Federal funding for Diablo Canyon but not for Palisades

21 November 2022

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has been selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to receive credits worth up to USD1.1 billion to enable the two-unit plant to remain in operation. But Holtec International's application for federal funding to allow it to restart the Palisades nuclear power plant has been unsuccessful.

Palisades' control room during the plant's final refuelling and maintenance outage in 2020 (Image: @PalisadesEnergy)

The Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) programme is a USD6 billion strategic investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help keep the USA's existing reactor fleet in operation.

The two units at Diablo Canyon in California had been scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024 (unit 1) and 2025 (unit 2) - a decision reached several years ago at a time when California saw its energy future based on renewables, efficiency and storage - but the state's lawmakers earlier this year voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill that will enable the state's only nuclear power plant to remain in operation for up to five years longer than currently planned. Operator PG&E earlier this month formally asked the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume work on relicensing the plants to enable them to continue operating until 2030.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation's largest source of clean electricity," US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said. "Nuclear energy will help us meet President Biden's climate goals, and with these historic investments in clean energy, we can protect these facilities and the communities they serve."

The conditional award of credits creates a path forward for Diablo Canyon - which produces around 16 GWh of electricity annually, about 15% of California's clean energy - to stay open, DOE said, as well as saving 1,500 clean energy jobs.

No award for Palisades

DOE's announcement came after Holtec International announced that its bid for funding to reopen the Palisades plant in Michigan had been unsuccessful. The plant closed down in May after more than 50 years in operation.

Holtec agreed in 2018 to purchase the plant for decommissioning from operator Entergy, completing the acquisition in June. In July, Holtec - with the support of Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer  - submitted an application for funding under the CNC programme in July, just days after completing its acquisition of the plant.

Holtec said the news was "unfortunate" and shared a statement from Pat O'Brien, Director Government Affairs and Communications for Holtec International. "We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, re-starting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry," he said. "While the DOE's decision is not the outcome many had hoped for, we entered this process committed to working with our federal, state, and community partners to see if the plant could be repowered to return to service as a provider of safe, reliable, and carbon-free generation."

"Holtec remains committed to helping the nuclear and energy industries meet challenges and find solutions here in Michigan and across the country. That commitment remains as our employees focus on the safe and timely decommissioning of Palisades to allow for potential reuse," O'Brien added.

The 805 MWe Palisades pressurised water reactor was removed from service by Entergy on 20 May, and defuelled by 10 June. Holtec's acquisition of the plant - together with the decommissioned Big Rock Point nuclear power plant, where a dry fuel storage facility remains - was completed later that month. At that time, Holtec said it envisaged a 19-year timeline for the Palisades decommissioning project, with the transfer of fuel from wet to dry storage to be completed by 2025 and complete decommissioning of the plant (with the exception of the dry storage facility) by 2041.

Following decommissioning, most of the site - except for the area occupied by the dry storage facility - will be available for industrial use. Holtec has previously said that installation of a plant based on its SMR-160 small modular reactor could be a viable repurposing of the site.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News