Press Statement re: Palisades zombie reactor restart

Yard signs created by Michigan Safe Energy Future's Kalamazoo Chapter and Shutdown Palisades Campaign.

For immediate releaseContact: Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist, Beyond Nuclear, [email protected], (240) 462-3216

Wolverine and Hoosier Rural Electric Co-Ops’ Power Purchase Agreement with Holtec for Palisades’ Electricity

a ‘Pig in a Poke,’ Says Critic

Reliability, Affordability, and Even Safety Put at Extreme Risk by Zombie Atomic Reactor Restart Scheme

COVERT TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER 13, 2023–The following is a press statement by Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, in response to the announcement of the Wolverine/Hoosier-Holtec Power Purchase Agreement for Palisades atomic reactor’s electricity:

“Palisades’ risks extend across the entire Great Lakes region, and beyond.
Entergy’s closure of Palisades on May 20, 2022 was great news in many regards, including the fact that no more high-level radioactive waste would be generated there. But the zombie reactor restart would generate 20 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel per year. And the four Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs) Holtec wants to add at the Palisades site would generate between 2 to 30 times as much high-level radioactive waste, per unit of electricity generated, as current atomic reactors do. The zombie reactor restart would also revive the risk of a catastrophic core meltdown, not possible at a permanently defueled reactor.
Wolverine and Hoosier have bought a pig in a poke. The impacts on their service areas’ electricity reliability and affordability, and even their ratepayers’ safety and health, cannot be overstated.
Palisades was the most dangerous reactor in the country, and perhaps the entire world, in regards to neutron-embrittlement of the pressure vessel, long before it shut down. Due to pressurized thermal shock, like a hot glass under cold water — only at a ton of pressure per square inch — activation of the emergency core cooling system water flow could fracture the vessel, inevitably causing a core meltdown. If the containment structure also failed, as at Fukushima Daiichi, then catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity would escape into the environment, harming Wolverine and Hoosier ratepayers, and everyone else, downstream, downwind, up the food chain, and down the generations.
But there are additional meltdown risks at Palisades.
The steam generators should have been replaced two decades ago, but have not been. To make matters worse, since Holtec took over Palisades on June 28, 2022, there is no indication the steam generators have been actively maintained. If they have not been, then this safety-significant system is in even worse shape, a year and a half after shutdown. Holtec should be required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to replace the steam generators as a precondition for restart, but very likely will not, despite the extremely high safety risks.
The reactor vessel closure head, or lid, has also needed replacement for over two decades. Its failure could also lead to reactor core meltdown. It must be replaced before Palisades is allowed to restart, but likely will not be.
Palisades also has the worst operating experience in the country with control rod drive mechanism seal leakage. This safety-significant problem began at Palisades in 1972, and has repeatedly occurred since. No root cause has been determined, and only BAND-AID fixes have ever been applied. This problem must be resolved before restart, but has not been resolved in more than 50 years.
The list of safety, and security, problems at Palisades goes on and on. We have dodged catastrophic radioactive bullets for more than fifty years. But how much longer will our luck hold out?
Now Holtec, Wolverine, Hoosier, Governor Whitmer, the Michigan legislature, and Energy Secretary Granholm — herself former governor, and attorney general, of Michigan — want the public to pay for this most dangerous game of radioactive Russian roulette on the Lake Michigan shore. If the worst happens, the drinking water supply for 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a very large number of Indigenous Nations, will be put in peril. The Great Lakes are 21% of the world’s surface fresh water, 84% of North America’s, and 95% of the United States’. The precious, irreplaceable Great Lakes should never be put at such catastrophic risk like this.
What could a reactor meltdown at Palisades look like in terms of consequences? A 1982 report, commissioned by the NRC, and performed by Sandia National Laboratory, calculated that 1,000 peak early fatalities (radiation poisoning deaths), 7,000 peak radiation injuries, and 10,000 peak cancer deaths (latent cancer fatalities), as well as $52 billion in property damage, would result. Just adjusting for inflation alone — but not even accounting for economic development in the surrounding region over the past four decades — would increase that property damage figure to $163 billion in current dollar values. And as pointed out by AP investigative reporter Jeff Donn in his four-part series “Aging Nukes” more than a decade ago, populations have soared around atomic reactors in the U.S. since 1982, so today casualty figures would be even worse. Donn also cited reactor pressure vessel embrittlement as a lead example of NRC regulatory retreat, for decades.
In addition to the health, safety, security, and environmental risks of this unprecedented zombie reactor restart scheme, by companies that have never operated an atomic reactor, and are still not even licensed to, there are also the pocketbook impacts, to not only ratepayers, but also taxpayers.
The State of Michigan has already approved $150 million in giveaways to Holtec for the zombie reactor restart scheme, but Holtec would like $150 million more. These Michigan giveaways will benefit the private Holtec corporation, but also Hoosier ratepayers in Indiana, a very dubious use of hard earned Michigander state tax dollars.
But this $150-300 million is but the tip of the iceberg. It would be used to grease the skids for another billion dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the form of a zero-risk, interest-free loan guarantee, unwittingly backed by and compliments of hardworking U.S. taxpayers (yet again, including those in Michigan, as well as in Indiana, and the rest of the country).
Holtec may well apply, for the third time, for yet another federal bailout, this one for $1.2 billion, from the Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) fund at DOE. Holtec’s applications last year were rejected by DOE, after a large coalition of environmental groups wrote Energy Secretary Granholm that this would be illegal, given that closed reactors like Palisades are not eligible. However, DOE has recently revised its CNC fund guidelines, apparently to make Palisades eligible. The environmental coalition responded to Energy Secretary Granholm, pointing out that DOE’s revised, zombie reactor restart-friendly guidelines are in violation of the organic authorizing act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Added together, these state and federal bailouts would hit taxpayers in the pocketbook to the tune of $2.5 billion.
But Holtec has also applied for another $7.4 billion in nuclear loan guarantees from DOE, for the design certification, construction, and operation of four so-called Small Modular (Nuclear) Reactors (SMRs). Holtec recently revealed in a newsletter that it intends to build all four SMRs at the small Palisades site, begging the question, will eminent domain be invoked, seizing land from the resort community to the south, and/or the state park to the north, for this SMR new builds scheme?
That would raise the total of public bailouts at Palisades to just shy of $10 billion. How many more jobs, and tax revenues for local municipalities, and charitable contributions, and other societal goods and services, could be created with that $10 billion, instead of wasting it on such a high-risk, astronomically expensive, six-decade old white elephant as the Palisades nuclear power plant? Just the restart scheme’s $2.5 billion in bailouts, to restore a mere 400 jobs at the site, would mean that each job would cost more than $6 million to create. The opportunity costs of this mindless scheme are outrageous.
(Hyundai of South Korea is a major investment partner in Holtec’s SMR new build schemes. This, despite a July 7, 2023 exposé, reported by the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, where Holtec has headquarters, that Holtec’s former, fired Chief Financial Officer, Kevin O’Rourke, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit. O’Rourke has alleged Holtec CEO, Krishna Singh, pressured him to lie regarding more than a billion dollars in projected losses, and made up revenues. O’Rourke claims to have refused to take part in the allegedly fraudulent economic prospectus presented to Hyundai, which resulted in the Holtec-Hyundai SMR new build investment partnership.)
The combination of the zombie reactor restart, and four immediately adjacent SMRs, would represent the extremes on both ends of the risk spectrum. Breakdown phase risks at the more than half-century old reactor, would be combined with break-in phase risks at the brand new SMRs. Examples of break-in phase meltdowns, or explosions and fires, at brand new nuclear power plants include Fermi Unit 1 in Michigan in 1966, Three Mile Island Unit 2 in Pennsylvania in 1979, and Chornobyl in Ukraine in 1986. Multiple reactors at elevated, and even extreme, risk on the Palisades site could also lead to domino-effect multiple meltdowns, as occurred at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan in 2011.
In addition to safety and affordability, there is the question of reliability. Will Palisades even ever restart? It is a legitimate question, given the unprecedented nature of restarting a supposedly permanently closed reactor. It is also a legitimate question, given Palisades half-century of “nuclear lemon” unreliable performance, including post-Fukushima, for its last decade of operations. It is also a legitimate question, given Holtec’s apparent lack of active maintenance since shutdown, including with safety-significant systems, structures, and components across the site. Wolverine and Hoosier may never see much, or any, electricity supply from Palisades, given all the many costly challenges and concerns listed above, including the risk that major breakdowns are all too likely.”



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].

[Photo credit, Kevin Kamps; yard sign design by Michigan Safe Energy Future-Kalamazoo Chapter and Shut Down Palisades Campaign.]

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