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Regulators work to reassure people near Palisades nuclear plant

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission answered questions about safety violationsat the Palisades Nuclear Power PlantWednesday night. About 150 people attended the meeting in person, while others listened in over the phone.

Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionwere trying to ease the community’s concerns after 5 unplanned shutdowns last year (4 we’re reactor shutdowns).

But like many residents who spoke out at the meeting, Maynard Kaufman said he won’t feel better unless the plant is shutdown. Kaufman lives on a farm just ten miles away from Palisades.

“I don’t know why we’d take chances with the wonderful agricultural area downwind from this plant in Van Buren and Kalamazoo Counties. It would be a shame to wreck that. And it could happen,” Kaufman warned.

During the three hour long meeting regulators detailed safety violations and actions the agency will take this year to further scrutinize the plant. They reassured repeatedly that the plant is operating safely.

Kaufman and others criticized the NRC, calling the meeting “a distraction” from bigger issues at the plant.

“It’s not a show,” responded Jack Giessner, Branch Chief for the NRC area that includes Palisades. “If we at the NRC thought that they weren’t operating safely we would take action. I know we have a disagreement on that, but I’m here to tell you that’s how the agency works,” Giessner said.

One of the concerns is the steel nuclear reactor vessel at Palisades, which officials said is the oldest in the country. They said the plant will be shut down by 2017 if the company that operates the plant, Entergy, doesn’t update the vessel or prove that it can withstand further use. NRC officials said Entergy would need to submit their plans for the vessel by 2014 to give the agency enough time to review the plans.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng took the couple of comments that the meeting was only a “distraction” or a “show” personally. Mitlyng said she once lived 50 miles away from Chernobyl and recovered from Leukemia 5 years ago.

“If there was anything that was going on at the NRC that I didn’t feel was true and there were meetings that were held as a distraction, I would be the first one on the phone to the New York Times talking about it,” Mitlyng said at the end of the meeting.

Entergy officials chose not to attend this meeting hosted voluntarily by the NRC. However, the company must attend a normal, annual meeting with the NRC in South Haven on March 21st.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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