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Palisades Nuclear Plant application for federal funding denied

The Palisades Nuclear Plant sits on the shores of Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan.

Decommissioning work will continue at Michigan’s Palisades Nuclear Plant after a company often focused on decommissioning nuclear plants lost out on a long-shot effort to keep it open. The plant had already been shut down in May.

The company, Holtec International, bought the plant earlier this year to remove it from service.

But it applied, with backing from the state, for U.S. Department of Energy funding to restart operations.

Patrick O’Brien is Holtec's director of government affairs and communications. He said there were multiple obstacles to the effort.

“We had said publicly some of the hurdles were, per our purchase agreement, finding a third-party operator, obviously the funding piece. But then, you know workforce — bringing in the skilled and trained workforce that we would have needed. So, there’s a number of challenges that I think DOE probably took into account,” O’Brien said.

Restarting a nuclear plant after it's been permanently shut down and its operating license given up has never been done.

But Michigan officials had been keeping hopes alive for months that Palisades would continue in operation. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration pointed to the plant as part of the state’s carbon-free energy future.

Whitmer used the words “top priority” in a letter to DOE leadership to describe her commitment to keeping things running.

Applying for the new Civil Nuclear Credit Program made possible through the federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act seemed like another hope.

“This would be unprecedented to be able to turn around the closure of a plant, but this is also unprecedented funding that was coming out, so it seemed like it was worth a shot,” Michigan Public Service Commissioner Katherine Peretick said.

She said, despite the setback, Michigan is still in a “good spot” when it comes to energy capacity. Peretick said the state’s long-term plans accounted for the closure of Palisades.

A law signed last month requires the state to look into the feasibility of expanding nuclear power. That would include the potential for using new technology, like small modular reactors (SMRs).

O’Brien said Holtec, which offers SMRs, is committed to working with the state on its nuclear future.

“The Palisades decommissioning timeline is a 19-year timeline so there’s some time to work through anything legislatively and really decide the best use of the property long term once we get that site cleaned up,” O’Brien said.