The Last Palisades

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca

During its 50 years in operation, the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Western Michigan generated an astonishing 232,297 gigawatt hours (GWh) of carbon-free, reliable, and affordable baseload power from a single 805 megawatt (MW) reactor. The plant operated during its last two decades with an average capacity factor of 90%, achieving high grades for its safety performance as measured by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and providing several hundred good jobs for members of the local community.

Michigan’s magic kingdom | Holland Sentinel

This one facility generated the equivalent of 35% of all the solar electricity produced across the entirety of the US over the same period. Two rules of thumb in the solar industry state that each 1 MW of capacity requires 10 acres of land and grid-scale installations can be expected to achieve capacity factors of just 25%. Simple arithmetic reveals it would require about 29,000 acres for solar to replicate the annual electricity output of Palisades—a gusher of life-nourishing energy that emanated from a campus measuring just 432 acres, or two-thirds of one square mile. Such is the awesome energy density of uranium fuels.

There are myriad other advantages to choosing nuclear over solar. Virtually the entire solar supply chain is monopolized by China, a country that leverages forced labor and dirty thermal coal to maintain its iron grip on “the future” of our energy. There is also the pesky issue of solar’s susceptibility to severe weather like hail storms and tornadoes. While nuclear reactors are built to easily handle the worst of what Mother Nature can throw at them, a freak hail storm last week severely damaged the massive Fighting Jays Solar Farm near Needville, Texas. Such incidents are far more common than reported in traditional outlets, and the need to replace damaged equipment only drives further demand for Chinese-made components.

Hail and not-so-hearty | Fox News

With such lopsided relative attributes, one marvels at how most Western governments have come to direct so much of their taxpayers’ money to solar while actively withdrawing from nuclear. The driving force: politics. Radical anti-nuclear activists have infiltrated Western regulatory bodies like the NRC where they successfully made nuclear capacity virtually impossible to build and challenging to operate, driving precious investment dollars out of the industry.

It wasn’t always thus. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, France was able to swiftly and economically bring online 60 GW of new nuclear capacity—the equivalent of 75 Palisades reactors—and has enjoyed one of the cleanest electricity grids ever since. A similar story was observed in the Canadian province of Ontario. There is nothing inherently expensive or time-consuming about implementing nuclear energy, Western societies have simply decided to make it so.

Such policy choices can be undone, and we’ve noticed a rupture developing in the progressive environmental movement. Perhaps recognizing the unworkability and unpopularity of the “renewables only” approach, President Joe Biden, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have all thrown their political weight behind nuclear as part of their respective energy transition strategies, much to the horror of the extreme left of the current Democratic coalition. News broke last week of Whitmer’s decision to bring the Palisades site back to life (emphasis added throughout):

The federal government will provide a $1.5 billion loan to restart a nuclear power plant in Covert, Michigan, officials announced Wednesday. Holtec International acquired the 800-megawatt Palisades plant in 2022 with plans to dismantle it. But now the emphasis is on restarting it by late 2025, following support from the state of Michigan and the Biden administration.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said it would be the first nuclear power plant to be reopened in the U.S. It still faces hurdles, including inspections, testing and the blessing of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, known as the NRC.

‘Nuclear power is our single largest source of carbon-free electricity, directly supporting 100,000 jobs across the country and hundreds of thousands more indirectly,’ said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor.

This news foreshadows a political civil war lurking on the nuclear front. While most commentators have noted that a Palisades restart would be a historic first in the US, our attention was immediately drawn to the need to obtain “the blessing of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission” before real progress could be realized. One would think the full support of a sitting US president and his Secretary of the Department of Energy would be sufficient to get the job done, but grizzled veterans of the nuclear industry can attest that this is anything but a given. Whether the NRC stands in the way of this amazing development and continues to be the gating factor stunting nuclear energy’s expansion is perhaps the most important question currently facing the US energy sector. Let’s gauge the odds of a true political breakthrough.

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