Palisades Nuclear Plant prepares to shut down
COVERT, Mich. — A nuclear plant named after the stunning dunes that surround it provides power for 800,000 Southwest Michigan homes and businesses.
That would be Palisades in Covert.
But after 50 years, its owner, New Orleans-based Entergy, has decided it's time to turn the nuclear reactor off for good.
“It’s a business decision to shut down the plant, we plan to do so in the spring of 2022, specifically May,” said Val Gent, senior communications specialist for Palisades.
Once May 31, 2022 rolls around though, the property won’t immediately look much different and some of the radioactive waste leftover will be stored on site.
“The process entails shutting down the plant permanently, removing the fuel from the reactor and placing it in storage where it will be safely monitored by the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] as well as our security, and after that removing all the structures and remediating the land so it can be ready for site reuse; the entire process will take 19 years,” said Gent.
Once decommissioning starts next year, Entergy will have handed off its license to Holtec as part of its sales agreement.
Entergy will still help pay for the decommissioning through a special trust fund monitored by the NRC.
It’s expected to cost around $644 million, a number that prompted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to intervene in February over concerns it may not be enough to get the job done in 19 years.
“The NRC does say the expenses meet or exceed the amount it will take to decommission the plant,” said Gent.
A 32-member panel has been created by the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners to oversee Palisades closure, hear community concerns, and work with electrical distributor, Consumers Energy, on how the power will be replaced.
“The first step was to create a more robust economic development office and we’ve done that through creating Market Van Buren, the county has created a strategic economic development fund, they’ve also created my position – I was formerly the county administrator,” said John Faul, Palisades project director.
Van Buren County is also getting its own funding to create an economic strategy ahead of the closure, including a $969,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“The grant will help us identify funding sources for both the gaps and strengths, once we have that we can do an implementation whether that involve real estate, an industrial park, and a lot of this is going to ducktail with American Rescue Plan money,” said Faul.
As for the property, what becomes of it when decommissioning is finished in 2041?
Entergy says that will be up to its new owners, Holtec, and county officials.
“They said they’ll be in constant communication with area leaders, stakeholders to receive input for what the plant will be used for in the future,” said Gent.
Palisades currently has 600 employees working at its site and 260 will remain for decommissioning per their agreement with Holtec.
Entergy has offered relocation and retirement options for the remaining 340 employees.
The operating license for Palisades under the NRC runs through 2031, so the plant has continued to meet the highest safest standards.