Nuclear Plant to Reopen Amid ‘Uncharted Risk’ Concerns

The Biden Administration on Wednesday announced a $1.52 billion conditional loan to reopen a nuclear power plant in southwest Michigan. The 800-megawatt Palisades plant, which according to the state supported 600 union jobs and provided electricity to approximately 800,000 homes, ceased operations in 2022.

The announcement comes as U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visits the state alongside Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has been a vocal advocate for the plant’s reopening.

But critics have warned of possible problems involved in reopening the facility and have warned of “uncharted risks.”

They are set to tour the Palisades facility later on Wednesday.

The Context:

The nuclear power plant, initially commissioned in 1971, was shut down on May 20, 2022, and sold to Holtec International the following month to dismantle it. In a largely unprecedented move, Holtech International and Whitmer instead advocated for the facility’s resurrection and recommission.

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Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks during a daily press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House April 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. Granholm’s Energy Department announced a $1.52 billion conditional…

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The plant has faced scrutiny over its legacy of mechanical issues, including deteriorating containers and seals, causing some activists to voice safety concerns about its reopening. Palisades shut down two weeks earlier than planned in 2022 following a problem with a seal.

What We Know:

In 2023, Holtec International, supported by state partners, applied to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Programs Office (LPO) for funding to repower Palisades. After review, Palisades was approved, but due to the loan’s conditional nature, the company must meet conditions.

In July 2023, Whitmer allotted $150 million for the plant to restart in the state’s fiscal budget, adding on to Holtec’s and the federal government’s contributions to the plant’s reopening.

The Biden administration estimates the loan guarantee to support 600 plant jobs, and more than 1,000 jobs relating to “regularly scheduled refueling and maintenace periods.” The project supports President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and Justice40 Initiative.


Holtec President and CEO, Kris Singh, said, “The repowering of Palisades will restore safe, around-the-clock generation to hundreds of thousands of households, businesses, and manufacturers,” adding that its reopening “also confers the environmental and public health benefits of emissions-free generation, hundreds of high-paying local jobs with a large union workforce, economic growth, and the social benefits of a strong community partner.”

Whitmer emphasized the unprecedented nature of this move, stating in a press release that, “once complete, Palisades will become the first successfully restarted nuclear power plant in American history, protecting 600 union jobs at the plant, 1,100 in the community, and access to clean, reliable power for 800,000 homes.” She added that this is a step in the right direction for Michigan, as it continues to strive towards its “100% clean energy by 2040 standard, the strongest clean energy labor standards in the nation.”

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer campaigning for Joe Biden in Detroit, Michigan, on October 25, 2020. Gov. Whitmer, a proponent of reopening the Palisades nuclear power plant, was with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday when…

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“Nuclear power is our single largest source of carbon free electricity, directly supporting 100,000 jobs across the country and hundreds of thousands more indirectly,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who served as Michigan’s governor from 2003 to 2011, in support of the Palisades plant’s reopening.

Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist with advocacy group Beyond Nuclear previously said that recommissioning Palisades is an “uncharted risk.” On Wednesday, he told Newsweek, “There are multiple serious pathways to meltdown at Palisades,” citing several degraded and leaking vessels at the facility. Kamps said the group will “try to intervene at any opportunity” but it is challenging because “there collusion in spades at Palisades.”

Newsweek has reached out to Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter and Michigan’s Covert Township for comment.

What’s Next?:

According to the Biden administration, the site will require “inspections, testing, refurbishment, rebuilding, and replacement of existing equipment.” Holtec is in the process of submitting paperwork to re-authorize the facility’s operating license with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Holtec initiated the process in October 2023.

Given its conditional status, Holtec must satisfy “technical, legal, environmental, and financial conditions,” prior to receiving the funds.

Patrick O’Brien, Holtec International’s communications director told Newsweek, “We have already filled 100 position to bring our headcount to 300 currently, with another roughly 300 to go,” with regards to the Palisades plant. O’Brien noted that Holtec projects to resume the facility’s operation in the Fall of 2025.