| Article published Saturday, January 11, 2003|
emerges over NRC official
accused of ignoring safety
BLADE STAFF WRITER
WASHINGTON - A debate has quietly emerged about
the possible future of a senior Nuclear Regulatory Commission
official accused of pushing aside safety warnings at the Davis-Besse
nuclear plant in favor of letting the plant operate until last Feb.
Ohio Citizen Action is calling for the ouster of Sam
Collins, the NRC’s powerful nuclear reactor regulation director, in
light of a NRC Inspector General report that claims he put profits
ahead of safety by not following through with a rare government
shutdown order that his staff recommended and agency attorneys
The Atomic Energy Act gives the NRC’s nuclear
reactor regulation director final authority in signing nuclear plant
licenses and in issuing orders to shut down the plants.
people’s lives are in danger, I think that calls for termination of
his employment," Amy Ryder, of Ohio Citizen Action, said in
explaining the group’s rationale.
Yet several of the NRC’s
harshest critics - including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) -
question whether the NRC should do anything but reassign Mr.
Collins, fearing that dismissing him could distract from what they
perceive as the larger issue at hand - the NRC’s admitted oversight
A recent Inspector General survey shows many NRC
employees are reluctant to come forward with their
Miss Kaptur said she wants a congressional probe of
the NRC’s effectiveness.
Terry Lodge, Toledo Coalition for
Safe Energy spokesman, said he agrees Mr. Collins’ dismissal would
be a starting point. "But my concern is that if they sacrifice one
lamb, that the greater problem remains unresolved," he
One of the most surprising responses came from Paul
Gunter, of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who has
demanded at numerous public meetings that Mr. Collins be held
accountable for documenting little about his decision and taking so
long to provide anything.
It wasn’t until Dec. 4 - more than
a year after the decision was made in late November of 2001 to let
Davis-Besse keep operating until last Feb. 16 - that the agency
finally put its justification in writing.
Its report claimed
it thought it had put northwest Ohio at only an "acceptably small"
"Clearly, Sam has his fingerprints all over this," Mr.
Gunter said. "[But] frankly, I don’t think a simple firing is going
to change this management culture."
FirstEnergy Corp. had
been planning to shut down Davis-Besse last March for normal
refueling. The NRC staff drafted a shutdown order for Dec. 31, 2001,
because it feared the plant’s reactor-head nozzles were cracked and
leaking. The reality was worse: Davis-Besse’s reactor head had
become the most dilapidated in the nation.
The Feb. 16 date
was viewed by skeptics as a halfway compromise - a date that Mr.
Collins agreed to after hearing financial pleas from Bob Saunders,
president of the utility’s nuclear subsidiary, NRC records
Mr. Collins has refused requests for interviews. Beth
Hayden, NRC spokesman, said the agency has no
Outgoing NRC Chairman Richard Meserve has defended
his agency’s performance and said he has no immediate plans for
Toledo lawyer Howard Whitcomb, a former
NRC resident inspector in South Carolina hired by Toledo Edison in
the mid 1980s to examine Davis-Besse safety issues, said he is
"absolutely disgusted by the way we have had the NRC stand before us
for months and slay FirstEnergy the way they have, knowing they had
the same problems in their ranks."
Thursday night, Mr.
Whitcomb sent a four-page letter - accompanied by numerous documents
- about his concerns to Dr. George Apostolakis, chairman of the
NRC’s advisory committee on reactor safeguards. ACRS is an
independent panel of scientists that scrutinizes the NRC’s work and
makes policy recommendations.
In his packet, copies of which
were distributed to several members of Congress, Mr. Whitcomb claims
that safety concerns he has documented at Davis-Besse since the mid
1980s have been largely ignored by the NRC.
He said he has
"yet to receive a meaningful response" from Dr. Meserve about
allegations he submitted last May 20 about the reactor-head
Mr. Whitcomb said he wants ACRS to demand that Jack
Grobe, reactor safety division director for the NRC’s Midwest
region, be removed as chairman of the agency’s Davis-Besse oversight
Mr. Whitcomb accused Mr. Grobe of failing to act on
numerous other Davis-Besse allegations in the past.
Whitcomb also said the findings of the agency’s "Lessons Learned
Task Force" should be invalidated because it failed to take into
account past surveys of NRC employees and their alleged reluctance
to be forthcoming about problems.
The task force cited
several NRC shortcomings in a report issued Oct. 9, but Mr. Whitcomb
and others have questioned whether it went far enough.
public currently has no legitimate basis upon which it can trust
that the NRC and utility managements will not conduct their future
affairs in a manner similar to that demonstrated in November, 2001,
in which production matters were given higher priority than the
health, safety, and welfare of the general public," Mr. Whitcomb
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