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Residents, regulators, activists and plant workers mingle at Palisades’ open house

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Even though Palisades is temporarily shut down, the nuclear power plant last night held a public open house it had scheduled more than a month ago.

In a small conference center in South Haven Tuesday night, anti-nuclear activists mingled with federal nuclear regulators, residents, and plant workers. Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale says that's a good thing. He says the open house is designed for people in the community to come talk to some of the plant workers firsthand.

“We’re not hiding anything. We want to run, and will run, and I will demand we run a transparent operation,” Vitale said.

The plant has been offline for a little more than a week because of a leaky water tank. It’s going to take a few days to figure out the cause and how best to fix it. Palisades has had a number of problems over the past couple of years, but regulators recently upgraded the plant’s safety rating.

Tad Rathbun is a mechanical maintenance supervisor. He’s been at Palisades for five years, but this is his first open house.

“I really haven’t seen anything like what I was expecting,” Rathbun said. “I was sort of expecting some chanting going on and ‘us against them.’ That’s really not what I’m noticing at all; seems like a lot of people interested in educating themselves.”

Rathbun recalled seeing protestors at the entrance of the plant when he left work on Monday. He says it’s hard not to take the recent criticism the plant has faced personally. He says workers all live nearby and take their work seriously.

“Some people said, ‘We’re not talking personal about you, we’re talking bad about the plant.’ But you got to understand, the plant is personal to us,” Rathbun said.

"I live here. I live literally less than six miles from the plant. It is personal," Rathbun said.

Kraig Schultz lives 50 miles north of the plant, near Grand Haven. An engineer, Schultz spends two hours stopping at nearly every table the company set up at the open house. Each table covers a different topic, from current problems with the leaky water tank to long term storage of spent nuclear fuel.

“My family lives here and my friends live here and I want to keep this safe,” Schultz said. “The risk of a disaster, there’s really no financial reason to continue producing electricity with nuclear energy – that’s my personal opinion.”

But Schultz is most concerned about a long-term plan for storing the plant's nuclear waste.

Credit Mark Savage / Entergy
Dry casks at the Palisades Nuclear Plant in Covert, Michigan.

Entergy is one of a number of energy companies that are suing the federal government for not coming up with a long term plan for spent nuclear fuel.  Palisades stores its spent fuel in dry casks near the plant, close to the Lake Michigan shore.

“I was five years old when the plant began operation and I’ve got electricity from it all my life. This is a problem that I helped create and it’s my responsibility to help clean it up,” Schultz said.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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