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Palisades says plant on “road to recovery,” not all convinced

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Entergy Corporation, the company that owns the Palisades nuclear power plant, says the plant is on the “road to recovery” after a series of safety problems.

Federal regulators recently upgraded the plant’s safety ratingfrom one of the worst in the country after it passed a major inspection last fall.

Palisades Vice President Tony Vitale outlined the steps he and his staff took last year to improve human performance at the plant, one of the main reasons for the safety rating downgrade.

He says a recent, independent study of the safety culture shows the plan is paying off.

“Worker attitude, worker behavior, safety culture overall is improving Palisades as a workplace,” Vitale told officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Tuesday night. The NRC held the public meeting in South Haven to go over the plant’s annual review.

“There are still some challenges, but the safety culture was adequate and getting better,” NRC Branch Chief Jack Giessner agreed.

The NRC has always maintained Palisades has operated safely, but not everyone was convinced. “Adequate doesn’t make me feel safe,” Benton Township resident Bette Pierman told the NRC.

But regulators say the plant needs to do a better job of preventive maintenance on the plant’s equipment. There have been several water leaks at the plant and that could be part of the problem.

“They need to look at pipes proactively. Do preventative maintenance. Take a look. Are they seeing degradation? If they are, replace it before it goes through-wall,” Giessner said.

One leak, from a large tank that holds water in case of emergencies, is still ongoing. But the NRC says the leak is small enough the plant can continue to operate safely. Another, from the plant’s reactor vessel that forced a shutdown in August is still under investigation.

“These (equipment) issues have required repairs to be done with the plant offline and that’s unacceptable,” Vitale said. He says they’re already reviewing their procedures to see if there’s something they should change.

“We’re diving into our programs and finding out why these issues are finding us instead of us finding them,” Vitale said.

Along with nearby residents and people with anti-nuclear groups, this time a few current Palisades employees also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“We at the plant know the concerns of the public,” Andy Notbohm said. “We know that we want, at the end of the day, to have safe drinking water as well. We want to have a lake that we can swim in, that our kids can swim in safely. Each and every day that’s what the 620-some employees go to Palisades and do.”

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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