Michigan and the US because it would provide carbon-free power, said Nick Culp, Holtec’s senior manager of public affairs.
“We remain committed to working with our federal, state and community partners throughout this process,” Culp said in an email. “For now, our Palisades employees remain focused on the safe and timely decommissioning of the site, allowing for potential reuse.”
The Civil Nuclear Credit Program is designed to help existing nuclear power plants with grants that help them meet the economic challenges facing nuclear power since the price of natural gas has fallen. To qualify for credits, factory owners must demonstrate that their factories are closing due to economic factors, that the closures will lead to increased air pollution and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must be able to provide “reasonable assurance” that the reactor can be operated under its current permit. and pose no significant security risks.
The prospect of bringing Palisades back onto the grid gained traction early this month after Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced that Holtec had applied for funding for its civilian nuclear credit program in July. The company warned it would also need state funding to resume operations, which Whitmer said it is willing to support.
Whitmer, a Democrat running for reelection, is normally on the same side as environmentalists on many points. But they disintegrated on Palisades.
There are hurdles to reopen. Palisades was shut down for more than a week in early May as a “conservative decision based on equipment performance,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officer Prema Chandrathil said at the time. The steering rod drive mechanism had a degrading seal.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission transferred the license of Palisades from Entergy to Holtec on June 28 “with a view to dismantling Palisades”. the NRC said:. On June 13, all fuel was removed from the reactor.
The NRC has never received a request to put a nuclear power plant back on the grid after it was permanently depleted, so it’s unclear what will happen to Holtec if it pursues a Palisades reopening, said NRC Senior Public Affairs Officer Viktoria Mitlyng.
“If the NRC receives such a formal request to reauthorize the operation of a nuclear power plant after the operator has formally informed the NRC of the permanent cessation of operations and the final disposal of fuel – as is the case with Palisades – it will agency will determine a way forward accordingly, based on all facts and reasons provided, to ensure the highest safety standards,” Mitlyng said in an email.
People gathered virtually and in South Haven on Thursday evening for a public hearing on Holtec’s original plan for Palisades, which was announced. to dismantle the factory. While the meeting agenda had to be aligned with a decommissioning plan the company submitted in 2020, many attendees expressed support or disdain for the company’s recent attempt to reopen.
Lynne Goodman, who introduced herself at the hearing as a Southeast Michigan resident and nuclear decommissioning consultant, said reopening Palisades would reduce carbon emissions and other pollution from coal and natural gas-fired plants.
“My health is affected by that,” Goodman said. “I really think the plant should be considered to restart so that we bring less polluted air into the state of Michigan.”
Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist with the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear, said regulators and the public had been defrauded by Holtec, who took over Palisades with the promise to dismantle it.
“It is unfortunate that we had to find out on September 9 that Holtec had applied for this federal bailout on July 5 and is demanding state aid,” said Kamps. “We’re going to fight all this. We’re going to fight the bailouts. We’re going to fight the permit.”