How to reopen a nuclear power plant

Step 2: Line up money and permission

Support has poured in for Palisades, with the state of Michigan setting aside $300 million in funding for the plant’s restart in the last two years. And now, the Department of Energy has issued a conditional loan commitment for $1.52 billion.

Holtec will need to meet certain technical and legal conditions to get the loan money, which will eventually be repaid with interest. (Holtec and the DOE Loan Programs Office declined to give more information about the loan’s conditions or timeline.)

The state funding and federal loan will help support the fixes and upgrades needed for the plant’s equipment and continue paying the approximately 200 workers who have stayed on since its shutdown. The plant employed about 700 people while it was operating, and the company is now working on rehiring additional workers to help with the restart, Culp says.  

One of the major question marks remaining around a possible Palisades restart is getting authorization from regulators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees nuclear power plants in the US, but the agency doesn’t have an established pathway for reauthorization of a previous plant. “We’re breaking new ground here,” says Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear engineering at MIT. 

Palisades effectively gave up the legal right to operate when it shut down and took the fuel out of the reactor. Holtec will need to submit detailed plans to the NRC with information about how it plans to reopen and operate the plant safely.

Holtec formally began the process of reauthorizing operations with the NRC in October 2023 and plans to submit the rest of its materials this year.

Step 3: Profit?

If regulators sign off, the plan is to have Palisades up and running again by the end of 2025. The fuel supply is already lined up, and the company has long-term buyers committed for the plant’s full power output, Culp says.

If all goes well, the plant could be generating power until at least 2051, 80 years after it originally began operations.