Watchdogs File FOIA Request for Holtec’s Secretive “Regulatory Path to Reauthorize Power Operations at Palisades Nuclear Plant”


For immediate releaseContact: Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear, (240) 462-3216, [email protected]
Michael Keegan, Don’t Waste Michigan, (734) 770-1441, [email protected]
Wally Taylor, Environmental Coalition Legal Co-Counsel, (319) 350-5807, [email protected]

Watchdogs File Freedom of Information Act Request with NRC for Holtec’s “Regulatory Path to Reauthorize Power Operations at the Palisades Nuclear Plant”

Groups Argue Holtec’s Reactor Restart Scheme Does Not Qualify for Proprietary Trade Secrecy

COVERT, MI, and WASHINGTON, DC, FEBRUARY 14, 2023–Beyond Nuclear and Don’t Waste Michigan, long-time environmental watchdogs on the Palisades atomic reactor, today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The FOIA request, filed by the groups’ legal counsel, Terry Lodge of Toledo, Ohio, seeks unredacted versions of Holtec’s Feb. 1, 2023 cover letter, and two enclosures, regarding the “Regulatory Path to Reauthorize Power Operations at the Palisades Nuclear Plant.” NRC has acknowledged receipt of the groups’ FOIA request.

The FOIA request challenges Holtec’s invocation of proprietary trade secrecy, stating:

“The documents sought by DWM and BN are expected to reveal Holtec International’s suggested regulatory steps to bring about the unprecedented reopening and recommissioning of a shutdown, defueled nuclear power plant which is presently being decommissioned. Holtec’s suggested regulatory path to reopen Palisades is bogus. It is of interest to the public because Holtec has no competitor. Palisades is the only closed reactor whose owner is trying to reopen it; indeed, there has never been a similar effort made to reopen a closed reactor. No one is watching the Palisades controversy to learn some clever regulatory trick. There are no genuine prospects for a Palisades restart.”

The groups’ FOIA request concludes that “Releasing unredacted versions of the requested documents will significantly add to public understanding of the NRC’s role in this unprecedented attempt to restore Palisades to operability.”

This is the third FOIA request submitted by the groups in recent months. The first two were submitted in November 2022 to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the State of Michigan Public Service Commission, for complete documentation on why DOE rejected Holtec’s first federal bailout application on November 18, 2022.

“Since the public is being asked to pay for the Palisades restart, in the form of federal taxpayer bailouts, as well as state subsidies such as above market ratepayer power purchase agreements, the public certainly deserves complete transparency on Holtec’s scheme,” said Michael Keegan, co-chair of Don’t Waste Michigan. “We’re talking potentially billions of dollars in public giveaways to Holtec,” Keegan added.

A breakdown of the costs and complexities associated with restarting Palisades, and the questions they beg, has been prepared by Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds. His statement is included below. He questions where Holtec is getting the funding from, to pursue its restart scheme. Use of the Palisades Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund to do so would not be proper. Gundersen has served as the environmental coalition’s nuclear safety expert witness at Palisades for a decade.

“The off the charts bad safety risks represented by Holtec and Governor Whitmer’s zombie reactor plan means Holtec’s restart strategy needs to be publicly released in its entirety,” said Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear’s radioactive waste specialist. “Pathways to catastrophic meltdown at Palisades include the worst neutron-embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S. and perhaps world, a reactor lid and steam generators that have needed replacement for decades, control rod drive mechanism seals that have been problem-plagued for more than 50 years, and a turbine likely warping under its own weight,” Kamps added.

A 1982 NRC-commissioned study, carried out by Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, most commonly known as CRAC-II (short for Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences, also known as the 1982 Sandia Siting Study, or as NUREG/CR-2239), contained shocking figures for how many casualties would be caused by a meltdown at Palisades, as well as how costly property damage would be. CRAC-II estimated that a Palisades meltdown would cause a thousand peak early fatalities (acute radiation poisoning deaths), 7,000 peak early (radiation) injuries, 10,000 peak cancer deaths (latent cancer fatalities), as well as $52.6 billion in property damage. Adjusted for inflation alone, property damage would surmount $163 billion in 2022 dollar figures. And as AP investigative journalist Jeff Donn reported in his four-part series “Aging Nukes” in 2011, populations have soared around U.S. atomic reactors such as Palisades, so casualty figures would now be significantly worse downwind, downstream, and up the food chain from a meltdown.

NRC has consistently held that the Palisades atomic reactor no longer possesses an operating license. In a July 14, 2022 letter, NRC’s Gregory F. Suber, Deputy Director, Division of Operating Reactor Licensing, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, confirmed to Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps that:

“The regulation 10 CFR 50.82(a)(2) states the following:

Upon docketing of the certifications for permanent cessation of operations and permanent removal of fuel from the reactor vessel, or when a final legally effective order to permanently cease operations has come into effect, the 10 CFR part 50 license no longer authorizes operation of the reactor or emplacement or retention of fuel into the reactor vessel.”

And a Feb. 7, 2023 ExchangeMonitor article, entitled “To restart shuttered Palisades plant, Holtec would need to start ‘from scratch,’ NRC commissioner Crowell says,” reported:

As for NRC’s role in a potential restart, Crowell — who joined the commission in August — said it would be difficult for the safety regulator to prepare for such a development because of the uncertainty surrounding Palisades’ fate.

“I feel like it’s difficult to get our ducks in a row for that because it changes almost on a monthly basis,” Crowell said. “I understand they [Holtec] are in a posture of wanting to find a buyer to do it… but I think at this stage of the game, you’re gonna have to start from scratch.”


Re-release of November 14, 2022 press statement:

Contact: Arnold Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds, (802) 238-4452

Press Availability and Statement by Arnold Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds

Re: Scheme to Restart the Permanently Closed Palisades Atomic Reactor

Covert Township, Van Buren County, MI, November 14, 2022–Arnold Gundersen is Chief Engineer at Fairewinds. Gundersen, a world renowned nuclear power safety watchdog, and nuclear engineer with more than a half-century of experience, served as expert witness on behalf of a local grassroots and national environmental coalition intervening against a major rollback on safety at the Palisades atomic reactor in 2014. For decades, Palisades has been the worst neutron-embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the country, and perhaps the world. Gundersen also served as an expert witness for Friends of the Earth, a leading national environmental group, which culminated in the permanent shutdown of two atomic reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, CA in 2013. And also in 2013, Gundersen served as expert witness for Beyond Nuclear and Don’t Waste Michigan on quality assurance in their oppositional intervention against DTE’s still-stagnated Fermi 3 atomic reactor new build scheme in Monroe County, MI. (Learn more about Arnie Gundersen’s expertise, here.)

Arnold Gundersen has released the following statement to the news media, and is available for one-on-one interviews:

“There are some very important questions for Holtec International to answer regarding its risky and costly scheme to restart the dangerously age-degraded Palisades atomic reactor, which the previous owner Entergy closed for good on May 20, 2022.

First, how many workers were there at Palisades on May 20, 2022, and how many are there today? How long would it take to restaff to the previous level, including training new workers?

Second, how many licensed reactor operators were there at Palisades on May 20, 2022, and how many are there today? How long would it take to restaff to the previous level, including training new control room operators? Or does Holtec simply plan to hire another company to actually operate the Palisades atomic reactor on its behalf? How long would it take to find and enter into a contract with such a company? Which companies are in the running for such a role? DTE?

Third, is there fresh nuclear fuel onsite? If not, how long would it take to order fresh fuel, and have it delivered to Palisades? How much would it cost? I estimate $50 million.

Fourth, how long will it take for Holtec International to obtain an operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which it currently lacks for the Palisades atomic reactor?

Fifth, how long will it take for Holtec International to establish a quality assurance/quality control program for reactor operations at Palisades, which it currently lacks?

Sixth, does Holtec International plan to address the Palisades atomic reactor’s need for a replacement vessel head, as well as for replacement steam generators, before commencing full power reactor operations? What about lingering embrittlement concerns, and the chronic control rod drive mechanism seal leakage that has plagued Palisades for 50 years, including leading to its permanent shutdown 11 days earlier than planned, on May 20, 2022?

Finally, how much would it cost, and who would pay, for retained staff to remain onsite while the reactor is unable to operate and generate electricity, due to: a lack of fresh fuel; an insufficient number of trained workers, including control room operators; the need to establish a quality assurance/control program; and numerous needed major safety significant repairs and replacements?

600 employees sitting around for a year costs half a billion bucks. TO PRODUCE NOTHING.

This is a fair question, since Holtec has applied for hundreds of millions to billions of dollars of federal taxpayer money to restart Palisades, and has also demanded a State of Michigan taxpayer and/or ratepayer bailout as well. How large will these bailouts be? More than a billion dollars in each case? Just to operate Palisades for a few short years?”


Beyond Nuclear is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization. Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abolish both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear. Beyond Nuclear: 7304 Carroll Avenue, #182, Takoma Park, MD 20912. [email protected].


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