COVERT, MICHIGAN – It's been named one of the four worst performing nuclear plants in the country, but senior management at the Palisades Plant in Covert, Michigan says the plant and the people who live near it are safe.
“We recognize our performance over the last several months has not been [acceptable] with what you expect or what we expect of ourselves as a professional nuclear operator,” Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale told reporters Thursday.
Palisades has been under intense scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the past several months. In 2011, some of the numerous problems included a failed water pump, an electrical problem caused by workers and a mechanical problem caused by a worker putting grease on a wrong part. This year the plant shut down in June for a minor steam leak and August for a water cooler leak.
“At no time was the health and safety of the public or our workers compromised,” Vitale said of the recent shut downs.
There may be more shut downs as the plant strives “to return to excellence,” he added.
In February, the NRC classified Palisades as one of the 4 worst of the 104 nuclear plants it oversees, meaning more inspections on top of the thousands of hours of inspections it already receives each year.
“The NRC has a process and they’re not picking on us. They’re following the process,” Vitale continued. “To a person at Palisades, it is professionally unacceptable to be rated where we were rated and we will not be there long as we continue to drive to make improvements.”
Those improvements include a recovery plan approved by the NRC, identifying and addressing plant deficiencies, meeting with employees in small groups and changing some leadership positions within the plant.
“We focus not only on short term but on long term, long-lasting improvements and already, we are seeing progress,” Vitale said.
The NRC has said it would shut the plant down if it wasn’t operating safely. Palisades has another major inspection with the NRC the last two weeks in September and if all goes well then, plant leaders say the commission may give the plant a better rating.
Thursday, Palisades gave reporters a tour of a new facility about 30 minutes south of the plant in Benton Harbor, designed to deal with emergencies at the plant. The state-of-the-art building, called the Emergency Operations Facility, can monitor what's happening at the plant and get information out to the public during a nuclear emergency.
Every nuclear plant has both on site and off site operations facilities, said Entergy Planning Manager Dan Malone. Palisades’ facility used to be located north of the plant.
October 30 and 31, Palisades will conduct an emergency training exercise, testing the capabilities of its organization to effectively respond to and manage a simulated emergency. It will involve Homeland Security and first responders from a 50 mile radius of the plant, including Berrien County in Michigan and St. Joseph, LaPorte and Elkhart Counties in Indiana.