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A special investigation is underway into the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, only days after a U.S. lawmaker sent a note to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman.

A special unit of the NRC began investigating the Covert, MI-based Palisades in connection to how the plant handled a leak in the cooling tank. That tank holds 300,000 gallons of borated water used to cool the reactor during fuel replacements and flood the reactor cavity in the event of an emergency. The plant went offline June 12 to repair the leak and it remains shut down because plant officials are still attempting to locate the leak.

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Viktoria Mitlyng, the senior public affairs officer for NRC Region 3, said the NRC has concerns about the Palisades safety.

“There is a lot of concern about the Palisades plant, especially the tank issue,” Mitlyng said. “I don’t remember anything like this in recent history (at Palisades).”

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The investigation was self-initiated, Mitlyng said, meaning the NRC decided on its own to open the inquiry.

Wednesday, the special NRC unit sent a letter to Entergy Energy — the New Orleans-based company that owns the Palisades plant — requesting the summary of safety culture assessment conducted by a third party in April 2012.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko expressing concerns about the safety of the plant.

In the June 22 letter, Markey said the Palisades and the NRC had known for a year that the tank had a leak that was dumping water into the reactor’s control room, but failed to take action. Markey goes on to say the delay in repairs caused the problem to worsen and eventually led to the shutdown.

The tank shut down after it was leaking 31.4 gallons of the borated water each day — above the limit for tank operation.

At the time, Markey’s letter said, an event notification of the shutdown said that “The licensee [the Palisades] believes that the tank is leaking from several locations. However, at this time, they cannot determine exact locations. The refueling water has minor tritium contamination. The refueling water is collected in a reservoir and then pumped into a holding take. The licensee will be shutting down to cold shutdown.”

Markey said he learned about the leak June 14. In August 2011, a report stated “The issue was more than minor” because it lowered the performance of equipment needed to “prevent undesirable consequences.”

The Palisades underwent five unplanned shutdowns in 2011, two of which eventually led to the NRC downgrading the plant. It’s currently one of the four worst nuclear power plants in the nation.

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