Nuclear plant may operate until 2031

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a pair of license amendments to the controversial Palisades Nuclear Power Station that may help the 45-year-old west Michigan plant continue operating until 2031.

Federal regulators this week approved adjustments to the operating license of the plant near South Haven that deal directly with facility integrity. The changes, according to an NRC official, will do nothing to reduce the overall safety level at the plant.

But anti-nuclear and conservation groups immediately challenged the NRC’s decision. Critics said the amendments allow owner Entergy to operate the plant until the expiration of its license in 2031 “despite the increasing risks at what has long been acknowledged as the worst neutron radiation embrittled and age-degraded reactor pressure vessel in the U.S.”

Palisades has been under the microscope in recent years for repeated shutdowns over maintenance and safety concerns. First brought online in 1971, the plant along the shore of Lake Michigan was originally licensed to operate until 2011.

NRC approvals have extended Palisades’ operating license to 2031 — a move that has incited watchdog groups that argue the plant is no longer safe.

On Monday, the NRC issued amendments regarding:

■Postulated accident event: Palisades will be allowed to use standards that were updated five years ago pertaining to the reactor vessel’s ability to withstand a “certain type of accident.”

■Appendix G: Since Palisades’ reactor vessel toughness was projected to fall beneath a trigger level, Entergy was required to submit data proving “significant flaws” won’t develop under normal operation. NRC has accepted the company’s data.

Entergy officials could not be reached for comment. But an NRC representative said the amendments do nothing to lessen safety at the plant.

“Yes, there will be amended rules and regulations,” said NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyn. “But the bottom line is all of the requests for amendment and the constant analysis are part and parcel of ensuring plant safety and making sure plants adhere to NRC requirements, which exist for nuclear safety.”

Longtime Palisades critic Kevin Kamps of the group Beyond Nuclear argues federal officials are putting the public at greater risk of an accident.

“NRC has custom-tailored weakened regulations to accommodate the severely age-degraded Palisades atomic reactor and to allow Entergy to run it into the ground until 2031,” Kamps said in a statement. “The collusion ... to keep Palisades operating is frighteningly similar to the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe in Japan. ...”

Beyond Nuclear is one of several groups involved in the Shutdown Before Meltdown campaign aimed at ending Palisades’ run as an active reactor.

“This is likely the public’s last opportunity to question the absurdly embrittled and dangerous pressure vessel at Palisades,” wrote Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney involved with the Shutdown campaign.

Mitlyn said the most recent amendments approved by NRC were granted on an issue-by-issue basis and that future issues would be addressed the same way.

“Generally, yes, Palisades has been licensed to operate until 2031,” she said. “But I cannot tell you for sure that the plant will operate until that time because if an immediate safety problem arises that NRC feels will endanger the plant and the public ... that plant simply would not be allowed to operate.”

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