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May 01, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, May 1, 2003
Real risks at Besse hidden, activist says

A Toledo lawyer and nuclear watchdog yesterday accused two of his former employers of downplaying the risk caused by Davis-Besse’s severely corroded reactor head.

Howard Whitcomb, an Ottawa County resident who lives near the beleaguered plant, told a University of Toledo audience that FirstEnergy Corp. and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were just as cryptic about Davis-Besse’s disaster potential in 2002 as Toledo Edison and the NRC were when the plant had a temporary loss of auxiliary feedwater problem in 1985. Toledo Edison became a FirstEnergy subsidiary in the late 1990s.

"What’s disturbing to me is it’s all been minimized. It’s that kind of deception and misinformation that’s hard to accept," he told 40 people attending his guest lecture in the University of Toledo’s law school auditorium.

Mr. Whitcomb worked for the NRC in the mid-1980s as a resident inspector at a South Carolina plant before he was hired by Toledo Edison as a Davis-Besse employee. He has said he resigned from Davis-Besse out of frustration related to the management’s handling of the 1985 incident.

He worked a few years at Detroit Edison Co.’s Fermi II nuclear plant in northern Monroe County before opening his own general law practice in Toledo in the early 1990s.

Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the company has in no way minimized the risk posed by Davis-Besse. The plant has been shut down since Feb. 16, 2002, as a result of the near-hole and other equipment problems. "That was more than a year ago and more than $300 million ago," Mr. Wilkins said.

He said yesterday that Davis-Besse’s restart has been pushed back again by "at least a couple of months" because of recent equipment and workforce issues.

"We didn’t put them in that position. They did," Mr. Whitcomb said. "If they’re looking for empathy from the public, they shouldn’t expect that."

Nils Diaz, whom President Bush recently named as NRC chairman, told 1,200 people from 15 countries on April 16 that Davis-Besse was an "enormous failure" in terms of oversight. But Dr. Diaz said he believes the media has exaggerated the risk.

The comments were made at the NRC’s annual Regulatory Information Conference, in front of the largest group Dr. Diaz has addressed since becoming NRC chairman.




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