| Article published Thursday, June 5, 2003|
plants may get ‘attitude’ checks;
Task force studies what went
By MICHAEL WOODS
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Mandatory "safety culture"
inspections are a possibility at all of the nation’s 103 nuclear
power plants as a result of corrosion problems found at the
Davis-Besse plant, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said
Although not specifically defined, the inspections
assess the attitude that management and workers at a nuclear plant
demonstrate toward safety concerns and enforcement of
Davis-Besse is only the second plant in the
country to undergo such a review. The plant has been shut down since
February, 2002, because a leak of corrosive water rusted a 4-inch by
5-inch hole about six inches deep through the massive steel
structure, which holds nuclear fuel and radioactive
Jeff Jacobson, an inspection program manager for the
NRC, said the culture inspections might be a possibility as a result
of recommendations made by a "lessons learned" task force that
studied what went wrong at Davis-Besse.
But one of the
plant’s most prominent critics yesterday predicted that concerns
about Davis-Besse’s safety culture probably would not be a serious
barrier to plans by plant owner FirstEnergy to resume operations
there in August.
"It’s doable, quite possible," said David
Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned
UOC has chastised and goaded both FirstEnergy and
the NRC for failings that underpinned the hole-in-the-reactor-head
episode at Davis-Besse.
Lew Myers, FirstEnergy’s chief
operating officer, cited early to mid August as the target date for
returning Davis-Besse to commercial operation.
says it loses about $800,000 for every summer day Davis-Besse is
"As time goes on, fewer and fewer outstanding issues
stand in the way," Mr. Lochbaum said, noting that FirstEnergy has
mounted a massive effort to correct those problems.
discussed the restart before a meeting at NRC headquarters here, in
which agency staff discussed how lessons learned from the episode
could be used to improve nuclear safety.
action plan recommendations from the Lessons Learned Task Force call
for the NRC to assemble information from domestic and foreign
nuclear plants about boric acid corrosion and cracking of Alloy 600
and other nickel-based nozzles on reactor heads. The NRC should also
inspect the adequacy of corrosion-control programs on pressurized
water reactors - such as those at Davis-Besse and two-thirds of the
nation’s nuclear plants.
The NRC has indicated it will decide
when Davis-Besse restarts and has refused to comment on
FirstEnergy’s projected restart date.
Another nuclear power
critic at the meeting, Jim Riccio of Greenpeace suggested that the
agency may be gun-shy.
"They’ve taken a lot of criticism
because of Davis-Besse," said Mr. Riccio, Greenpeace’s nuclear power
analyst. "The last thing NRC wants now is to allow the restart, and
then two months later have another big incident occur."
Lochbaum, a former nuclear reactor operator, said the biggest
remaining barrier involves faulty pumps designed to shoot super-hot,
radioactive water back into the reactor, in case of a major break in
Davis-Besse’s plumbing. Termed high-pressure injection pumps, they
are the heart of a critical safety system built to prevent a
meltdown of nuclear fuel.
FirstEnergy discovered that the
pumps, which weigh 3 tons each, are faulty and apt to clog in an
FirstEnergy plans to ship the existing pumps to a
Pittsburgh firm for modifications, which it thinks will take a
month. Sitting in storage are two additional pumps, which
FirstEnergy bought months ago from another utility. They would be
FirstEnergy’s fallbacks if the existing pumps can’t be fixed.