The Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in southwestern Michigan was shuttered in 2022 but is coming back online thanks to a $1.5 billion loan guarantee under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The recommissioning is covered by a PLA with the IBEW.

For the first time in U.S. history, a nuclear power plant is going back online.

Reversing nuclear’s decline has been a top priority of the IBEW for decades. Ensuring the US successfully transitions to a clean energy economy and saves union jobs means nuclear power generation must have a future. The Biden Administration’s rescue of the Palisades Nuclear plant is not only saving an important source of carbon free power it is breathing new life into a Michigan community.

The recommissioning of Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Covert Township, Mich., is just one part of an extraordinary turnaround in the nuclear industry engineered by a unique collaboration among the White House, the IBEW and American industry.

Palisades was shuttered in 2022, but a $1.5 billion loan guarantee, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will allow it to come back in 24 months for less than one-tenth the cost of a new nuclear plant.

And the whole project — including the small modular reactors proposed for the same site — is covered by a project labor agreement with the IBEW.

"Recommissioning Palisades is going to bring back middle-class, union jobs that we thought were permanently gone from this part of the state," said Sixth District International Vice President Mike Clemmons. "This was all made possible because we have the most important seat at the most important table in America today. When the nation's industrial and environmental policy was signed into law by President Joe Biden, it was 100% pro-labor."

Reopening Palisades will create or retain up to 600 permanent jobs next year and more than 1,000 temporary construction and maintenance jobs during the facility's regularly scheduled refueling and maintenance periods every 18 to 24 months.

"For the first time in generations, America is serious about becoming a manufacturing powerhouse, but it also needs to cut carbon emissions. We've always said we need nuclear to do that. But before Biden, that wasn't what was happening," Clemmons said.

Palisades was the 13th nuclear reactor to close down in the last 10 years. Six more closures have been announced. The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report in 2022 warning that half of the remaining 92 reactors were at risk of closing.

Just two years after that report, there are dozens of small modular reactors in the works, Diablo Canyon in California was rescued from closure, and Palisades — dark, defueled and in the process of permanent closure — already has dozens of IBEW members working to get the reactor back online.

The root of the turnaround is the extraordinary political work done by the IBEW to get job-saving, pro-union language into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act signed by Biden.

The closure of Palisades threatened to devastate this corner of southwest Michigan, said Kalamazoo, Mich., Local 131 Business Manager Morris Applebey.

A report compiled by the University of Michigan's Economic Growth Institute in 2023 found that Palisades' closure led to $250 million in economic losses just in Van Buren, Berrien and Cass counties.

"It was a disaster. At least 10% of the population of St. Joe, South Haven and Covert left," he said. "Covert had to cut their school budget by 50%."

Sadly, it was a continuation of the hollowing out of the American industrial center.

"I've been around for 40 years, and it's amazing how many factories closed and buildings got torn down since I started. All the steel plants closed. Paper mills closed. Checker Motors closed, and we lost two other auto plants," Applebey said.

And it broke up families. One longtime Local 131 member's son, a former apprentice who worked at Palisades, had to move his family to Arkansas to find work. 

The IBEW's Strength

Now, with the recommissioning, Applebey said, the son and his family have moved back to Michigan and what the closure tore apart has been repaired.

"Why do we work? To take care of our families, homes, neighborhoods, towns and all the people we love," Applebey said. "Recommissioning Palisades matters because of what it means to this family and this community."

And none of this, he said, would have happened without the strength of the IBEW and a commitment to political action.

"Now you have five to eight years of work because of our friends in D.C. and the governors working for us," Applebey said. "That's the advantage of people who are friendly to unions. When we called, they answered, invited us into the room and then fought for us."

The first time a nuclear reactor shut down in the U.S. for economic reasons was Kewaunee in Wisconsin in 2013. Reactors had closed because of age and accidents before, but never had a nuclear power plant closed because the design of the power market made it uncompetitive.

Low gas prices, a carefree attitude to energy reliability and little cost for spewing billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the warming atmosphere left nuclear power at a profound disadvantage through the late Obama and Trump presidencies.

That changed in 2021 with the passage of Illinois' Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, a law that then-International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, Clemmons and the Illinois IBEW were critically involved in.

"It set an example of how you marry carbon-free energy goals to strict labor standards," Clemmons said.

CEJA not only saved the Byron, Dresden, LaSalle, Quad Cities and Clinton power stations in that state, but it also finally buried the argument that you can't protect good jobs and the environment at the same time.

"We started bridging gaps and created a conversation in the environmental community. It changed minds," Clemmons said.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio followed suit, passing IBEW-supported legislation that is providing at least 18 nuclear power plants their true value through zero-emission tax credits.

But no similar solution came out of the Republican-dominated Legislature in Michigan.

Palisades was shuttered in June 2022 and sold to Holtec International, a privately held company whose primary business had never existed until 10 years ago: managing the decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

"We had maybe 10 members out there on the decommissioning, but the PLA was with the carpenters and steelworkers," Applebey said.

The Turnaround

And then something unprecedented happened.

"Almost immediately after they closed it, recommissioning talks started," Applebey said.

Inside the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit to save the country's at-risk nuclear power plants. The first recipient was Diablo Canyon in California.

Just weeks after buying Palisades, Holtec applied for CNC loan guarantees, but it was not a great fit because the plant was already closed, Clemmons said.

Even though there was no project labor agreement, the IBEW leapt into a demanding year of state and federal political action in 2023, said Sixth District International Representative Joe Davis, the IBEW's Michigan political director.

First, the Democrats regained control of the state House of Representatives, giving them the "trifecta" of statehouse, House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Then, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills targeting a 100% clean energy goal in Michigan by 2040. The bill included IBEW-supported language that included nuclear power as carbon-free energy generation. The budget also contained $150 million to help restart Palisades.

"We had the benefit of a Democratic governor we were in communication with all the time. We could suggest policies and they'd listen. It was the IBEW who got nuclear in Whitmer's plan," Davis said. "And it was Lonnie [Stephenson] who made sure it was in Biden's plan."

Davis contrasts that with the Republican governors who served before Whitmer.

"I've been an international representative since 2007. Before that, I was business manager of Local 352 in Lansing. We had no conversations with Governors Snyder or Engler. We weren't at the table. We weren't in the room; we weren't even allowed in the building," he said.

Holtec went back to the Department of Energy and applied for loan guarantees through a different program, the Clean Energy Financing Program, authorized and appropriated by Biden's Inflation Reduction Act.

Clemmons said the IBEW reached out to Holtec once the loan application was submitted to help the company understand that the IBEW could be a critical partner in making the project successful — as long as an agreement with Local 131 was in place.

"Holtec never came to us. They went to the feds first. We realized and intervened. We said, 'This won't happen if we aren't on board,'" Clemmons said. "We went to the Biden administration and said, 'This is important to us,' and they listened."

Holtec signed up with Local 131. While the ink was still drying, Applebey said, the full force of the IBEW got behind Holtec's effort to secure the loan guarantee.

Clemmons said it is more evidence that the decades-long choice to either save union jobs or clean up the climate is over. Where policies make green jobs union jobs, everyone wins.

"You want a carbon-free country, the easiest way to do it is to make every new job a middle-class union job and mitigate the job losses," he said. "People don't give a [damn] about where their electricity comes from — nuclear, solar or wind. They care if they have a paycheck, if their Main Street survives, if they can afford to take their kid to the doctor. That's how we get to zero carbon emissions."