The company that owns Palisades nuclear plant has a private pandemic plan that includes a contingency to sequester employees live at the site temporarily, though that scenario is unlikely, a company spokeswoman said.

Entergy owns the nuclear plant situated on the Lake Michigan shoreline about 7 miles south of South Haven. The plant generates 800 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes in Michigan, Entergy Spokeswoman Val Gent said in an email message.

The plant has about 600 employees, according to the website.

The plan includes contingencies to sequester a particular set of employees onsite, in the unlikely event such a measure is necessary. Employees are not currently being sequestered, she said on March 25.

Sequester means employees would reside on site, Gent said. The company declined to release its full plans to MLive because they contain business-sensitive information, she said.

“Palisades remains safe, secure and stable, and there is currently no impact on the delivery of energy,” Gent said. “We are confident our business continuity plan, which is specifically designed for these types of situations, will ensure the reliable delivery of electricity. Entergy’s pandemic response plan consists of a phased approach to ensure adequate qualifiedresources remain available to safely operate and maintain Palisades.”

The power plant is not alone in preparing for expected impacts of coronavirus. Local governments have shut down meetings and buildings, while police and city utility operators are ready to shift personnel if the staff is hit. Many businesses have closed — most temporarily, but some for good.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will require plants to shut down if they cannot appropriately staff their facilities, according to the government agency’s response to COVID-19.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which inspects to ensure safety at plants across the country, said resident inspectors are ready to respond immediately should there be developing safety issues amid the coronavirus outbreak. Resident inspectors will make regular visits to operating nuclear power reactor sites and will remotely monitor plant data systems, meetings and other information. Back-up inspectors are available from regional offices or headquarters should they be necessary to maintain oversight, the NRC said.

The NRC does not require plants to submit their plans, such as the pandemic plan, to the NRC, Senior Public Affairs Officer Viktoria Mitlyng said. However, the agency is in “constant communication” with staff at nuclear plants about issues including their emergency plans and has the regulatory tools available to use if the plans are not sufficient to keep people safe, she said.

“Each plant has to prepare for all sorts emergencies, including if there is a pandemic,” Mitlyng said.

The NRC has minimum staffing requirements for certain positions at a nuclear plant, such as workers in the control room and security workers, she said, and operators have to have a specific license for the site where they work. It can be a long process for an operator to get licensed, she said.

The NRC is considering what kind of flexibility it may be able to offer nuclear plants, if the outbreak continues and staff at the plant were to be “highly impacted,” Mitlyng said on March 27. Any changes made would have to allow plants to operate safely, she said.

Some additional steps taken at Palisades include:

  • Educating employees on self-checking for symptoms, practicing social distancing and other good hygiene precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
  • Increased frequency of disinfecting and cleaning common areas and items, such as door handles and hand geometry stations (needed for plant access), and the addition of personal sanitizing stations throughout the site.
  • Restricting business travel to countries experiencing widespread community transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and to all nonessential domestic and international business travel by commercial airline and other forms of mass transit.
  • Working closely with our suppliers to assess the potential impact to delivery of goods and services to the company.
  • Remote working by employees able to support the plant from home.

“Entergy takes the health, safety and security of our employees, customers, communities, business partners and facilities very seriously,” Gent said. “We are closely monitoring the situation regarding COVID-19 cases and we are in close contact with appropriate government agencies.”

In 2017, Entergy announced that it planned to close Palisades in the spring of 2022.

In Aug. 2018, Entergy announced it had agreed to sell the subsidiaries that own Palisades and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after their shutdowns and reactor defuelings, to a Holtec International subsidiary for prompt decommissioning.

The sales include the transfer of the licenses, spent fuel, and Nuclear Decommissioning Trusts as well as the site of the decommissioned Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant near Charlevoix, Michigan, where only the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) remains. The transactions are subject to closing conditions, including approvals from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.