Residents Express Concern Over Aging Nuclear Plant

Feds increase inspections at 42-year-old Palisades Nuclear Power Plant by 1,000 hours this year

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    NEWSLETTERS

    There have been seven small leaks at the 42-year-old plant in the last two years. Chris Coffey investigates.

    Chicago-area residents with property at a popular nearby vacation spot are growing increasingly concerned about one of their neighbors: The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

    The South Haven, Mich., plant is a 42-year-old facility that many seasonal neighbors said is showing its age.

    "It is a socio-technical system that has failed. That’s extremely dangerous,” said Ann Scott, an Oak Brook resident who also owns a cottage near the power plant.

    The plant has reported seven leaks since 2012, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Six leaks caused plant shutdowns. A leak in May spilled about 80 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan.

    Gail Snyder is another Chicago-area resident who owns property near the power plant.

    "I feel that it’s really a risk to this community," Snyder said. "It’s a risk to the region and it’s a risk to the Great Lakes."

    The NRC reports none of the leaks compromised public safety. Nuclear experts told NBC 5 Investigates Lake Michigan would have diluted the radioactive leak in May.

    However, officials from the NRC are keeping a much closer eye on Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. The federal government is increasing inspections at the plant by 1,000 hours this year.

    New Orleans-based Entergy owns Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. The company is quick to respond to concerns from the public and said it would not be operating Palisades if it weren’t safe.

    "We’re doing constant inspections. We’re constantly upgrading equipment. We’re constantly changing things out," said spokesperson Lindsay Rose.

    But neighbors are concerned by the recent shutdowns and startups at the plant. Critics said that can stress equipment at a nuclear power plant.

    "It’s just too old to keep going," said Dillon Reed, a resident of Darien who also owns a cottage near the plant.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nuclear watchdog group that is paying close attention to the situation at Palisades. David Lochbaum represents the group and said nuclear power is a "very enticing technology when you get it right, but a disaster when you get it wrong."

    "It takes a lot of steps or a lot of things to go wrong for a nuclear disaster to occur, but the more pre-existing failures you have, the shorter that path becomes," Lochbaum said.

    However, a leading nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory said he would not hesitate to lie on the beach near Palisades. According to Dr. Roger Blomquist, nuclear power plants provide cheap electricity with essentially zero pollution and leaks typically occur gradually.

    "It’s actually unheard of to have a very large, sudden leak," Blomquist said. "So you start detecting leakage and then you hunt down the source of the leakage and then you can isolate and fix it."

    But for many neighbors the cheap and clean benefits of nuclear power is not enough to outweigh the nuclear risks.

    "They have allowed radioactive waste to leak into the water and there is no guarantee that today it isn’t going to happen again on a much greater scale," Scott said.

    Palisades was originally licensed to operate for 40 years. It recently received a 20 year license extension.