Palisades owners plan two more Michigan nuclear reactors
- The owner of the shuttered Palisades nuclear plant wants to build two reactors on the site
- Other efforts to commercialize so-called ‘small modular reactors’ have so far failed
- Holtec International claims it will prevail by adding its facility to a site with existing infrastructure
The owners of the shuttered Palisades nuclear plant say they not only plan on repowering the facility on the Lake Michigan shoreline in southwest Michigan, but also hope to double the site’s power generation by building two additional reactors.
Holtec International on Monday announced plans to bring the small modular reactors online by 2030, but will first need to clear permitting and construction hurdles and overcome financial challenges that have stymied other efforts to make the technology commercially viable.
Small modular reactors are a new form of nuclear reactor that promises to deliver safer, cheaper energy than traditional reactors. But last month, the company behind America’s first small nuclear reactor project in Utah canceled construction, citing cost concerns.
- Michigan company agrees to buy nuclear power from shuttered Palisades plant
- Michigan lawmakers pledge ‘full support’ for reopening Palisades nuclear plant
- Fresh off Palisades closure, Michigan will study state’s nuclear prospects
- Nuclear power is having a moment in Michigan after Palisades
Holtec officials say building the reactors on the already-developed Palisades property in Van Buren County will save time and money, because the site already contains infrastructure and staff to produce nuclear energy.
The so-called SMR-300 reactors would generate 300 megawatts of energy apiece — enough to power 300,000 homes each. That comes on top of the mothballed 800-megawatt plant, which is capable of powering more than 800,000 homes.
“By building at our own site with our own credit and our own at-risk funds, we hope to deliver the dual-unit (small reactors) within schedule and budget — an outcome that has eluded our industry for a long time,” said Kris Singh, the company’s CEO.
Unlike traditional reactors, small modular reactors can be assembled in factories and then installed on-site. Several companies are developing the technology, but it has not been commercially deployed in North America. In a statement Monday, Holtec claimed its planned reactors in Michigan are “likely to be the industry’s first.”
Holtec is awaiting federal approval and funding to repower the existing plant, which closed in May 2022 after failing to deliver energy that was cost-competitive with other sources such as renewables and natural gas.
But as America races to swap fossil fuels for carbon-free energy, nuclear is getting a second look — and billions in federal subsidies.
Holtec has secured $150 million in state dollars to help repower the Palisades plant, and is seeking about $1 billion in federal loans. If successful, the company hopes to repower Palisades by late 2025.
Wolverine Rural Electric Cooperative, a Cadillac-based nonprofit that provides power to rural Lower Peninsula communities, has agreed to buy power from Palisades. Wolverine has also applied for federal funding to defray the high cost of nuclear energy compared to other sources.
When it was fully operational, the Palisades plant employed some 600 workers. Holtec has said it will employ about 520 if reopened.
Kevin Kamps, of the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear, estimated the restart’s total cost will be $4.5 billion, with taxpayers covering most of the bill. He argued investing in renewable energy is a better way to create jobs and generate carbon-free energy.
“You could start new solar installation businesses and hire 100 people or more per job at Palisades,” Kamps said. “That's how inefficient and outrageous these opportunity costs are.”
Holtec also plans to fund its small reactor build-out with taxpayer dollars. The company has applied for a $7.4 billion federal loan to support SMR manufacturing and construction.
The plan to add small reactors won cheers from state Rep. Joey Andrews, D-St. Joseph, who represents the area surrounding Palisades.
Andrews hailed the “preservation of hundreds of high-paying jobs” at the plant, along with more jobs building and operating the new reactors.
“Today is a great day for southwest Michigan,” he said.
Holtec began developing its SMR design in 2011.
Unlike Palisades, whose reactors were cooled with water from Lake Michigan, Holtec says the new design will be capable of operating “without any operator action nor any external source of electricity or cooling water.”
Holtec is also eyeing a former reactor site in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, for deployment of the new technology.
Spokespeople for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Whitmer has supported efforts to repower the existing Palisades plant.
She also pushed for a new law requiring Michigan utilities to go carbon-free by 2040, a move that will require coal and natural gas to be swapped for sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.
Michigan Environment Watch
Michigan Environment Watch examines how public policy, industry, and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.
Michigan Environment Watch is made possible by generous financial support from:
Our generous Environment Watch underwriters encourage Bridge Michigan readers to also support civic journalism by becoming Bridge members. Please consider joining today.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!