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NRC dismisses Beyond Nuclear et al. interventions against Entergy Palisades RPV risks; environmental coalition vows to fight on

NRC file photo of Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MIAn environmental coalition (Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste MI, MI Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service of IL, represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, and served by expert witness Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates) has been officially intervening against yet further regulatory rollbacks at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor since Dec. 1, 2014. Entergy Nuclear has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for weakened safety regulations, to accommodate Palisades' continued operations, despite having the single worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel (RPV) in the U.S., and other forms of severe, and worsening, RPV age-related degradation. Palisades has operated for nearly 45 years. It is located on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Covert, MI (see photo, left).

The NRC Commissioners have been considering dueling petitions filed by the environmental coalition and Entergy. On June 2, 2015, the coalition appealed an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) rejection of its contention regarding RPV embrittlement, and risks of pressurized thermal shock brittle fracture due to suddenly decreasing temperatures. On July 13, 2015, Entergy appealed the same ASLBP's granting of a hearing to the environmental intervenors on the technical merits of their contention, regarding other forms of RPV age-related degradation, and risks of ductile tearing failure even at hotter normal operating temperatures. Either form of failure of the RPV would lead to Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, and reactor core meltdown, and likely containment breach and release of catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity.

Today, the NRC Commissioners ruled Entergy's way in both overlapping proceedings, denying the environmental coalition's appeal, while ruling in favor of Entergy's appeal.

The coalition, working in alliance with groups like the Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Michigan Committee, has vowed to fight on, to demand Palisades' shutdown, before it melts down. It has issued a press release. (See the word version for functional links to relevant documents.) Matthew Bandyk at SNL has reported on this story.

The NRC Commissioners' overruling of its own ASLBP grant of a hearing comes despite the environmental coalition’s efforts having garnered the support of the mayors of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Grand Rapids (with a population of 200,000) and Kalamazoo (with 75,000 residents) are the two largest cities in southwest Michigan, both well within the 50-mile zone downwind of Palisades. On July 30, 2015, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell wrote the NRC, urging that long overdue physical safety testing of Palisades’ RPV be conducted, and that the environmental groups’ intervention be allowed to proceed to a hearing. Echoing those calls, on November 6, 2015, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell went even further, urging “From the information presented…the requested regulatory relief should be denied to ENTERGY.”

Likewise, on August 4, 2015, the nearest residents to the Palisades atomic reactor, the Palisades Park Country Club, also demanded the long overdue physical safety testing, and called for the hearings to proceed.

On August 7, 2015, so too did the Sierra Club, “the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization -- with more than two million members and supporters.” The Sierra Club’s attorney, Wally Taylor, filed a Friend of the Court brief in support of the environmental coalition’s efforts, on behalf of its Nuclear-Free Michigan Committee, chaired by Mark Muhich of Jackson, MI.