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Palisades closer to solving leaky tank issues, Upton says he’ll return before plant reopens

Crews are still trying to figure out exactly what caused an unplanned release of slightly radioactive water from the Palisades Nuclear Plant last week. They have discovered a new crack in a water tank that’s been leaking on and off for at least two years.

The plant was shut down a little over a week ago because of the leak.

“The risk to the plant safety was very small. There really was no increased risk,” Palisades Chief Operating Officer Tim Mitchell told reporters Monday afternoon.  

“With that, any time we have a leak of a plant system, we consider that unacceptable so that is a challenge,” Mitchell said.

So far, inspectors have discovered about a half inch crack in the leaky water tank. The plant shut down about a year ago to fix the same tank. Plant officials say this crack is new and their testing models didn’t predict it.

The crack is in part of a nozzle in the tank bottom that’s 18 inches in diameter. The plant replaced a number of smaller nozzles in the tank last year.

“We did not have the core boring capability at that time to replace (the larger nozzles). The reason we thought that was acceptable was because we did a full stress analysis over the entire floor of the tank and the stress analysis came out acceptable, actually it came back with margin,” Mitchell said.

It’s unclear what the fix will be this time, or how long it will take. Mitchell said they are considering replacing the tank.

“As soon as we finish our inspection, including the area between the floor and the concrete, we’ll make a decision on what the right option is, evaluating all pros and all cons for all options,” Mitchell said.

The company had asked the NRC at the end of April to approve an alternative fix for the tank that included installing a vinyl liner on the tank bottom instead.

Congressman Fred Upton and a Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner toured the plant late Monday afternoon. Upton wouldn’t say if the 40-year old tank should be replaced.

“I’m not an engineer,” Upton said, “All options do need to be on the table. And Entergy needs to convince the NRC that it is stopped and it will not happen again.”

Entergy officials say despite the tank’s age, it’s in good condition. They believe the problem is with the welds in it.

The NRC said they have experts on the site observing the work. But they had experts on the site last year when the plant shut down to fix the tank too.

“We’re not where we want to be quite yet. There’s a lot of work still to be done. But the NRC is the strong hand here in terms of making the determination on the decisions ahead. And I have absolute confidence they have the resources and the ability to do exactly that,” Upton said.

About a dozen people protested on the side of the highway near the plant’s entrance during Upton's visit.

Bette Pierman lives about 20 minutes away in Benton Township.

“I don’t think we should have anymore band aid fixes. Obviously they’re not working and it’s time to spend the money and do the repairs that they need to do on this plant if in fact they care about our safety and welfare here,” Pierman said.

“We demand the tank be replaced and a dozen other systems be replaced,” Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear said.

Kamps and Pierman were disappointed Upton did not respond to requests to meet with them to discuss their concerns. Two other NRC commissioners who visited the plant within the last year sat down with Kamps and others for several hours.

“We thought we had some common ground,” Kamps said of Upton, “We certainly follow these issues closely and I think that Upton needs to hear from us and I hope that he will sit down with us.”

Upton was unaware of any attempts to meet with him. He was dismissive of the protesters, saying they were mostly from out of town.

Pierman and other protestors want Upton to put more pressure on regulators to demand immediate fixes for a number of equipment problems.

“I hate to be harsh but talk is cheap and actions speak a lot louder than words,” Kamps said, “He could pressure them to shut this plant until all dozen of those safety critical systems are repaired, replaced, upgraded. He’s not doing that.”

“(The NRC) is entrusted to do the right thing and certainly I’m not going to be looking over their shoulder,” Upton said.

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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