U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Wednesday, May 7, 2003
CONTACT: Ken Johnson or Arturo Silva

Committee concerned over NRC
safety decisions on Davis-Besse

Due to the failure of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to identify extensive safety deficiencies at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in a timely manner, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman James Greenwood (R-PA) today requested documents and other information from the agency on the lessons it learned and applied from this experience.

(Attached below is a copy of the letter sent May 7 to NRC Chairman Nils Diaz.)

May 7, 2003

The Honorable Nils J. Diaz
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
11555 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Dear Chairman Diaz:

As you know, the circumferential cracking of the control rod drive mechanism nozzles, the buildup of extensive boric acid deposits over a period of years, and the recent discovery of significant corrosion on the reactor vessel head at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant represent the most significant safety matters the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has encountered in the past two decades.  In the months since the problems at Davis-Besse were discovered, NRC has reflected on its many failures to identify these extensive safety deficiencies at an earlier stage, and has attempted to apply lessons learned.

I am concerned, however, that the Commission itself and NRC staff may not have completely identified all internal weaknesses that prevented NRC from identifying the severe safety deficiencies at Davis-Besse, and therefore have not completely developed and applied lessons learned from the Davis-Besse experience.  It would be unfortunate if the Commission and NRC staff were to overlook any management and procedural weaknesses it uses for identifying and resolving complicated and in some cases subjective regulatory safety decisions.

Specifically, I have reviewed a February 20, 2003 memo from Steven Long of the NRC to each Commissioner.  In his memo, Mr. Long described a questionable "voting" process utilized by an NRC manager to determine whether to issue an order requiring shutdown of the Davis-Besse reactor by December 31, 2001, and a second "vote" to determine the likelihood that Davis-Besse would eject a nozzle if allowed to operate until February 16, 2002.  I am concerned that NRC staff would employ a "voting" process for determining significant safety matters, and I expect you can provide me with a clear understanding of the rules and documented procedure for administering "votes" on significant regulatory safety matters.  I am particularly interested in Mr. Long's account of the first "vote" on whether to issue the order.  According to the memorandum, the breakdown on the first vote split with all managers voting against issuing the shutdown order, and an outnumbered technical staff voting in favor of issuing the order.

I also am concerned with the NRC's decision on December 4, 2001 - without any documented safety rationale - to accept FirstEnergy's proposal to operate Davis-Besse beyond December 31, 2001.  The safety rationale, intended to describe the process used by NRC in the Fall of 2001 to support its December 4, 2001 decision, was finally issued on December 3, 2002.  It does not seem reasonable that NRC would fail to provide the required documentation to describe its rationale on such a significant safety matter before the fact.

With respect to the technical content of the December 3, 2002 rationale, I believe the Long memo has identified serious weaknesses in the methods NRC has used to apply risk information and risk assessment modeling in the decision-making process on this matter.  I also find it alarming that NRC would rely on reactor vessel inspection data from 1996 for calculating the likelihood of nozzle ejection in the Fall of 2001, without any clear explanation of the risk significance of why FirstEnergy was unable to obtain required inspection data during scheduled outages in 1998 and 2000.  As you know, useful inspection data from 1998 and 2000 was unobtainable due to enormous deposits of boric acid that created a physical barrier that prevented any access to the top of the reactor, including the corroded areas.  In its documented rationale, NRC simply notes that "the inspection conducted in 2000 was considered to be less effective."  I believe a more complete and careful evaluation of the conditions that prevented inspections in 1998 and 2000 could have led to a different risk analysis and possibly a different outcome on the "vote" on whether to require a December 31, 2001 shutdown.

In order to obtain a better understanding of whether NRC has completed its lessons learned process, and to determine whether NRC can assure public health and safety in any future decision to restart of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, I request that, pursuant to Rules X and XI of the U.S. House of Representatives, you provide responses to the attached list of questions and requests for records by Wednesday, May 21, 2003.  Please note that, for the purpose of responding to this request, the terms "records" and "relating" should be interpreted in accordance with the second attachment to this letter. 

If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact me or have a member of your staff contact Mr. Dwight Cates of the Energy and Commerce Committee staff at (202) 226-2424. 


James C. Greenwood
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations



    1.      Please provide all records relating to the consideration and final decision by NRC not to issue a shutdown order at Davis-Besse.

    2.      Please review the February 20, 2003 memorandum from Steven M. Long to the Commission and provide me with a full explanation on each point raised in that memo.

    3.      Please describe the administrative procedures or other guidelines for NRC staff adopted by the Commission and used for developing final recommendations or determinations on significant safety matters including shutdown orders and other significant risk determinations used in regulatory actions.

    4.      Please describe the voting process utilized by NRC staff and how this voting process was consistent with administrative procedures or guidelines with respect to the decisions on the proposed shutdown order for Davis-Besse and the December 4, 2001 acceptance of FirstEnergy's bulletin response.

    5.      Please provide a full explanation on why the absence of adequate inspection data on the reactor vessel head from the 1998 and 2000 outages was acceptable to NRC staff in the risk assessment and regulatory decision-making process, and to what degree the absence of this data was a factor in the risk assessment and regulatory-decision making process.

    6.      Why did NRC staff fail to complete, before December 4, 2001, the documented safety rationale to support its December 4, 2001 decision to allow Davis-Besse to operate until February 16, 2002?