Palisades Open House, First Since Its Shutdown Announcement, Takes a Look at the Next 18 Months and Beyond

Palisades Open House, March 29 in Benton Harbor

Plant management and staff and Nuclear Regulatory officials hosted a Palisades open house at their Information Center, 330 West Main in Benton Harbor, on Wednesday, March 29, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. This was the first public function Palisades has held since announcing the plan last December to close the plant permanently in October of next year.

We have reports from friends who were there.

Jan Boudart of Nuclear Energy Information Service and Kraig Schultz and Barbara Pellegrini of Michigan Safe Energy Future Shoreline Chapter sent us reports. Kraig estimated that 20-25 NRC and Entergy people were on hand, hosting about 20-25 members of the public. For the first hour, the Palisades open house gave people a chance to speak with Entergy employees at posters distributed around the room. At about 6:00 PM, Site VP Charlie Arnone, safety inspector Otto Gustafson, and an engineering official made a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation. For the remainder of the evening, officials answered questions from index cards submitted by the public.

During the Q&A period, Jan Boudart learned that plans were still sketchy. She asked if Palisades would be maintaining the fuel rod cooling pool until the dry casks were moved out. Officials said they couldn’t see that far into the future.

Barbara Pellegrini reported that “there are no plans as yet on what to do with the nuclear waste. It may remain on site for decades depending on how soon a national depository becomes available. Consequently, Entergy has no plans, at this time, for safely moving scores of storage casks to another location. Some casks are permanently anchored in place.”

Here is Barbara Pellegrini’s report and here is Kraig Schultz’s.

Jan took photos of the posters

Click the photo to see an enlargement. Comments from Barbara, Kraig, and Jan appear next to the photos.

Dry cask storage

Storage poster at Palisades Open HouseFrom Kraig Schultz

At the dry cask storage poster board I met a young lady that really knew her stuff about the dry casks they are using, and learned that the casks on the beach were the first ones filled and the vertical style that are no longer used. To empty or fill any cask, they must go to the fuel pool area. The casks on the beach are of a style that are not licensed to be transported even short distances (like from the beach to the “parking lot” farther from the beach). To be transported to a central disposal site, they would need to be repackaged (either entirely redone or put inside of another cask designed to take them whole as is). In the upper parking lot, the other three styles of casks they have: the rectangular horizontal storage type (Nuhom), some hold 32 fuel assemblies, some hold 24, and the new Vertical Holetec FW casks that hold 37 assemblies that they just switched to using. The casks in the upper parking lot are designed and able to be transported to some other location should we ever have such a place. She also agreed that avoiding long term SAFESTOR and consolidating the casks farther away from the beach is what she’d prefer.

The maintenance shutdown in March

Example of the cooling rod joint that needed to be replaced, leading to the March shutdown rather than waiting for the scheduled April refueling. From Jan Boudart

This photo is an example of a cooling rod joint. The surfaces of the seal are so smooth and fit together so perfectly that no gasket is needed. Jan isn’t sure, but this may be like the joint that was leaking, and which caused the March maintenance shutdown.

From Kraig

At the March “Maintenance Shutdown” poster board I learned the plant was shut down to replace seals on ONE control rod drive unit that was leaking too much water. The leak had been gradually increasing over time and reached a threshold limit in March that required they shut down and repair. It had been hoped that they could make it to the April Shutdown, but since the plant wasn’t ready for the shutdown, and the threshold had been reached, they did the maintenance shutdown.

Decommissioning

Decommissioning poster at Palisades Open HouseFrom Barbara Pellegrini

Planning is in a very early stage. Corporate officials are still learning what happened at other decommissioned sites and deciding on what path to take. When developed, there will be public hearings for input. Decommissioning may take as long as 60 years to complete. The goal is to restore the Palisades site to a “greenfield” status.

From Kraig

At the decommissioning poster board I learned that no firm plans have been made yet. The initial shock of the announcement has worn off, but the plant is not staffed such that all focus can go to planning for 18 months from now. Right now they need to focus on running the plant and, in particular, preparing for and successfully completing the refueling outage in April 2017.

The poster board identified three types of decommissioning: Rapid Demolition, SAFESTOR (up to 60 years allowed), and Entombment. Palisades employees are thinking more like a mix of Rapid Demolition and SAFETOR. I told him we are hoping to avoid long term SAFETOR and we’d like the dry storage casks moved away from the beach. He agreed that would be his preference also. He said he felt there is financial incentive to move the casks off the beach for Entergy.

Refueling Outage

Refueling outage poster at Palisades open houseFrom Kraig

This will be the last refueling, and the second to last unloading. This refueling will take us 18 months to the October 2018 shut down when ALL fuel rod assemblies will be removed from the RPV for the last time and put into the cooling pool. The rods need to be in the pool between 3 and 5 years before they can go into dry cask storage. So, October 2018 + 5 years = October 2023 before the Fuel Pool can even begin being dismantled. But, once the fuel pool is dismantled, there will be no place to unload/reload a damaged dry cask. They could not answer any questions about status of coupon test samples or welds with indications showing up on NRC reports.

From Barbara

The plant is currently in its routine refueling and maintenance stage, replacing 1/3 of the nuclear fuel in the reactor and conducting routine inspections of the steam generator and other systems at a cost of $70 M ($42 M of which will go towards completion of a second cooling tower). Approximately 1000 temporary workers are hired to assist with maintenance and refueling.

The second hour – presentation and Q&A

Kraig’s report on the presentation and Q&A

Poster that explains the cooling tower replacement.

Poster that explains the cooling tower replacement.

Site VP Charlie Arnone, safety inspector Otto Gustafson, and an engineering official did a 20-minute PowerPoint. Of note is that Energy is definitely planning to permanently stop operating the plant in October 2018. But, since they already had a HUGE refueling/maintenance outage planned and prepared for (i.e. they are completely replacing cooling tower “BRAVO” during this outage), they are spending over $70 M on this refueling/maintenance outage. The cooling tower pieces have been made off-site and will be assembled on site during the outage. This cycle (before they had to shut down for the rod drive mechanism water leak in March 2017) was a record setting days without problems (516? Continuous operating days?).

So, now for the good and bad news. Through the question and answer time we learned that while Entergy is planning to get out of Palisades, there is still opportunity for another company to purchase the plant and continue running it or another company to purchase the site to do the decommissioning. 

They did talk about how it would be less expensive to let the plant sit around for 50 years and cool off before demolishing it (SAFESTOR). They thought that the trust fund would also gain value during this time (being in the stock market), and that would give more funding to help the clean up. They repeated many times that they have the NRC required funds in the decommissioning fund. So, in the four months since the closing announcement, they really haven’t made very many firm plans.

In their defense:

  • The shut-down/change in the PPA agreement needs the approval of the MPSC.
  • It took awhile for the employees, management, and NRC people to get over the shock of the unexpected announcement by Entergy headquarters to permanently close Palisades.
  • NRC doesn’t require them to even have a plan for up to two years after they close the doors.
  • NRC allows them up to 60 years to execute a decommissioning.
  • NRC allows them to spend a portion of the Decommissioning fund coming up with a plan.
  • They have to run the plant safely now and for another 1.5 years.
  • They have a MAJOR refueling outage they need to plan for and execute RIGHT NOW!
  • They have a lot of employees to worry about who were shocked, discouraged and now thinking about leaving or relocating sometime in the next 18 months.
  • They said they are planning to have future public meetings to discuss their plans.

Information Barbara gleaned from the presentation and Q&A

Decommissioning

With anticipated closure by October 1, 2018, Entergy/Palisades has no Decommissioning Plan as yet. Corporate officials are still learning what happened at other decommissioned sites and deciding on what path to take. When developed, there will be public hearings for input.

The Decommissioning Fund contains $411 M (invested in the stock market).

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is, for the first time, developing administrative rules thus a protocol for decommissioning. Palisades expects to have at least one NRC inspector on site during decommissioning.

Impact on employees and the community

Entergy set up a $10 M Community Development Fund to aid communities impacted by the closure ($8 M from Entergy, $2 M from Consumers Energy).

Of the 600 full-time employees at Palisades, Consumers Energy will hire 180 appropriately skilled personnel for decommissioning. Entergy pledges to transfer others within Entergy, and/or or assist with relocation and employment searches.

Storage of on-site nuclear waste

There are no plans as yet on what to do with the nuclear waste. It may remain on site for decades depending on how soon a national depository becomes available. Consequently, Entergy has no plans, at this time, for safely moving scores of storage casks to another location. Some casks are permanently anchored in place.

The next 18 months

Entergy has no plan, at this time, to sell Palisades to another power producer. Plus, a public bail-out is not likely given Entergy’s corporate focus on a non-wholesale market.

Afterwards

After the open house, Jan, Barbara, Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, and Kraig and his wife Maggie met at the Livery for conversation. Jan reported, “Our consensus was that the bigwigs evaded all important questions.”

Kraig’s summary of the evening

  1. I am impressed to see they are investing another $70 million in this refueling outage with assumption it will be permanently closed in just 18 months.
  2. I believe that Palisades will cease electricity production under Entergy ownership in Dec. 2018, unless they get a state of Michigan regulatory or legislative bail-out.
  3. I am concerned that Entergy may sell the plant outright to a third party that could continue operating the plant to produce electricity after October 2018.
  4. I would not be surprised if Entergy will attempt to sell the plant decommissioning to a third party so they can get out of town on or before October 2018.
  5. Almost no firm planning has occurred on how the plant will be decommissioned by Entergy. 
  6. The only thing that is firm is that Entergy has said they are done operating the plant on October 2018 and this was because of profit vs. risk. Entergy’s statement says it clearly: “Given the financial challenges our merchant power business faces from sustained wholesale power price declines and other unfavorable market conditions, we have been evaluating our portfolio of assets and reviewing financial projections to determine their retention, sale or closure. We determined that a shutdown in 2018 is prudent when comparing the transaction to the business risks of continued operation.”

Kraig laid out the next steps for Michigan Safe Energy Future

Since there is a void in the planning and execution process for decommissioning nuclear power plants, this is new territory and we aren’t prepared for it. So we need to get prepared and take pro-active steps/action to avoid long term repercussions from poor planning or execution.

Immediate and Urgent (This Month):
  1. Strongly lobby and encourage MPSC and State of Michigan to support permanent closure of Palisades in October 2018.
  2. We need a strategy to block Entergy from selling Palisades to a third party to continue its electricity operation beyond October 2018.
  3. We need to rapidly come up with a replacement power plan than we can endorse.
Short-Term (This 6 Months):
  1. Hold Entergy & NRC Accountable to answer our questions in our January Satement about closing Palisades. I delivered a copy of this in a letter to Charlie Arnone on March 29, 2017. We need to make a PDF of our statement with a revision date and put it on our website. I will draft a letter to the NRC to match the letter sent to Charlie Arnone.
  2. We need to support the development of a Decommissioning Roadmap and help it get endorsed by as many environmental, governmental and industry groups as possible, as quickly as possible.  There is a lot of this in the works right now.  NRC is doing their Decommissioning Rulemaking, MPSC/MDEQ are coordinating to make comment on the NRC Rulemaking, Several Anti-Nuke groups are trying to put together a meeting in New York in May to work on a template.  
Long-Term (This Year):
  1. We need to have a permanent containment plan that we can endorse for the long-term storage/protection of the high level nuclear wastes.

Coming soon – two public meetings

Michigan Public Service Commission will hold two public meetings, afternoon and evening, in Lawrence on Monday, May 8, to update the public about the Palisades closure plan and to accept comments.

Both meetings will be at the Van Buren Conference Center, 490 South Paw Paw St, Lawrence, Michigan, 49064. The first is scheduled from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, the second from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.

The St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Herald Palladium reported that “All three MPSC commissioners will participate, and an administrative law judge will preside at the public meeting. Subsequently, a transcript of the public meeting will be filed.”

These may be the only public hearings in the case.

MPSC has not announced additional public meetings. Whether this will be the only chance to discuss Palisades with the commissioners in public is not clear. Nor did the MPSC announcement set a deadline for submitting written comments.

MPSC’s Notice of Public Hearing says, “The intent of this hearing is to inform the public about the Commission’s role, timeline, and the administrative process to be followed in Case No. U-18250. There will also be an opportunity for the public to offer comments on their concerns about Case No. U-18250.”

Case N0. U-18250 is the case MPSC opened on February 10, 2017 “in the matter of the application of Consumers Energy Company for a financing order approving the securitization of qualified costs and related approvals.”

Two ways to get a free copy of the application Consumers has submitted to MPSC:

  • Write to Consumers Energy Company, One Energy Plaza, Jackson, Michigan, 49201-2276.
  • Call Consumers at (800) 477-5050.

Or you can visit any Consumers office and ask to review the application.

Consumers’ application asks for early termination of its power purchase agreement (PPA) with Palisades. Consumers and Palisades’ owner-operator Entergy Nuclear have agreed that terminating the PPA will be in the best financial interests of Entergy, Consumers, and Consumers’ customers. Consumers has predicted that negating the final four years of the PPA will save their ratepayers $172 million in electric bills. According to the agreement between Entergy and Consumers, the PPA termination and closure of Palisades is scheduled for October of next year.

To participate in the public meeting, plan your comment to meet a five-minute time limit “to ensure that all interested persons have an opportunity to participate.” You can also submit written comments to MPSC. The address is: Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, 7109 West Saginaw Street, Lansing, Michigan, 48917. Address email comments to mpscedockets@michigan.gov.

A day or two after the meetings, transcripts will be posted online.

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