| Article published Friday, March 7, 2003|
Risk analyst questions delay
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's decision to back off a shutdown order prepared for
Davis-Besse in the fall of 2001 is now being questioned by one of
the agency's veteran risk analysts.
Steven Long, NRC senior
reliability and risk analyst, said in a six-page memo it was
"illogical" for the agency to let the plant keep operating until the
proposed shutdown date of Dec. 31, 2001, let alone the Feb. 16,
2002, date that became its compromise with FirstEnergy
The proposed December shutdown date was based largely
on pragmatic concerns, such as the availability of contractors for
inspections - not safety, according to Mr. Long's memo, sent to
outgoing NRC Chairman Richard Meserve and the agency's governing
The report said the NRC, under Dr. Meserve,
fundamentally breached its safety mandate by allowing itself to be
persuaded by FirstEnergy's financial pleas.
Mr. Long said he
felt compelled to issue his memo because he believes some senior NRC
officials have inaccurately characterized the decision, made by the
NRC's Sam Collins, as one that stemmed from a unanimous agreement
among the staff.
He said he was especially troubled by one
division director's recent statement that the decision "was not only
correct, but that it constitutes a good and appropriate model for
"I am concerned that eventually we will fail
to adequately protect the public if we continued to use this relaxed
probability standard and continue to use risk information without
regard to its reliability for the purpose of each particular
decision," Mr. Long wrote.
The inspector general's report
noted that the decision was made Nov. 28, 2001, after Mr. Collins
had spoken with a FirstEnergy executive.
But in a recent
interview with The Blade, Brian Sheron - a senior NRC official who
led a pivotal staff meeting that morning - claimed there was indeed
a consensus to let Davis-Besse keep operating until Feb. 16,
Staffers had differing views about the reasoning behind
the shutdown order, but agreed there was little harm in letting the
plant operate six weeks beyond the proposed shutdown date, according
to Mr. Sheron, associate director for project licensing and
Mr. Collins was relieved by what Mr.
Sheron said he presented to him as a staff consensus. He said Mr.
Collins said that "maybe I don't have to issue this order,"
according to Mr. Sheron.
Mr. Collins has declined
Mr. Sheron claimed the order - the first since 1987
- was drafted as a contingency because FirstEnergy had vowed a legal
fight. "Let's face it. The [NRC] staff was not enamored with this
utility," Mr. Sheron told The Blade.
A 29-page report issued
Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group,
claimed the NRC backed off despite plenty of justification to order
a shutdown. The report is based on NRC interview
"Had the NRC issued the shutdown order, it would
not have prevented the gaping cavity in the reactor vessel head at
Davis-Besse. It would simply have meant that the cavity would have
been found sooner," the report said.
The report cited an
interview with an NRC senior manager who said the decision to draft
a shutdown order is an extreme measure, even as a contingency. It is
so rare, it was "something we needed to go back and learn how to
do," according to the unnamed official, who said he began working
for the NRC in 1973 when it was still known as the Atomic Energy
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to
|More articles on this subject »|