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Gretchen Whitmer: Federal grant could keep open Palisades nuclear plant

Gretchen Whitmer
It’s the latest step in an effort by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state officials to stave off a long-planned closure of the plant. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

Owners of the Palisades nuclear power plant are seeking a federal grant to keep the facility operational, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday. 

The Palisades plant on Lake Michigan’s shoreline near South Haven closed on May 20, 11 days before a planned May 31 shutdown. The plant’s former owner, Entergy, transferred the plant to Holtec International for decommissioning. 

But on July 5, Holtec International applied for a federal grant under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a $6 billion fund to help preserve reactors that was created as part of the federal infrastructure package.

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Whitmer submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy in support of the plan Friday.

“Keeping Palisades open will keep energy costs low, shore up domestic energy production, and increase Michigan’s competitiveness for future economic development,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

“The Palisades nuclear facility meets the criteria for this program and keeping it open will help us produce enough clean, reliable energy in Michigan to power hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses,” Whitmer continued. 

According to the governor’s office, the state is “ready to support” Holtec International by identifying state funding and facilitating a power purchase agreement if the application is approved. 

Prior to its closure, the Palisades facility employed 600 people. Of those, 130 moved into other positions at Entergy, 260 were set to work on the decommissioning and about half of the remaining employees retired, according to Entergy. 

Until the closure, Michigan was home to three functioning nuclear plants, which produced 29 percent of the state’s power. 

Efforts to keep the facility operational come as Whitmer’s administration strives to help make Michigan go carbon neutral by 2050. Major Michigan utilities, which have their own net zero goals, are focused primarily on expanding wind and solar generation to meet the bar. 

Whitmer, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Michigan regulators have fought to save the plant, arguing its closure threatens Michigan’s climate goals and the region’s energy security.

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer for her leadership in recognizing the vital importance of Palisades to Michigan’s clean energy future as a source of safe and reliable carbon-free electricity,” Kris Singh, president and CEO of Holtec International, said in a statement.

Nuclear reactors split uranium atoms to produce heat, which causes steam to spin turbines that generate electricity. 

Currently, nuclear reactors supply 19 percent of the nation’s energy needs. The U.S. Energy Information Service estimates national nuclear electricity generation will decline to about 12 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2050 as unprofitable plants like Palisades close.

According to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report, the average cost of generating solar power is now $37 per megawatt hour, while wind comes in at $41, gas at $59 and nuclear at $163.

Although proponents of nuclear energy have argued keeping the plants open can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the possibility for nuclear mishaps and the generation of radioactive waste have drawn opposition from many within the environmental movement.

Anti-nuclear activists have hailed the 51-year-old Palisades’ closure as an overdue victory, citing concerns about “embrittlement” that increases the reactor’s risk of cracking near the Great Lakes.

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