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March 07, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Friday, March 7, 2003
DAVIS-BESSE SHUTDOWN
Risk analyst questions delay

By
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 Corp.

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 board.

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 future actions."

"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, 2002.

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 technical assessment.

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 comment.

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 transcripts.

"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 Commission.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse



More articles on this subject »
Safety panel: Getting details of Davis-Besse woes is critical 03/07/2003
A year after Davis-Besse corrosion found, restart is not near 03/06/2003
Bump shutters Pittsburgh-area plant 02/27/2003
Loading of fuel complete at Besse 02/27/2003
Repairs key to engineer’s case 02/26/2003

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