nuclear energy

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

Michigan Radio has been following the problems at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant for the last several years.

Our West Michigan reporter, Lindsey Smith, has been on top of all the leaks, shutdowns and visits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There's been so much news of late, it can get a little confusing.

To clear up what's been happening at Michigan's oldest operating nuclear power plant, we created this timeline.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a special inspection of the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan.

The inspectors will be following up on two incidents in 2011 that caused the plant's safety rating to be downgraded, making it among the nation's poorest performing nuclear plants.

One problem was an electrical fault that caused a reactor shutdown and the other was failure of a water pump that cools safety equipment.

NRC spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said Monday the eight-member inspector team began work Monday and will remain at Palisades for about two weeks. They'll be determining whether problem areas have been fixed and examining the plant's safety culture.

Afterward, they'll prepare a report that will determine whether Palisades' rating will go up, down or stay the same.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Dozens of people crowded around several small tables at conference center in South Haven, six miles north of the Palisades nuclear plant.

Each table features a different area of concern or interest at the plan; the reactor vessel’s embrittlement factor, a water tank leak, a coupling failure, replacement of a cooling tower, how spent fuel is stored, community projects Entergy supports.

Engineers and project managers point to pictures and diagrams to help answer questions. There are little freebies and even a raffle for a new Ipad.

The plant has one of the worst safety ratings in the country after a series of problems in 2011.

Palisades reactor from ouside
Mark Savage / Entergy Nuclear Operations

One of the biggest environmental stories in our state this year comes from the West Side of Michigan near South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Mark Savage / Entergy

This post has been modified to correct language from the NRC.

The Palisades nuclear power plant is returning to service. It was shut down earlier this month to repair a water leak in the building where the actual reactor is located.  

Workers found water was leaking through several cracks in a device that sits atop the nuclear reactor. Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage says they completely replaced that control rod device.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has shut down again.

This is the second time this summer Entergy Corporation has had to shut down the plant for repairs. 

The plant shut down to refuel in April; that was normal. It restarted in early May.

But then a water leak in a tank above the control room caused the plant to shut back down just a few weeks later. Those repairs took a month and on July 11th the plant started up again. Though that leak appears to be fixed, it is still under investigation by special federal agents with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But as it returned to service in July, Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says operators discovered a different water leak – this time in the building that holds the nuclear reactor. In a written statement, Savage called the leak “minor.”

The company noticed this leak when they restarted the plant after fixing that first leak in a tank above the control room. This leak is in a different area of the plant – the containment building. This building holds the nuclear reactor itself.

Prema Chandrathil is a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  She says the leak is not a threat to public health.

“It’s contained and it goes into the plant’s waste storage tank," Chandrathil said.

Chandrathil says the situation at Palisades is “serious” though. The NRC now has a specialized inspector to assist regular inspectors at the plant while the company makes repairs.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

Update 11:05 a.m.

Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage issued these bullet points Tuesday in an email response to reporters about the report by Conger & Elsea:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story has been modified to correct a metric conversion and the reference to the substance tritium.

The Palisades plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled. Last month, Entergy, the company that owns the plant, shut the reactor down to fix a leak in the tank.

Palisades knew the tank was leaking for longer than the company first said

It appears that the water tank has been leaking for a lot longer than the company first admitted.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Supporters say a ballot measure requiring that utilities get more of their electricity from renewable sources would make Michigan a leader in clean energy and create jobs.

Opponents say it would cost electric customers more money and make it harder to provide reliable energy.

On Monday, opponents with the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan Coalition plan to ramp up statewide efforts to defeat the issue. They argue the requirement doesn't belong in the state constitution.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

The leaky tank in question at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage. In a written statement issued late Tuesday night a Palisades spokesman says workers have been collecting and analyzing water that’s leaked from the tank.

On Tuesday workers collected 31 gallons of water. At that point administrators declared the tank "inoperable" and shut down the plant down while workers fix the leak.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The University of Michigan is getting $1.3 million in federal money to help train and educate the next generation of leaders in the nation's nuclear industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday announced the money in research grants, fellowships and scholarships. They're part of the department's Nuclear Energy University Program and Integrated University Program that will support nuclear energy research and development efforts.

Part of the money for the Ann Arbor school will go to a research project aimed at developing new and advanced reactor designs and technologies.

Funding is going to 46 colleges and universities nationwide.

Tom Remick / wikimedia commons

American Electric Power officials say reactor no. 2 at the Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan came back online Saturday after a 38-day refueling and maintenance shutdown.

Cook Nuclear Plant is located north of Bridgman, Michigan.  

From an AEP press release:

Indiana Michigan Power’s Cook Nuclear Plant Unit 2 returned to service today at 4:47 p.m. following a refueling outage that began March 21. In addition to refueling the reactor and performing regular maintenance and testing work, the 38-day, 16-hour outage also included the installation of new main output transformers.

ABC 57 reports reactor no. 1 will be refueled next year.

Mark Savage / Entergy

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country. That’s after the plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year.

This year federal regulators are keeping an even closer eye on the plant. It’s tucked in between tall sand dunes at the southern edge of Van Buren State Park in Covert Township.

Palisades "extremely important" to area economy


DTE Energy has shutdown its Fermi 2 nuclear power plant for refueling and maintenance work.

The Monroe News reports the shutdown is expected to last more than a month.

The company began reducing reactor power Sunday night and the plant stopped producing electricity early Monday morning, officials said.

Besides replacing about a third of the fuel in the reactor, the work will include upgrading the cables that connect the emergency diesel generators to the plant and upgrading the piping that supplies cooling water to the generators. The four big generators are designed to kick on to supply electricity to operator controls when there’s a power outage at the plant.

New equipment also will be installed at the transmission switchyard to improve grid reliability.

DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo told the Associated Press more than 1,500 supplemental workers are in town for the work.It's the 15th refueling and maintenance shutdown at the plant since it began commercial operation in 1988.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This year federal regulators will keep a close eye on the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. The plant had three safety violations last year; that makes it one of only four nuclear plants in the nation with such a bad safety rating.

About 700 people work at Palisades every day. It’s one of (if not) the largest employers in Van Buren County. The plant is the county’s largest taxpayer. Those tax dollars go to a number of public schools, libraries, a hospital and local governments.

People who live by the plant near South Haven (Covert Township) are still trying to figure out what the safety violations mean to them.  It’s making others, like Barbara Geisler and her husband Maynard Kauffman, uncomfortable.

4 things the Japanese earthquake taught the Midwest

Mar 12, 2012
Micki Maynard / Changing Gears

A year ago, people in the Midwest were realizing the damage that the massive earthquake and tsunami had done to Japan. And, while the region affected by the earthquake is starting its long recovery, everyone here has learned some permanent lessons.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan.

This Wednesday the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting to discuss safety violations at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. As a result, the NRC downgraded the plant’s safety performance rating. Now it’s one of only four plants in the country with such a bad safety rating.

The budget plan President Obama delivered to Congress today contains $22 million for Michigan State University's Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.   MSU officials originally expected $55 million.

The future of the nuclear research facility has been in some doubt since January.  The U.S. Secretary of Energy declined to promise federal funding for the project during a stop at the North American International Auto Show.     He said budget constraints had to be considered.

Officials from Entergy Corporation, the company that operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, appeared in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday.

The company is hoping to avoid getting another safety violation; it was issued one already this month. “We’ve lost the trust of our neighbors. We’ve lost the trust of our corporation and we’re going to fix that,” said David Hamilton, general manager of plant operations. The hearing was about two separate incidents at the plant last year.

Entergy Corporation “concurs” with NRC’s findings

The more serious of the two incidents was a week-long shutdown of the power plant last September. It went offline because of an electrical outage at the plant that happened because a worker didn’t follow proper procedures during routine maintenance.  “This was an event that allowed my electricians to feel that they could put themselves at such risk; I apologize if I get emotional but I could’ve killed somebody on the weekend of September 25th,” Hamilton said.

wikimedia commons

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan is being shut down temporarily for maintenance.

Spokesman Mark Savage said in a statement that control room operators removed the plant from service Thursday night. The plant is near Lake Michigan in Van Buren County's Covert Township.

Savage says the plant was being cooled down Friday morning.

The maintenance work involves the system that controls the nuclear reactor's power level.

There are 45 seals that form a boundary between the cooling system and the atmosphere inside the building that houses the reactor. Officials say one of the seals is showing signs of wear and will be replaced.

Savage says the plant will return to service when the job is finished. Palisades is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

The Palisades nuclear power plant is six miles south of South Haven on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. Four of those were unplanned reactor shutdowns. The fifth was a problem with the plant’s water pumps that did not affect the reactor.

Viktoria Mitlyng is a spokesperson with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  She says the Palisades plant is under scrutiny.

“There are so many issues in one year that have come up, you know, there’s certainly a concern. And we recognize that as a regulatory agency and are keeping a very close eye at what’s happening at the plant.”

The NRC has just issued a violation notice to the company that owns the Palisades plant - Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. -  for a separate incident that happened in May.  A water pump at the plant failed - and regulators concluded that’s because one of the components was lubricated when it shouldn’t have been.

NRC says violation is of "low to moderate significance"

The NRC says this violation falls into a risk category of "low to moderate significance." But there’s a regulatory hearing expected next week to address two additional safety issues – one of which is what the NRC calls substantial safety significance.

That’s a much bigger deal than the water pump investigation finalized this week. In the more serious situation, the plant was offline for about a week last September because of a power outage. An electrical circuit at the plant broke when a worker was doing routine maintenance. The worker did not follow procedures for doing the work. When Lindsey Smith talked to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng in November, she said the worker had actually gotten permission from his managers not to follow procedures.

“Nobody stopped in their tracks and said 'hey, what are we doing here? We need to rethink this.'”

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline has restarted after a shut-down caused by a problem with its water pumps.

Operators of the southwestern Michigan plant say it returned to service and reconnected to the electric grid late Thursday night. Both of the plant's feed water pumps automatically shut down
Wednesday afternoon.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns the plant, which is in Van Buren County's Covert Township. Palisades is about 35 miles west of Kalamazoo and about 80 miles east-northeast from Chicago across the lake.

Palisades has had several recent operating problems, with two shutdowns in September and one each in August and January.

Excelon Nuclear

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a week-long shut-down of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in September was of "substantial safety significance." The plant is located in South Haven about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

Operators of the Palisades nuclear plant say they've restarted the power generator on the Lake Michigan shoreline after a one-week shutdown following a mechanical problem.

Authorities say the plant shut down automatically September 25 when two small pieces of metal inside the breaker panel touched, causing a short circuit.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said last week that the plant would remain offline until workers determine what happened and fixed the problems.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Palisades nuclear power plant remains shut down

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant 55 southwest of Grand Rapids is still shut down.

From the Associated Press:

Operators of the plant said in a statement Wednesday that the plant remains out of service after an electrical breaker fault automatically prompted the shutdown Sunday.

Repairs were being made this week. New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns Palisades and says no one was hurt in the shutdown...

It was shut down Sept. 16 because of a loss of water in a cooling system, then brought back on the grid last week.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspected the plant in August after a water pump component failed.

Michigan Republicans continue education policy debate

The Associated Press reports that Governor Rick Snyder's administration and Republicans in the legislature will continue to push their education overhaul proposals this week. From the AP:

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is scheduled to discuss the administration's education proposals Wednesday at a Lansing conference hosted by The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.

The Republican leaders of committees dealing with education policy also are scheduled to attend.

The conference comes as lawmakers are debating multiple bills related to education policy in the state Legislature. A package of bills in a Senate committee would let students transfer to other schools more easily and have a broader choice of charter schools and online learning options.

Michigan State University to test "Head Start on Science" for preschoolers

MSU will test a new program aimed at teaching preschoolers science. The effort is funded by the National Science Foundation. From an MSU news release:

The five-year effort, called Head Start on Science, is funded by a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It’s designed to get educators more comfortable teaching science to 3- to 5-year-olds – a task that’s especially important for low-income and minority children who often start school with less preparation for science learning than affluent students, said lead researcher Laurie Van Egeren.

The Palisades Nuclear Plant in southwestern Michigan has been shut down due to a loss of water in a cooling system. WWMT-TV reports the facility in Covert Township was shut down just before 3 p.m. Friday.

The lowest of four emergency classification levels was declared. The classification means plant workers were notified and were resolving the problem. Officials say the shutdown poses no risk to the public and that no radioactive materials were released.

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection was held at the Van Buren County plant last month after a water pump component failed. The plant is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation.

Excelon Nuclear

A team of experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is inspecting the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in southwest Michigan. There are no safety concerns and everything is now working properly at the plant.

Last week, a coupling that attaches to a water pump failed. The water pump is one of three at the plant that cool safety equipment. The part was replaced and the pump is back in service. The same water pump had a coupling fail in 2009.


DTE Energy plans to submit an application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow the company to operate the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant through 2045.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The utility’s license to operate Fermi 2 expires in 2025 and the application, if approved, would allow DTE Energy to operate it for an addition 20 years.

Fermi 2 began commercial operation in 1988. The renewal is in addition to the utility’s request to the NRC for a new nuclear power facility located at the Fermi site. DTE filed that application in 2008, but the licenses has not been issued yet.

FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant operated safely last year.

The Monroe Evening News reported Monday that a letter from a branch chief for the commission's reactor projects division says no inspections beyond ones that are routine and previously planned are scheduled for this year at the facility in southeastern Michigan's Monroe County.

The letter was to plant operator DTE Energy Co.

Each year, the federal regulatory agency reviews its inspections at plants during the calendar year and issues an assessment letter. The NRC says the plant met all operational standards in 2010 and is working to address some employee issues from recent years.

The 1,200-megawatt Fermi 2 plant began operating in 1988.

user pencefn / creative commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A Canadian power company is no longer seeking U.S. permission to ship 16 scrapped generators with radioactive contents across three of the Great Lakes, but says it
hasn't abandoned the plan.

Bruce Power Inc. withdrew an application this month for a transport license from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission had granted the company permission in February to ship the generators, but U.S. approval was also needed because the vessels would cross into U.S. territory.

The Kincardine, Ontario-based company seeks to send the generators to Sweden for recycling. Environmentalists and other critics say transporting the school bus-sized devices on the Great
Lakes would be risky.

The company says it's delaying the shipment to allow further talks with opponents, including native tribes.