Dozens of environmental groups filed a letter on Friday to federal energy officials begging them to deny funding to a New Jersey company seeking to reopen a nuclear power plant in western Michigan.
The Palisades power plant is not expected to be eligible for the civilian nuclear credit program, a $ 6 billion fund created through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the groups said in a letter on Friday addressed to the US Secretary of Energy. Jennifer Granholm and Department of Energy officials.
That’s because Palisades closed for good in May, according to its new owner Holtec International and former owner Entergy Nuclear. The federal program predicts that nuclear reactors will cease to function due to economic factors, which environmental groups say do not include Palisades because they are no longer producing or selling electricity.
“It is unequivocally clear that the (program) plans to subsidize only operational reactors under the civilian nuclear credit program,” states the letter from the environmental groups. “The program simply does not include funding for a closed reactor that has finished operations.”
The Michigan Sierra Club, Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and anti-nuclear groups across Michigan and the United States signed the letter.
Bringing Palisades back to the grid “would be a great success story” for Michigan and the United States because it would provide carbon-free energy, said Nick Culp, senior manager of government affairs at Holtec.
“We remain committed to working with our federal, state and community partners throughout this process,” Culp said in an email. “For the time being, our Palisades employees remain focused on the safe and timely decommissioning of the site, allowing for potential reuse.”
The civilian nuclear credit program was designed to help existing nuclear power plants with subsidies to help them overcome the economic challenges that nuclear power has faced since the price of natural gas fell. To qualify for credits, plant owners must demonstrate that their plants are closing due to economic factors, that closures will lead to increased air pollution, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must be able to provide “reasonable assurances” that the reactor can operate under its current license and pose no significant safety risk.
The prospect of returning Palisades to the power grid took hold earlier this month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced that Holtec had applied for funding for the civilian nuclear credit program in July. The company warned it would also need state funding to restart operations, which Whitmer said it was willing to support.
Whitmer, a Democrat running for re-election, is usually on the same side as environmentalists on many issues. But they deviated on Palisades.
There are obstacles to reopening. Palisades closed more than a week in early May as “a conservative decision based on equipment performance,” Prema Chandrathil, public affairs officer at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said at the time. The control rod drive mechanism had a degrading seal.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission transferred Palisades’ license from Entergy to Holtec “for the purpose of dismantling Palisades” on June 28, the NRC said. All fuel was removed from the reactor on June 13.
The NRC has never received a request to put a nuclear power plant back online after it was permanently drained, so it’s unclear what is in store for Holtec should it pursue a reopening of Palisades, said Viktoria Mitlyng, senior officer for the public affairs of the NRC.
“If the NRC receives such a formal request for the re-authorization of the operation of a nuclear power plant after the operator has formally notified the NRC of the permanent cessation of operations and the permanent removal of the fuel – as in the case of Palisades – the ‘agency will determine a path to follow accordingly, based on all the facts and reasons provided, to ensure the highest safety standards, ”Mitlyng said in an email.
People gathered virtually and in South Haven on Thursday night for a public hearing on Holtec’s original plan for Palisades, which consisted of decommissioning the plant. Although the meeting’s agenda had to be adapted to a decommissioning plan presented by the company in 2020, many attendees expressed their support or contempt for the company’s recent effort to reopen.
Lynne Goodman, who appeared at the hearing as a Southeast Michigan resident and nuclear decommissioning consultant, said the reopening of Palisades would reduce carbon emissions and other pollution from coal and natural gas plants.
“My health is affected,” Goodman said. “I really think the plant should be considered for a restart, so we’re putting 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 were scammed by Holtec, who took over Palisades with a promise to divest it.
“It’s a shame we had to find out on 9 September that Holtec had applied on 5 July for this federal bailout and is asking for a state bailout,” Kamps said. “We will challenge this. We will challenge the bailouts. We will challenge the license.”