COVERT — The NRC has resident inspectors at Palisades, and every other nuclear power plant in the country, every day monitoring the plant. That won’t change once decommissioning starts.

The power reactor inspection program stops and the decommissioning reactor inspection program starts. The only thing that changes is plant oversight switches to the NRC’s decommissioning staff, like Rhex Edwards, senior health physicist and decommissioning expert at the NRC.

The resident inspectors will physically be over top the reactor watching the fuel come out of the reactor, be placed on a transfer cart and be moved into the spent fuel pool, Edwards said. And as soon as this happens, the general risk associated with running a nuclear power reactor decreases significantly. 

This is a turning point for the plant. The reactor can’t just be started up again. It’s not a switch that can be flipped on and off, said NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng. 

Keeping the workers and the environment safe while moving around the radioactive material is always a top concern when the plant is active and while it’s being decommissioned.

There is air monitoring, and certain workers might use a self-contained breathing apparatus or self-filtering power respirator. Fresh air is being pumped into the building and workers use tools that don’t set off sparks.

There are health physicists present to monitor what the workers are exposed to. Workers are checked as they come in and out of the building, and there are laws about how much radiation workers can be exposed to.

“Before anything can happen to the site, they have to properly understand the radiological conditions in the area and prepare the workers so they know what to expect,” Mitlyng said.

There are minimum staffing requirements in Palisades nuclear license to ensure safety, as well. So there will be a core group of workers still employed by the plant to maintain the emergency plan, the fire protection program and other safety systems.

Palisades is taking several steps to retain workers through the plant closure and the transition into decommissioning. 

“Entergy has developed workforce progression plans to ensure the required number of trained and qualified Palisades’ employees remain on the job to safely and reliably operate the facility post-shutdown and in accordance with strict standards,” Palisades spokeswoman Val Gent said. “We expect to continue operations with current staffing levels until the plant is shut down, at which time we will transition into decommissioning. Reduced staffing of the plant will be required for years after shutdown.”