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It’ll take months to determine any violations stemming from radioactive leak at Palisades

The SIRWT tank on top of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant
Mark Savage
The SIRWT tank on top of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant

Federal nuclear regulators say it’ll be several weeks before they can determine if Entergy, the company that owns the Palisades Nuclear Plant, violated any regulations during an incident in May when 80 gallons of slightly radioactive water leaked into Lake Michigan.

Related: Read this for a brief summary of all the problems at Palisades

The leak happened in May. Regulators say there was no threat to public safety, and the leak is now fixed.

When workers fixed the leaky tank they discovered the sand bed that was supposed to be supporting the tank was never installed. Palisades was built in 1968.

“If the causes (of there being no sand bed) were so long ago and it’s not indicative of recent performance then it’s assessed a little bit differently,” Jack Giessner said during a public forum held online Tuesday afternoon. Giessner is branch chief at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“It still may have some follow up needed but in general, it’s not like we’re going to try to interview people from 1968,” Giessner said.

Entergy bought Palisades from Consumers Energy in 2007. But Giessner says the “current licensee” (Entergy) would be held accountable.

Gissner says they’re also determining if Entergy should be issued a violation for the bad weld that was the source of the latest leak.

“The flaw (in the weld) was not safety significant. So there was not a risk of a complete fracture and so the risk significance is very low,” Giessner said.

In a document, Palisades officials said a contract worker performed the faulty weld. Officials from the NRC declined to say who the contractor was, but said Entergy is responsible for vetting contractors.

Issues surrounding the leaky tank have been under an internal investigation at the NRCsince last summer. It’s not clear when that investigation will be complete.

The NRC recently upgraded Palisadessafety performance rating from one of the worst in the country.However, it deviated from its normal oversight process because of continued equipment problems at the plant. That means there will still be heightened oversight at the plant in 2013.

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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