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Environmental groups have criticized a plan to reopen Michigan’s nuclear plant

Dozens of environmental groups submitted a letter to federal energy officials Friday pleading with them to deny funding to a New Jersey company seeking to reopen a nuclear plant in western Michigan.

In a letter Friday to US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Department of Energy officials, the groups argued that the Palisades power plant should not qualify for the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a $6 billion fund created through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

That’s because Palisades will permanently close in May, according to new owner Holtec International and former owner Entergy Nuclear. The federal program states that nuclear power reactors must shut down due to economic factors — which environmental groups say does not include Palisades because they no longer produce or sell electricity.

“It is unequivocally clear that (program visualizations) only support reactors operating under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program,” the letter from environmental groups said. “The program is simply not considering financing a closed reactor that has ended operations.”

The letter was signed by the Michigan Sierra Club, Michigan Wildlife Service, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and anti-nuclear groups across Michigan and the United States.

Bringing Palisades back into the grid “would be a huge success story” for Michigan and the United States because it would provide carbon-neutral energy, said Nick Kolb, Holtech’s senior director of government affairs.

“We remain committed to working with our federal, state, and community partners throughout this process,” Kolb said in an email. “For now, our Palisades employees remain focused on a safe and timely decommissioning of the site, allowing for potential reuse.”

The Civil Nuclear Credit Program is designed to help existing nuclear plants through subsidies that help them overcome the economic challenges that nuclear power has faced since the price of natural gas fell. To qualify for the credits, plant owners must demonstrate that their plants have closed due to economic factors, that the closure will increase air pollution, and the NRC must be able to provide “reasonable assurance” that the reactor can operate with its current license and does not pose significant safety risks. .

The prospect of Palisades returning to the power grid gained momentum early this month after Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced that Holtech had applied for funding for its civilian nuclear credit program in July. The company warned that it would also need government funding to resume operations, which Whitmer said it was prepared to support.

Whitmer, a Democrat running for re-election, is usually on the same side as environmentalists on many issues. But they diverged in Palisades.

There are obstacles to reopening. Prema Chandrathil, public affairs officer for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Palisades closed more than a week early in May as a “conservative decision based on equipment performance.” The control rod drive mechanism had a degrading seal.

The National Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Nuclear Regulatory Authority transferred Palisades’ license from Intergy to Holtech “for the purpose of dismantling Palisades” on June 28. All fuel was removed from the reactor on June 13.

The NRC has never received a request to put a nuclear plant back into the grid after it was permanently decommissioned, so it’s unclear what Holtech is in store for if it seeks to reopen the Palisades, said Victoria Mittling, NRC’s chief public affairs officer.

“If the NRC receives such a formal request to re-authorize the operation of a nuclear power plant after the operator has formally notified the NRC of a permanent ceasing of operations and permanent removal of fuel – as with Palisades – the agency will determine a path forward accordingly, based on any facts and logic being provided, to ensure the highest safety standards,” Mittling said in an email.

People gathered virtually and in South Haven Thursday night for a public hearing about Holtech’s original plan for Palisades, which would have shut down the plant. Although the meeting agenda was supposed to be tailored to the company’s 2020 shutdown plan, many attendees expressed support or disdain for the company’s recent efforts to reopen.

Reopening the Palisades will reduce carbon emissions and other pollution that comes from coal- and natural-gas plants, said Lynn Goodman, who presented herself during the hearing as a Southeast Michigan resident and nuclear decommissioning advisor.

“My health is affected by that,” Goodman said. “I really think restarting the plant should be considered, so we’re putting in less polluted air in Michigan.”

Kevin Camps, a radioactive waste specialist at anti-nuclear group Beyond, said regulators and the public were duped by Holtech, which had acquired Palisades with a promise to shut it down.

“It’s too bad to find out on September 9 that Holtech applied on July 5 for this federal bailout and is asking for a government bailout,” Camps said. “We’re going to challenge all of this. We’re going to challenge bailouts. We’re going to challenge licensing.”

ckthompson@detroitnews.com


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