Palisades continues plant investments though closure looms

The Palisades nuclear power plant.

BENTON HARBOR — Palisades Nuclear Power Plant is committed to continued investment into safe and reliable operation at the site, plant officials said Wednesday.

Palisades is set to stop operations in 2022, but until then, Entergy will make improvements to make sure the plant operates safely, plant officials said at a public information meeting Wednesday night in Benton Harbor. This was the second meeting this year, and one of several in recent years

“As evidence of our commitment, Entergy funded numerous maintenance activities this year, as well as the replacement of one of our cooling towers,” said Otto Gustafson, regulatory assurance and performance improvement director at Palisades. 

The cooling tower replacement happened in the spring during a regular refueling outage. The $36 million project was “quite the undertaking,” said Kevin O’Connor, engineering director, said. 

“It was a significant investment in the plant, but it was an investment in safety and reliability,” he said. 

The original cooling tower was 40 years old and was made of redwood. The new cooling tower is built of fiberglass-reinforced plastic. It should last for as long as the plant is there, O’Connor said. 

The other cooling tower was replaced in 2012.

Other recent and planned projects include replacement of 64 fuel assemblies, fire protection improvements, general outage inspections, maintenance and upgrades, cyber security improvements and delivery of a new spare main transformer.

Gustafson said Palisades has three strategic focus areas: people, plant and process.  

“Since the announcement to continue operation of the plant, Palisades has aggressively pursued hiring of additional staff,” he said.

That includes new operators, maintenance personnel and instructors.

“Of note, these operators will undergo about 18 months of training to prepare for the NRC licensing exam,” Gustafson said. 

He said that in addition to 160 hours of continued training, the plant offers talent and career development classes for all employees. This includes resume and job interview skills.

“The station is still closing in the spring of 2022, and we feel that is the right investment in our people to ensure that, should they like to come to Entergy for future jobs, or throughout the community, they are prepared to do so when the plant closes down,” Gustafson said. 

Site Vice President Charlie Arnone said the two questions he has been asked most by his friends, family and neighbors since the announcement the plant would close in 2022 has been: What are the employees going to do? And are people happy about it?

He said everyone has their own answers to those questions, but that it’s been an exciting opportunity for people who have had long careers at Palisades.

“The reason I say that with excitement is because almost everyone I’ve talked to, even people who were getting ready to retire who saw potential for some additional funding from a retention and severance package, said they’re absolutely thrilled that the plant is going to stay open and people are going to stay employed in this area even though it may impact them personally,” Arnone said. “They’ve basically said, ‘I don’t care, I’m just happy for everybody else around me that’s working.’”

Palisades employees work in the community, too. He said each year Palisades donates about $325,000 to local organizations, and employees donate time, service and expertise.

Arnone said this year employees stuffed backpacks with supplies for students going back to school, they helped fund and build a playground for students with special needs in Lawrence, and they took families shopping for the holidays. 

In addition, Palisades has been part of Adopt-A-Highway since 1995, have donated about $1.3 million to area United Ways, bought a mannequin for the Covert Township Fire Department to help with training, and now they have a giving tree in the lobby for employees to buy gifts for residents of South Haven Nursing Home.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman