Palisades nuclear power station permanently closes


The Palisades nuclear power station located in Covert Township, Michigan on the shore of Lake Michigan has permanently closed.  The single-unit nuclear power station had just received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer the federal license on December 13, 2021 from the New Orleans-based Entergy Nuclear Corporation to the Camden, New Jersey private corporation, Holtec International.  Palisades first received a provisional 40-year commercial operating license from the Atomic Energy Commission on March 24, 1971. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had awarded the operator of the Combustion Engineering Pressurized Water Reactor with a 20-year operating license renewal until March 24, 2031. The closure comes as no surprise since Entergy had announced in 2017 that it would end power production early because of uneconomical operations and safety-related age degradation issues including the unit’s neutron embrittled and irreplaceable reactor pressure vessel. The May 20th shutdown came eleven days earlier than the utility had previously announced date for May 31, 2022. The possession license transfer from Entergy to Holtec International provides for the decommissioning of the nuclear facility and the nuclear waste management.

Controversy has stalked the Palisade reactor for decades.  Palisades has been described as having the most embrittled  reactor pressure vessel in the US reactor fleet, raising uncertainty and concern for the viability of the reactor’s largest single component that contains the reactor core. The intense neutron bombardment from the reactor’s core over time has chemically changed the iron vessel and the material quality of its welds with a loss of the metals’ ductility to expand and contract with extreme temperature change encountered during start up, shut down and  in the event of an accident at full power, the initiation of the Emergency Core Cooling System. The cooling system’s cold water shock could shatter the hot metal like pouring ice water into a baked glass.   Another example of safety issues goes back to siting the reactor’s concrete pad for the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation and dry casks containing hundreds of tons of high-level nuclear waste generated over 41 years of operation, the irradiated nuclear fuel. In 2004, it was disclosed by an Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety inspector turned federal whistleblower, Ross Landsman, who identified violations of the reactor’s Safe Shutdown Earthquake evaluation and subsurface  stability under the concrete pad for the loaded nuclear waste casks that are remain perched on the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Landsman filed a Differing Professional Opinion with the agency in an effort to prevent the loading of nuclear waste into the casks for indefinite storage on a geology literally of  “shifting sand.”  The NRC would not accept Landsman’s and allowed the loading to occur anyways. Landsman maintained that in the event of an earthquake the pad and the nuclear waste casks are not safe as sited on the Lake Michigan shore.

As the original May 31, 2022 closure date approached, Democrat Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had sought an eleventh hour reprieve with a call to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department Of Energy. Whitmer had requested a taxpayer bailout for Palisades through a federally legislated $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program set up for dozens of similar economically distressed reactors, but to no avail.

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