Biden Administration Invests in New Future for Palisades

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer traveled to Covert, Michigan, on March 27 to unveil a joint federal and state financing package to fund the recommissioning of the Palisades nuclear power plant. It includes a $1.52 billion conditional loan from the U.S.  Department of Energy, $150 million in state funds, and long-term power purchase agreements negotiated by Palisades’ owner.

Local 150 President Aurbery Watson and MSUWC President Craig Wright with Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm on March 27.

The federal loan is contingent on approval of the plant’s operational and safety plans currently under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). If approved, Palisades would be upgraded to produce baseload power until at least 2051.

“Assembling the financing was a huge task and one of the last major hurdles in a multi-step process that will culminate with a decision by the NRC. It’s not a sure thing, but with the Biden and Whitmer Administrations in our corner, we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Craig Wright, president of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC).

Local 150 mechanics on the turbine deck.

Policymakers are taking a fresh look at nuclear as part of a green energy agenda. According to Wright, Michigan is behind schedule in bringing renewables like solar and wind online, and there are capacity concerns that recommissioning Palisades would help to address.

UWUA Local 150 (part of the MSUWC) has represented workers at Palisades since its 1971 start-up. “After the 2022 decision to shut down, we never stopped advocating for its re-opening. This funding infusion is a game changer and took our advocacy from being a pipedream to closer to reality,” said Aurbery Watson, the local’s president.

Witnessing Palisades have a chance for a second life is personally gratifying for Watson: “I started my career at the plant 23 years ago. There’s tremendous excitement in the community, especially for those who are getting an opportunity to return home to Michigan to reclaim jobs that we thought were lost forever.”

Alongside the main 800-megawatt reactor, Holtec, the plant’s current owner, has indicated it intends to develop two small modular reactor units that could double generation capacity.

Control room simulator training.

Part of the NRC’s decision-making process will be to gather public feedback on the pros and cons of restarting Palisades, and it could be several months before it issues its final decision. Nevertheless, Watson reports Holtec is moving forward with preparations to restart the plant. “If and when the NRC issues the approval, we’ll be ready,” he said. A new class of nuclear control room operators is currently in training, and Watson expects to have 140 members working at Palisades by the end of June.

At her March 27 visit to the plant, Governor Whitmer stated: “When we get it done, it will be the first restarted nuclear power plant in American history. Once operational, Palisades will provide reliable power to more than 800,000 homes and help us meet our state-wide clean energy goals by removing 3 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually.”