NEW ORLEANS - The nuclear industry now agrees
Davis-Besse was an "enormous failure" and will keep an eye on
FirstEnergy Corp. long after the plant resumes operation, a
spokesman for the industry’s Washington-based trade group said
Alex Marion, engineering director of the Nuclear
Energy Institute, told reporters at the national Society of
Environmental Journalists conference here that Davis-Besse’s badly
corroded reactor head and associated problems have been a huge
public relations blow for the industry. Many of the plant’s woes
could have been avoided with competent management, he
"The record is clear with what happened there. The
information was available as to what they had to do, but their
programs were not effective," he said.
Now, while fulfilling
its mission of touting nuclear power as a relatively clean and
reliable way of helping America meet its rising energy needs, the
energy institute is careful to portray Davis-Besse as an anomaly
instead of a symptom of emerging wear-and-tear issues at aging
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Nils
Diaz called Davis-Besse an "enormous failure" during a speech in
Washington in April, his first major talk after being put in charge
of the agency. "Quite frankly, we agree with the chairman," Mr.
Marion said yesterday.
Another panelist, Jack Strosnider,
deputy director of the NRC’s research office, responded by saying:
"It’s good to hear Alex and the industry acknowledge the problems at
Several FirstEnergy officials, including Lew
Myers, the nuclear subsidiary’s chief operating officer, have stated
on numerous occasions that the utility failed to pick up on symptoms
of problems, such as rusty air filters in Davis-Besse’s containment
In an interview with The Blade after the panel
discussion, Mr. Marion said that lack of a questioning attitude,
also cited by the NRC on numerous occasions, contributed greatly to
the plant’s state of affairs.
He said industry groups, such
as the NEI and Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in Atlanta, are
taking it upon themselves to guide FirstEnergy through Davis-Besse’s
restart and afterward to avoid another setback for the industry.
"We’re making sure they take what we think are appropriate measures
to get that plant running again ... so it doesn’t degenerate to the
same situation," Mr. Marion told The Blade. "We’re all captives to
one another in this industry."
Mr. Marion was part of a
four-member panel examining the future of nuclear power as many
plants, such as Davis-Besse, reach the latter half of their 40-year
operating licenses. Sixteen of the nation’s 103 nuclear plants have
received 20-year extensions. Twelve applications are pending.
Davis-Besse, licensed to operate through 2017, is one of about 25
plants expected to file for 20-year extensions by 2006.
reliability of materials used to build nuclear plants will be the
focus of a global summit the NRC is hosting Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in the
Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md. France, Japan, Germany,
Sweden, and other nations are to have representatives
Mr. Strosnider said the agency has spent years
researching the ability of plants to withstand long-term radiation,
plus their extreme operating heat and pressure.
"The point is
pretty simple: Nuclear plants are aging," said David Lochbaum, Union
of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety engineer.
defended nuclear energy production as an industry that is poised for
a comeback, with plants reliable enough to provide energy well into
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to