WASHINGTON – Meeting the agency’s truncated 20-day deadline, an environmental coalition’s legal counsel, Toledo, Ohio attorney Terry Lodge, has submitted a petition to intervene and request for hearing to NRC, on behalf of members of the groups, some of whom live less than a mile from the Palisades nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The legal and technical challenges opposed to current owner Entergy Nuclear’s license transfer to Holtec International for decommissioning purposes and high-level radioactive waste management include Holtec’s disqualifying bad corporate character, and its unnacceptable bids to drain the already woefully inadequate Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund for non-decommissioning expenses, such as irradiated nuclear fuel management and site restoration.
The intervention also objects to Holtec’s large underestimation of both decommissioning expenses, as well as irradiated nuclear fuel management expenses. For example, the coalition’s expert witness, Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, and a former senior advisor to the U.S. Energy Secretary, has shown that Holtec has given no consideration to high burnup irradiated nuclear fuel’s higher thermal heat load and radioactivity levels, even though it comprises a large fraction of the fuel to be stored on-site, and likely for much longer than Holtec’s overly optimistic year 2066 terminus date.
Lastly, the coalition has argued for NRC to undertake a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, to address: the site’s radioactive contamination of soil and groundwater; various “low” level radioactive waste streams, such as steam generators and highly radioactive Reactor Vessel Internals; the need for repackaging irradiated nuclear fuel from non-transportable and even defective current containers into new replacement containers; and increasing radiologic risks due to the current historic high, and worsening, Lake Michigan water levels.
Holtec’s proposed takeover would also include Palisades’ sibling, the Lake Michigan shoreline Big Rock Point nuclear power plant site in Charlevoix, Michigan, as part of the package deal. Although NRC in 2006 approved the decommissioned site’s release for unrestricted use, watchdogs remain very concerned about significant documented radioactive contamination abandoned there. In addition, eight casks of highly radioactive waste are still stored there, with nowhere else to go.
“With no ability to unload the high-level radioactive waste from an already known defective VSC-24 cask, and potentially additional faulty casks of this and other models in the future, Entergy and Holtec have teed up a cataclysmic disaster on the shore of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is about to eat Palisades, and this unaddressed problem amounts to ‘Criminal Negligence,'” stated Michael J. Keegan, Co-Chairman of Don’t Waste Michigan in Monroe, MI.
“We object to NRC allowing Holtec to drain $166 million from the Palisades Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund for unrelated high-level radioactive waste management expenses, because that will severely shortchange the cleanup of documented extensive hazardous radioactive contamination of soil and groundwater,” said Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist with Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group based in Takoma Park, MD. “Abandoned radioactive contamination will flow downstream over time, into Lake Michigan and inland aquifers, both drinking water supplies. The radioactivity will not dilute, but rather bio-concentrate up the food chain, endangering current and future generations,” Kamps added.
“As people who share the same Lake Michigan drinking water supply with 16 million other people, we are deeply concerned with how the Palisades closure and decommissioning is handled,” stated Gail Snyder, Board President of Nuclear Energy Information Service, based in Chicago, IL. “Having witnessed the numerous highly questionable dealings surrounding the decommissioning of the Zion nuclear reactors in Illinois from 2010 to the present, we are highly suspicious of Holtec’s motives and capability to conduct a credible and safe decommissioning, and skeptical that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will do more than a check-box oversight of the project. For those reasons constant and direct oversight from state and federal legislators in Michigan is imperative,” Snyder warned.
Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, and Nuclear Energy Information Service have also intervened against Holtec’s proposal to target majority minority (Hispanic, Indigenous) New Mexico with the country’s high-level radioactive waste dump, a so-called “consolidated interim storage facility” (CISF) for irradiated nuclear fuel that risks becoming de factopermanent surface storage. Terry Lodge serves as legal counsel for Don’t Waste Michigan and Nuclear Energy Information Service, and five additional grassroots environmental groups from across the U.S., in that proceeding as well. NRC has rejected all opponents’ appeals, and the groups have now appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second highest court in the land.
“At the very top of the list of CISF non-starters is highly radioactive waste barge shipments, from Palisades to the Port of Muskegon, for offload onto a train for export out to the Southwest,” said Terry Lodge, the environmental coalition’s legal counsel. “Irradiated fuel sunk to the bottom of Lake Michigan could cause ruinous radioactive releases into the drinking water supply for tens of millions of people downstream in seven states, two provinces, and a large number of Indigenous Nations. Radioactive steam generator barge shipments across Lake Michigan, through Chicago’s waterways, and down the Mississippi River could likewise lead to drinking water catastrophes,” Lodge added.