SOUTH HAVEN — The Covert Township nuclear plant, Palisades, closed suddenly Friday, a week and a half earlier than planned.
The company that owns Palisades, Entergy Corp., announced plant operators had decided to remove the reactor from service early "due to the performance of a control rod drive seal."
Company officials were not immediately available for further comment on the issue with the drive mechanism seal. Control rods are an essential feature of safe operation of a nuclear reactor, controlling the rate of the reaction within the reactor to slow it down or speed it up as needed.
Entergy has said it will continue to prepare for the plant's sale to Holtec International, the company that will decommission Palisades, removing the radioactive spent fuel for storage and dismantling the plant.
The transaction, which has received approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is expected to be complete by July.
State officials have not announced a plan to keep the plant open despite Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's last-minute advocacy for federal funding for the plant.
The plant is licensed to operate through 2031, but in 2017 Entergy announced the May 31, 2022, closure date, which coincides with the end of a 15-year contract with Consumers Energy to buy the power Palisades generates.
Last month, Whitmer wrote a letter to former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the U.S. Department of Energy to urge them to consider Palisades for a new DOE fund with $6 billion to bail out nuclear plants on the verge of shutting down.
Entergy said it would continue down its path of shutting the plant but would be willing to work with a buyer if another company sought to take over the plant and keep it open.
The original deadline for the DOE's Civil Nuclear Credit program was May 19, but the DOE recently extended the deadline to July 5.
"DOE received and approved a request for an extension," a department spokesperson told The Sentinel. "We cannot comment on the eligibility of a particular reactor or number of applications."
One of the members of the Michigan Public Service Commission, Katherine Peretick, told Bridge Magazine the state was in talks with a potential buyer but no further details were available.
Whitmer's office did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the state's search for a new owner.
Before the plant shut down Friday, Palisades had generated electricity for 577 days continuously since the last refueling, which the company said was a record length for the site and for a plant of its kind.
The top executive of Palisades' owner, Entergy Corp., told security analysts last month any new owner would bear the costs of refueling and other expenses of restarting the plant.
Patrick Dillon, executive vice president of the Utility Workers Union of America, previously told The Sentinel it did not seem likely another company would be willing to swoop in so late in the game to reverse course and pay for the needed upgrades to keep the plant running for another nine years.
With more than 50 years of operation, Palisades was one of the oldest running nuclear plants in the U.S.
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The Palisades Community Advisory Panel, made up of representatives of local government, economic development and workers' unions, is awaiting results of a study of the economic impact of the closure and a plan for economic recovery.
About 130 Palisades employees agreed to transfer to another Entergy work site, the company said. Entergy owns power plants in the southern U.S.
Holtec International, the decommissioning company, is hiring about 260 of Entergy's Palisades employees to stay on at the site.
About 180 employees will be out of a job after the sale, about half of which the company said were retirement eligible.
With Palisades, Holtec will also acquire from Entergy spent fuel in storage at the already-decommissioned Big Rock Point nuclear plant in Charlevoix. Big Rock Point's decontamination and dismantlement was completed in 1999, and it was sold to Entergy when Entergy acquired Palisades in 2007.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Palisades Nuclear Plant shuts down. Entergy still open to buyer.