An aging nuclear power plant that once leaked into Chicago’s main source of drinking water has received an improved report card, although the plant remains a source of controversy and federal regulators said they will continue to monitor the plant closely.
Palisades Power Plant, located near South Haven, Michigan, sits on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concluded that, overall, the Palisades facility operated safely last year.
"They had several issues with some leaks that had occurred," said Jack Geissner, the NRC Region 3 deputy director for reactor projects. "The site has taken a lot of action. We’ve inspected that and had made improvements in that area."
Still, inspectors said the plant has more work to do.
After spending the first three quarters of 2014 in the highest column of the NRC’s safety performance matrix, the plant moved to the second column in the fourth quarter, leading to increased inspection and oversight. According to an NRC press release, this was due to a low-to-moderate safety significance involving the plant’s failure to adequately assess the radiation dose to workers conducting a component replacement activity in February and March of 2014.
The facility has taken corrective actions to address the violations.
The plant reported several leaks to the NRC in recent years, including a small spill in to Lake Michigan in 2013. A nuclear expert said the risk was low because the spill was likely diluted by the large body of water.
The NRC also investigated the plant's work environment after a February 2014 inspection found that some Palisades security officers felt that they were not free to raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation. In December, NRC inspectors concluded that the security department no longer had a chilled work environment. However, the NRC said it will perform an additional review to determine if the plant’s improvements have been sustained and if additional NRC oversight is warranted.
"We are continuing to work with our officers and all of our employees to make sure that they always know how they can raise safety concerns," said Lindsay Rose, spokesperson for Palisades.
While plant officials insist the Palisades facility is safe, critics call the plant a risk to public health, air and water quality.
"This plant should have shut down a long time ago," said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. "We are deep into the breakdown phase at this atomic reactor. A long list of major safety problems. Any one of which fails and it’s a meltdown risk."
Plant officials said the facility had no unplanned shutdowns or power changes last year.
"We haven’t had an unplanned shutdown since May of 2013, so that really speaks to our efforts to improve equipment and reliability at Palisades," Rose said.
However, opponents said the NRC is too soft on Palisades.
"There have been major rollbacks on safety standards to allow this plant to keep operating," Kamps said.
The NRC said it is dedicated to ensuring the plant is operating safely.
Palisades employees voiced their support of the plant at a recent open house for the public organized by the NRC. Others called the meeting a public relations stunt.
The owners of Palisades, Entergy, recently closed the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vermont. Entergy said the decision was based on financial factors. According to published reports, the plant faced a lot of pressure from the public and state lawmakers.