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Palisades nuclear plant owners will try again to reopen Michigan plant

Palisades plant
The Palisades nuclear plant closed in May, but state officials and the plant’s new owners say they’re holding out hope of reopening the facility. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)
  • The feds denied Holtec International’s first bid for money to reopen the Palisades nuclear plant
  • Citing Michigan’s need for clean reliable energy, Holtec plans to try again
  • Anti-nuclear groups oppose the move, citing safety concerns

After the federal government denied its request for money to reopen the Palisades nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan the facility’s owner said it will try again.

Holtec International announced Monday that it will reapply for a grant from the Department of Energy’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program. The fund was created to bailout financially-struggling nuclear plants in hopes of preserving their emissions-free power amid a global climate crisis.

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“The repowering of Palisades is of vital importance to Michigan’s clean energy future,” Holtec Government Affairs and Communications Director Patrick O’Brien said in a statement. “As Michigan transitions from fossil-fuel generation to renewables and emerging advanced technologies, baseload nuclear generation is an essential backstop.”

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Despite structuring the first round of grants to specifically target southwest Michigan’s Palisades and California’s Diablo Canyon plants, federal regulators last fall rejected Holtec’s bid for a cut of the funds. 

By then, the 51-year-old plant had already closed, taking offline enough electricity to power 800,000 homes. Consumers Energy, which purchased power from Palisades, has instead turned to purchasing power from outside providers.

Continuing to buy nuclear energy from the plant was unappealing, Consumers officials said, because the power sometimes cost 57 percent more than market prices as nuclear struggled to compete against cheaper natural gas and renewables.

It’s a familiar story: Competition from cheaper energy sources has caused a wave of nuclear plant closures and threatened closures across the country. That has prompted utilities like Consumers to get more of their power from fossil fuels, wiping out years of progress toward carbon neutrality as each moment of delay assures worsening climate peril.

The funding wait-and-see leaves Holtec in an awkward position: Its crews are working to decommission the plant, while the company and Michigan officials hold out hope of reopening it.

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Anti-nuclear activists argue it’s a foolish goal. They cite fears about safety issues at the aging plant, including “embrittlement” that increases the reactor’s risk of cracking near the Great Lakes. And they argue the government’s $6 billion would be better spent supporting the renewable energy build-out than prolonging the life of old and uncompetitive nuclear plants.

“They’re just coming in for another bailout,” said Grant Smith, a senior energy policy advisor with the Environmental Working Group, a national nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. “These things are just a financial disaster.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support reopening the plant, which provided 600 jobs when it was operational. Whitmer’s spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. 

The next federal grant application period is expected to open in January. O’Brien said while Holtec prepares to apply for funds, workers at Palisades are focused on moving the plant’s spent nuclear fuel into dry cask storage.

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