Palisades Nuclear Power Plant
The Palisades Nuclear Generating Station is a single-unit nuclear power plant located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, near South Haven, Michigan. Its pressurized water reactor was supplied by Combustion Engineering and can drive a Westinghouse turbine power generation unit to a production capacity of 725 kilowatts.
Entering service at the end of 1971, Unit 1 had its license extended to 2031 by a 2007 Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision. The plant, having originally been built by the Bechtel engineering firm for the CMS Energy Corporation, and operated by the Nuclear Management Company, was sold to the New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation in 2007. It is currently operated, along with 10 other nuclear power plants, by Entergy Nuclear, one of Entergy’s non-utility subsidiaries. The plant supplies the residents of western Michigan with approximately 5,826 gigawatt hours of electricity a year.
The plant’s sole power generating unit is protected by a containment building that is 35 meters in diameter and 58 meters in height. Its 1.1 meter-thick concrete walls are lined by 6.4-milimeter steel plates. Nine outdoor casks hold the plant’s spent fuel rods, though this was originally meant to be a temporary solution until the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage site could be opened. Given the uncertain future of the Nevada site, it is unclear where Palisades’ spent fuel will eventually be deposited. Two malfunctioning steam generators that were replaced in 1992 are buried in an adjacent concrete bunker. In 2005, the firm of Babcock and Wilcox began work on a slated reactor head replacement, but this order was later cancelled. The new reactor head and associated components are currently stored at a Westinghouse facility.
Though a dangerous accident has never occurred at the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, there have been a few minor incidents at the plant in recent years that led to a temporary increase in NRC scrutiny. In 2005, 110 tons of spent fuel was left suspended in the air when a crane’s brake system malfunctioned. Five workers were also trapped in a high-temperature compartment for 90 minutes in 2008 due to a faulty hatch. There have also been concerns about the condition of the racks on which the spent fuel is stored. The NRC, however, considers the plant safe. There has never been an incident involving a breach of the plant’s nuclear vessel or an event that could have led to any type of meltdown.
However, the plant’s age makes it a threat for containing dangerous pockets of asbestos, which was used in these facilities widely until regulations in the 1970s began. Today former employees remain at risk for developing diseases related to this asbestos exposure, as it can lie dormant for up to five decades before manifesting itself in the form of mesothelioma, a lethal cancer without cure. Former and current employees, as well as their families, are encouraged by medical professionals to seek medical screening to detect early symptoms of these disease.