Palisades nuclear power plant denied federal funds to reopen

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Holtec International's application for funds to reopen Michigan's Palisades nuclear power plant has been denied by the Department of Energy, the company announced on Twitter on Friday.

Holtec International applied for funds through the Energy Department's Civil Nuclear Credit Program after the plant was officially shut down in May. The $6 billion program is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to keep existing reactors around the country running. Applicants must demonstrate that they will be closed for economic reasons and that carbon emissions and air pollutants will rise if they are closed.

"We appreciate the consideration that the Department of Energy (DOE) put into our application for the Civilian Nuclear Credit program," Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien said in a statement. "We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, re-starting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry."

Holtec International acquired the plant from Entergy Nuclear last December with the plan of decommissioning it. The plan was controversial as state Attorney General Dana Nessel doubted the company had the financial qualifications to swiftly and safely decommission the plant.

Steam rises from the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, Michigan, February 17, 2022.

Several environmental groups took issue with the fact that Holtec planned to decommission the plant using solely a trust funded by Consumers Energy customers when the utility owned the plant and no money of its own. They also fear it could pose a threat to the Great Lakes if Holtec decides to ship nuclear waste to a storage facility in another state.

Nessel and the activists requested hearings to allow them to scrutinize Holtec's plans for decommissioning the pant. The environmental group's request was denied but Nessel's was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A hearing is scheduled for February.

Holtec announced it was seeking federal grant money to reopen the Palisades plant in September. The plan was met with support by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who also promised state funding. Many environmental groups say the plant may be key to meeting state-wide climate goals for carbon neutrality.

"Despite this temporary setback, Governor Whitmer will continue competing to bring home transformational projects creating thousands of good-paying jobs to our state in autos, chips, batteries, and clean energy," Robert Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer told The News in an email.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, MI, February 17, 2022.

Holtec remains committed to helping the nuclear and energy industries find solutions as their employees focus on the decommissioning of Palisades to allow for potential reuse, O’Brien said in a statement.

Radioactive waste specialist Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear stand in front of Palisades Power Plant on September 8, 2021 in Colvert, MI.

Beyond Nuclear, one of the environmental groups that attempted to stop Holtec from taking over the plant, said they were thankful that the reactor has already been shut down and a reactor meltdown has been avoided.

"Governor Whitmer's unwise last-second scheme to bail out Palisades with billions of dollars of state and federal taxpayer money, in order to restart it for nine more years of operations, had to be stopped," said Beyond Nuclear radioactive waste specialist Kevin Kamps. "We are happy Energy Secretary Granholm did so, by denying the federal bailout."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the status of a hearing requested by Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Reporter Carol Thompson contributed to this story.