NRC’s Requirements Following Entergy’s Announcement Palisades Will Cease Operation

Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III

Entergy announced last week it would permanently shut down its Palisades Nuclear Plant on October 1, 2018. The facility, located in Covert, Mich., has been in operation since 1971 and is licensed to operate until 2031.

palisades_smallThe NRC was not involved in the decision, which the company said was based on business and financial factors. Our single focus as an independent regulator is on the safety of nuclear plants, the public and the environment.

However, once any announcement about closure is made, the NRC becomes engaged and the company has to meet our requirements for permanently shutting down an operating reactor.

The first step in this process requires Entergy to make a written Certification of Permanent Cessation of Operations to the NRC within 30 days from announcing its decision to permanently take the plant off line.

Should Entergy decide to continue operating the plant beyond the date stated in the certification, it would have to notify the NRC in writing.

As long as the plant is operating, we will continue to independently verify Palisades is meeting NRC’s stringent requirements. These requirements will remain in place until all fuel is removed from the reactor and the NRC has the company’s certifications of permanent cessation of operation and permanent fuel removal. At that point in the process, Entergy is no longer authorized to put new fuel into the reactor or resume plant operation.

The plant then enters the NRC’s well-established decommissioning process  geared towards ensuring the continued safe use of nuclear material, and the safety of nuclear workers and the public. Decommissioning must be completed within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations.

Nuclear plant operators are required to plan for the ultimate decommissioning of the plant before it begins operations by establishing and maintaining a dedicated decommissioning fund. These funds – created to ensure there will be sufficient money to pay for a plant’s radiological decommissioning — cannot be used for any other purpose unless the NRC grants an exemption.

Operating plants must maintain the required levels established by the NRC  and certify that there is reasonable assurance there will be adequate decommissioning funds, at least every two years while the plant is operating and more frequently after it ceases operations. The NRC reviewed the decommissioning funding status report  for Palisades in 2015 and found that it met our requirements.

An Inspector’s Perspective On the Control Rod Drive Mechanism Housing Flaws At Palisades

Elba Sanchez Santiago
Materials Engineering Inspector
NRC Region III
Elba Sanchez Santiago is a Materials Engineering Inspector in the NRC's Region III.
Elba Sanchez Santiago is a
Materials Engineering Inspector in the
NRC’s Region III.

There has been a lot of interest lately in the flaws that were recently found in the control rod drive mechanism (CRDM) housings at the Palisades nuclear plant, near South Haven, Mich. I want to share my direct experience with the NRC’s thorough and independent evaluation of this issue.

First, some background. The control rod drive mechanism moves control rods inside the reactor to control the level of nuclear chain reaction. The housing is a metal tube around the control rod drive mechanism, which is connected to the control rod and prevents leakage of reactor water into containment.

According to a commitment made in 2012, the plant conducted inspections of 45 CRDM housings in this reactor and found flaws in 17 of them. Palisades committed to these inspections after the discovery of a crack in one of the housings resulted in a plant shutdown in 2012.

Because of my expertise as a materials engineering inspector, I was dispatched to Palisades after it shut down in 2012. I was to evaluate the plant’s response to the discovery of the through-wall crack. As a member of a special inspection team that further evaluated this issue, I reviewed the plant’s testing of eight additional CRDM housings and their corrective actions. Even though no other cracks were found, the plant committed to further evaluate the condition of the housings during the 2014 refueling outage.

I came to Palisades before the current outage started to evaluate the site’s inspection methodology, work procedures, tooling and personnel qualifications. When the examinations started, I observed some of the actual testing and evaluated the results. To date, there is no evidence of leakage resulting from the flaws. I will remain onsite providing oversight over the plant’s actions until the issue is resolved.

Since the issue first came to light in 2012, I have been working with a team of other inspectors and specialists in Region III and the headquarters office in Rockville, Md., to make sure we ask the necessary questions to understand the plant’s methodology and assessments, and independently verify the conclusions.

Our in-depth independent reviews will continue until the plant completes the necessary repairs and takes proper actions to make sure the CRDM housing flaws do not lead to a significant safety concern. The results of our inspections will be documented in a publicly available inspection report.