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6/25/03 4:02:00 PM ET

Ohio nuke restart should await probe result -group
Reuters, 06.25.03, 5:35 PM ET


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By Spencer Swartz

SAN FRANCISCO, June 25 (Reuters) - An Ohio nuclear power station that has been shut for the past 16 months should not resume operations until a federal probe determines whether its owner deliberately misled regulators about problems at the plant, a nuclear watchdog group said on Wednesday.

"We believe the restart should wait until the investigation is done to see if there was deliberate falsification of information submitted by FirstEnergy," said Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The plant is owned by FirstEnergy Corp. (nyse: FE - news - people), based in Akron, Ohio.

"We also want to ensure that if wrong information was deliberately filed, those individuals are properly sanctioned," Lochbaum added.

FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear power plant was shut in February 2002 after inspectors found that boric acid leaking through cracks in the reactor vessel head had eaten a hole nearly all the way through the reactor's 6-inch-thick steel lid.

No radiation leaked from the plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation's 103 atomic reactors, began its investigation in spring 2002 to determine whether FirstEnergy intentionally misled the agency about its operations at the plant.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng would not comment on when the investigation may end. The NRC has the final say on when Davis-Besse can resume commercial operations.

FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said Wednesday the company still planned to restart Davis-Besse in August.

"We're making progress and are still planning to restart in August. We are not going to restart the plant until we are sure it's safe," he said.

The company plans to conduct a weeklong test in mid-July of the operating pressure and temperature in the plant's atomic reactor and cooling system to ensure there are no leaks.

The test had been planned for the first half of June.

FirstEnergy has replaced the reactor vessel lid, but repairs and other work, including an investigation of the plant's "safety culture," have caused the company to miss repeated targets for a restart.

The delays are likely to cost FirstEnergy more than $400 million, including the cost of buying electricity to replace the plant's 925 megawatts of generating capacity, power for more than 900,000 homes.

If the NRC finds FirstEnergy deliberately misled the agency, it would likely send the case to the U.S. Justice Department, which would decide whether to launch a criminal investigation, the NRC's Mitlyng said.

If the Justice Department decided not to open an investigation, the case would go back to the NRC which could then consider penalties, including fines, Mitlyng said.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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