NRC approves transfer of Palisades, Big Rock Point to Holtec for decommissioning

December 14, 2021, 3:00PMRadwaste Solutions
The Palisades power plant, in Covert Township, Mich.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of the Palisades nuclear power plant licenses from Entergy Nuclear Operations to Holtec International, as owner, and Holtec Decommissioning International (HDI), as decommissioning operator. Holtec and HDI intend to decommission the single-unit pressurized water reactor, located in Covert, Mich., under an accelerated schedule.

The transfer also includes the Palisades independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI), as well as the licenses for the decommissioned Big Rock Point nuclear power plant in northern Michigan, where only the ISFSI remains.

While the NRC’s December 13 order approving the transfer is effective immediately, the license transfer will not be finalized until after Palisade’s permanent shutdown and the completion of the transaction between Entergy, Holtec, and HDI.

Palisades is scheduled to be closed on May 31, 2022, and Holtec and Entergy expect to conclude the transaction, whereby Holtec will assume ownership of the site, real property, and spent fuel, by June 30, 2022. Holtec said it plans to move all the fuel in the plant’s spent fuel pool to the ISFSI within three years of shutdown.

Fleet member: According to Holtec, HDI’s technical solutions and fleet management model that employs standardized processes and procedures refined through implementation across multiple decommissioning sites will be used at Palisades.

HDI president Kelly Trice said, “The Palisades decommissioning program, coming on the heels of the ongoing programs at Oyster Creek, Pilgrim, and Indian Point, will leverage Holtec’s fleet management model suffused with innovative technical solutions developed by the company to maximize personnel safety and minimize the waste volumes and total dose accreted to the plant personnel with environmental stewardship as our preeminent consideration. We espouse the social values of our predecessor plant owner, Entergy, as we strive to be a worthy corporate citizen of the host community.”

Continued challenges: The completion of the transfer of Palisades is also dependent on the outcome of several hearing requests that are currently pending before the NRC. Under NRC policy, a license transfer approval is subject to the commission’s authority to rescind, modify, or condition the transfer, based on the outcome of any subsequent hearing on the application.

In February, a coalition of antinuclear groups led by Beyond Nuclear petitioned the NRC for a hearing in opposition to the transfer of Palisades to Holtec, arguing that the company does not possess the financial qualifications to complete the decommissioning of the plant.

Terry Lodge, the coalition’s legal counsel, said in a December 13 statement, “In response to this shocking ruling by the NRC commissioners and staff, I will confer with my clients, to seriously consider an appeal to federal court.”

Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also filed petitions to the NRC for a hearing challenging the license transfer.

The NRC staff, in reviewing the license transfer application, considered Holtec and HDI’s technical and financial qualifications, the adequacy of the Palisades decommissioning trust fund to complete the radiological decommissioning of the plant, and the adequacy of plans to manage the on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel. The staff concluded that Holtec and HDI met the regulatory, legal, technical, and financial requirements necessary to qualify as licensees.

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