Nuclear Plant on Lake Michigan Plans to Permanently Shut Down - NBC Chicago
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Nuclear Plant on Lake Michigan Plans to Permanently Shut Down

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    A nuclear power plant with a recent history of reported leaks and shutdowns is expected to power down permanently in late 2018. Chris Coffey reports. (Published Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016)

    A nuclear power plant with a recent history of reported leaks and shutdowns is expected to power down permanently in late 2018.

    Entergy Corporation announced it has agreed to an early termination of its power purchase agreement with Consumers Energy for the Palisades Power Plant in Covert Township, Michigan. The power plant sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, the primary source of drinking water for Chicago area residents.

    The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals. 

    Nuclear watchdog groups and concerned neighbors have argued the plant’s significant systems are too old and dangerous. Some expressed satisfaction when they heard news of the planned shutdown.

    “It can’t happen soon enough,” said Dillion Reed, a Chicago-area resident who owns a property near the power plant.

    Earlier this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) questioned how the plant conducted routine fire safety inspections. In response, Entergy placed some security officers on paid administrative leave and “implemented strong interim actions to ensure appropriate staffing and that fire tours are conducted properly.” 

    Several reported small leaks have also forced plant shutdowns in recent years. A leak in 2013 spilled 79 gallons of radioactive water in to Lake Michigan. Although, nuclear experts said that spill posed no risk to the public.

    “The closure of Palisades is a great step forward in protecting people and Lake Michigan from the risks many didn’t even know they were under,” said Gail Snyder, who owns a vacation property near the power plant.

    Plant officials have insisted the facility is safe and poses no danger to the public.

    According to an Entergy press release, market conditions have changed substantially since it purchased the power plant from Consumers Energy in 2007. Entergy said more economic alternatives are now available to provide reliable power to the region.

    “We determined that a shutdown in 2018 is prudent when comparing the transaction to the business risks of continued operation,” said Leo Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive officer.

    Entergy said the original agreement committed Consumers Energy to purchase nearly all of the power that Palisades generated through April 2022. Palisades will be refueled as scheduled in the spring of 2017 and operate through the end of the fuel cycle, then permanently shut down on October 1, 2018.

    “Hard to believe they’ll go forward with that plan, only to close the following year,” Reed said.

    The Palisades plant started generating electricity in 1971. It currently employs approximately 600 workers.

    A company spokesperson said Palisades will transition into decommissioning following shutdown. The used fuel will remain secured on site and under guard. Removal of the fuel from the reactor vessel to the spent fuel pool is expected to begin as soon as the reactor has cooled sufficiently, according to the spokesperson. 

    Fuel from the spent fuel pool is eventually transferred to NRC-licensed dry casks. Critics said that process may take years. 

    “Even after permanent shutdown, area residents and environmental watchdogs will have to remain vigilant, to make sure the dismantlement of the facilities, the clean-up of the contaminated site and Lake Michigan sediments, and the management of the high-level radioactive waste on-site, are done safely and in the best possible way, both in regards to Palisades’ workforce, and to area residents downwind and downstream,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. 

    Entergy said a portion of the existing staff will be retained to help work through the various stages of the decommissioning process. 

    “Entergy is committed to treating our employees fairly throughout this process and will assist employees who want to relocate within Entergy or leave the company,” said Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, a business unit within Entergy. 

    The transaction is expected to result in $344 million in savings, $172 million of which is expected to lower Consumers Energy customers’ costs over the early termination period from 2018 to 2022, according to the Entergy press release.

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