Living Near Palisades

  • The Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

This year, federal regulators will keep a close eye on the Palisades Nuclear
Power Plant. The plant had three safety violations last year. That makes
it one of only four nuclear plants in the nation with such a bad safety

Lindsey Smith reports people who live by the plant near South Haven are still trying to figure out what the safety violations mean to them:

About 700 people work at Palisades every day. It’s one of the largest employers in Van Buren County. The plant is the county’s largest taxpayer too, with money going to a number of public schools, libraries, a hospital and local governments.

But the recent safety violations make some people who live nearby uncomfortable.

“My name’s Barbara Geisler. I live on a farm here outside of Bangor with my husband. And I’m Maynard Kauffman and I feel really nice about this place because it’s prime farmland.”

Geisler and Kauffman’s 22 acre farm has rich black soil. It lies about 11
miles away from the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

Kauffman didn’t think too much about the plant when he bought his farm back
in 1973, two years after the plant opened.

But by 2005, when plant operators began asking regulators to renew their
operating license, Kauffman and Geisler were at the plant protesting the

“And with a lot of people carrying signs ‘shut it down, shut it down’ and then it was after that that we decided when we built our house not to use nuclear energy for electricity.”

Instead, the farm is powered by two small scale wind turbines and a solar panel. Kauffman says it gives him a good feeling knowing none of their energy is coming from coal, natural gas or the Palisades plant. But the two still have a bad feeling about Palisades. They’re worried about the steel vessel that contains the actual nuclear reactor. That vessel is the oldest in the country.

“If you just have one accident and if it were only one in a million, it is a cost that we don’t want to have to bear.”

The company that operates the plant, Entergy, will need to update the steel
vessel or prove that it can withstand further use in order to keep operating
past 2017.

But that vessel issue is actually separate from the safety violations the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued Palisades last year. In all, the plant
had four unplanned reactor shutdowns, resulting in significant safety

“Were there mistakes made? Yes there were. And those have been corrected.”

That’s Mark Savage, a Palisades spokesperson.

“But did they operate safely at all times? Yes they did. Was there any consequences involved that would’ve harmed equipment or harmed people? No there were not.”

At the NRC’s annual assessment meeting in South Haven last night, another Entergy official said safety improvements have already been made. He says human errors, the main cause of the safety violations issued last year, have declined.

But the NRC’s Acting Regional Administrator Cindy Peterson says the company will still be under close surveillance this year.

“Quite frankly we won’t be satisfied until your performance improves.”

The NRC says the safety problems at Palisades are uncommon, but not enough to warrant a shutdown. They too insist the plant is operating safely, and if it weren’t the agency would and could shut it down.

NRC inspectors will spend thousands of man hours at the plant this year and beyond, until Entergy can prove the safety culture at Palisades is up to federal regulators’ standards.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith in South Haven.