US DOE widens eligibility for CNC fund

03 March 2023

The first award cycle of the US DOE's Civil Nuclear Credit Program limited eligibility to owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that had announced intentions to retire within the four-year award period, but the second round is also open to owners or operators of nuclear reactors that ceased operations after 15 November 2021.

The Palisades nuclear plant (Image: Holtec)

The announcement has focused attention on Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan, which shut down in May 2022. Owner Holtec had applied for funds in the first round, to reopen the plant, but its application was rejected. It announced in December it was reapplying.

The DOE announcement says that the USD6 billion CNC programme is intended to prevent the premature retirement of nuclear reactors, which are "a reliable and consistent energy resource with stable generation capacity allowing the grid to more effectively integrate electricity from variable energy resources like solar and wind, while providing all Americans access to clean, resilient and affordable electricity, anytime, anywhere".

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the investment "made it abundantly clear that preserving the domestic nuclear fleet is critical to reaching America's clean energy future ... expanding the scope of this Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding will allow even more nuclear facilities the opportunity to continue operating as economic drivers in local communities that benefit from cheap, clean, and reliable power."

Funding from the first round was conditionally approved for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California.

Holtec agreed in 2018 to purchase the 50-year-old Palisades plant for decommissioning from operator Entergy. The 805 MWe pressurised water reactor was removed from service by Entergy on 20 May 2022, and defuelled by 10 June, the same month that Holtec completed the acquisition.

At that time, Holtec said it envisaged a 19-year timeline for the Palisades decommissioning project, with the transfer of fuel from wet to dry storage to be completed by 2025 and complete decommissioning of the plant (with the exception of the dry storage facility) by 2041. Following decommissioning, most of the site - except for the area occupied by the dry storage facility - will be available for industrial use. Holtec has previously said that installation of a plant based on its SMR-160 small modular reactor could be a viable repurposing of the site.

In July, Holtec - with the support of Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer - submitted an application for funding under the DOE's CNC to restart the plant. When that first application was rejected, Pat O'Brien, Director Government Affairs and Communications for Holtec International, said "re-starting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry".

When it announced it was reapplying for funding, Holtec said "the repowering of Palisades is of vital importance to Michigan's clean energy future" and "this decision to reapply is one that we did not take lightly, but the support of the State of Michigan, local officials and key stakeholders - who recognise the significant benefit in providing a safe, reliable, carbon-free power source, as well as providing a significant economic impact through good paying jobs and the use of many local goods and services - leads us to believe this is the best path forward for the facility and our state".