SNL: "Palisades plant critics vow to continue fight over 'thermal shock' issue" (risks extend to Pt. Beach, Indian Pt., Diablo, & Beaver Valley)
SNL Financial has published an in-depth investigative article by Matthew Bandyk, "Palisades nuclear plant critics vow to continue fight over 'thermal shock' issue."
The article revealed that Palisades' previous owner, Consumers Energy, had planned to attempt to repair the severely neutron radiation embrittled reactor pressure vessel (RPV), by undertaking experimental, expensive annealing (super-heating the metal in an attempt to restore ductility) in the late 1990s, but decided not to, for fear of public backlash and/or legal intervention against the needed License Amendment Request.
The environmental coalition challenging Palisades' continued operation in the face of such extreme pressurized thermal shock (PTS) risks of a reactor core meltdown includes Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago. The coalition's expert witness, Arnold Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont, unearthed the Palisades annealing revelation during research of technical documents. (See slide #29 of 47.)
Although Palisades has done this numerous times since it first exceeded embrittlement safety limits in 1981, just ten years into operations, none was worse so than the November 2015 rubber-stamps by the NRC Commissioners and NRC staff, granting Palisades another 16 years (till 2031) of embrittlement good-to-go/get-out-of-jail-free-card status.
Ironically enough, in the lead article of his June 2011 Associated Press four-part exposé "Aging Nukes," investigative reporter Jeff Donn cited that very phrase of "sharpening the pencil," as a euphemism for regulatory rollbacks (some refer to it as "pencil whipping," or "pencil engineering"). And Donn's top example of "pencil sharpening" and regulatory rollback was RPV embrittlement/PTS risk.
Based on numerous admissions by NRC staff, it is fair to say that Palisades has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S.
The SNL article also mentions other Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) across the U.S. at the top of the list for worst embrittled. They include: Point Beach Unit 2 in WI (also on the Lake Michigan shore, like Palisades); Indian Point Unit 3 in NY near NYC (also owned by Entergy, like Palisades); Diablo Canyon Unit 1 on the Pacific Coast in CA; and Beaver Valley Unit 1 in N.W. PA near the OH border (owned by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which also owns Davis-Besse in OH, which also has a significant RPV embrittlement problem). This list of worst embrittled reactors in the U.S. was provided by the NRC, during a Palisades-related NRC Webinar that concerned citizen pressure forced the agency to hold in March 2013 (as summarized by NRC a month later; see Page 5 of 15 on the PDF counter (point #4) for the list of most embrittled reactors).
Given the Palisades' precedent, these other nuclear utilities, with dangerously embrittled RPVs, can be expected to pursue similar "regulatory relief" from NRC, in order to continue operating their age-degraded reactors, at increasing peril to those living downwind and downstream.
NRC Region 3 Administrator Chuck Casto (who had been NRC's eyes and ears on the ground in Japan, beginning just days after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began, and continuing for nine months), during a meeting in South Haven, Michigan (a few miles from Palisades) with NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV at the end of March 2013, revealed his astonishment that 120 concerned local residents and environmental group representatives had taken part in the Webinar, and asked questions, such as "What are the worst embrittled RPVs in the U.S.?," leading to NRC's admissions cited above.
The SNL Financial article prompted Michael Mariotte, President of NIRS, to document an assurance given him by the CEO of Palisades' then-owner, Consumers Power, two decades ago, that the company planned to anneal the reactor pressure vessel, that the process would work, and that it would be affordable. Mariotte wrote up his memory in a GreenWorld blog post entitled "PTS at Palisades: Yes, They Knew."
The assurance was given during a break at a congressional hearing at which both Mariotte and the Consumers Power CEO testified as witnesses in the 1990s. Of course, neither then-owner Consumers Power, nor current-owner Entergy, have ever carried out the astronomically-expensive, experimental and uncertain process of annealing at Palisades. As Mariotte points out, paper plans and downplaying of age-related degradation risks have taken place, again and again, instead.
All this with NRC complicity and collusion, which the Japanese Parliament concluded was the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe. Such regulator-industry-government official collusion exists in spades at Palisades, between NRC-Entergy and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). Palisades is located in Upton's s.w. MI district. Despite chairing the powerful U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton has done little to nothing about Palisades' extreme, and worsening, risks. Entergy is a major campaign contributor to Upton's re-election efforts, cycle after cycle.