US-based Holtec International has announced “remarkable progress made in the early stages of our journey toward repowering the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert Township, Michigan”. This includes re-establishment of critical plant workforce, revitalized training programmes, procurement of numerous plant systems and components, significant regulatory developments, and continuing firming up of funding streams – “all of which portend a timely re-powering of the plant”.

The single-unit 800 MWe pressurised water reactor at Palisades NPP began commercial operation in 1971. Operator Entergy announced in 2016 announced plans to close the plant in 2021 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved transfer of the licence from Entergy to Holtec in preparation for its decommissioning. The reactor was removed from service by Entergy in May 2022, and defuelled. Its sale to Holtec was completed in June 2022 and Holtec then announced that it was applying for federal funding to allow restart of the plant.

In April, the US Department of Energy (DOE) through its Loan Programs Office (LPO) has announced the offer of a conditional commitment of up to $1.52bn as a loan guarantee to restart the 800 MWe Palisades NPP in Michigan. The project aims to bring back online the Palisades plant, which ceased operations in May 2022, and to upgrade it to produce power until at least 2051, subject to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing approvals. With the conditional commitment from LPO as well as the critical financial support from both the State of Michigan and Holtec, the company says it is “on track to accelerate the tempo for a successful restart of Palisades”.

More than 360 Holtec associates are now employed at the plant, an increase of nearly 150 personnel since the re-start programme began. Holtec says it has “successfully executed a recommissioning labour agreement with 15 trade unions that are supporting the project, reinforcing our commitment to collaboration with unionised labour, fair labour practices, and the highest standards of quality and safety”.

Another achievement is the re-establishment of the Palisades training programme under the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations to establish a highly skilled workforce for the plant’s operation. “The reconstitution of the plant’s Control Room Simulator and restoration of Operator training programme are both complete and the Training Building, which had been mothballed for future demolition, is now a bustling hub of industry veterans and talented new associates,” Holtec notes. As a result, 26 Palisades Licensed Operators are currently completing requalification classes to maintain their federal operating licences and two initial Operator classes are underway, with a third to begin later this year. This “sets the stage for imminent restoration of Palisades Maintenance and Technical training programmes”.

Major plant work being undertaken is also underway to ensure safety for the plant’s extended operational life, including offsite refurbishment of the generator exciter and restoration of reactor vessel’s operational integrity in preparation for a deep chemical cleaning of the plant’s reactor cooling system.

The near future will see inspection of the reactor vessel internals and steam generators along with long-term investments in preventive maintenance, equipment repairs, replacements, upgrades, and modifications, as part of the site’s robust restart project plan. Other critical activities, such as the ordering of new fuel for the reactor and long-lead part procurement, are also underway.

With respect to regulation, significant progress has been made towards reauthorisation of extended operations. This includes submitting five of the major licensing submittals to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and engaging in public meetings as a part of that process. NRC has been notified of Holtec’s intention to pursue subsequent licence renewal to extend the plant’s operational life.

Holtec says it has also made headway in plans to site Holtec’s first two small modular reactors (SMRs) adjacent to the Palisades plant. “When constructed, our twin SMR-300 reactors, which are designed to produce a minimum of 300-megwatts power per unit, will nearly double the Michigan site’s total carbon-free generation capacity. Preliminary siting activities are underway with filing of the Construction Permit Application for the two SMRs targeted for 2026.”