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Updated Tuesday, February 4, 2003
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Posted on Tue, Feb. 04, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Kucinich fights FirstEnergy
Congressman wants authority to run nuclear plant revoked

Associated Press

Rep. Dennis Kucinich has asked nuclear regulators to take away the authority of FirstEnergy Corp. to operate its Davis-Besse nuclear plant, which was damaged by an acid leak.

His 29-page petition filed Monday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accuses FirstEnergy of admittedly operating the Davis-Besse plant in violation of NRC rules, failing to observe safety standards and withholding information so it could continue operating the plant, despite unsafe conditions.

A company statement said FirstEnergy acknowledged the mistakes it has made at the plant, but said Kucinich's petition contains inaccuracies and makes erroneous conclusions.

FirstEnergy will continue to work on repairs to Davis-Besse while the petition is being processed, the Akron utility and NRC said. The company plans to restart the plant by April 1.

It could take NRC staff as long as five weeks to determine if Kucinich's petition meets the agency's filing guidelines, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. If the petition proves to be valid, the NRC then has another 120 days to make a decision on the merits of Kucinich's arguments, he said.

NRC staff will check with Kucinich to make sure he wants the petition filed under strict NRC guidelines, he said. But if Kucinich instead says he wants his petition treated as a regular piece of correspondence from a congressional representative, he could get an answer much sooner, Burnell said.

``There have been only two situations where the NRC revoked an operating license,'' he said. Those involved the Indian Point 1 plant in New York and Three Mile Island Unit II in Pennsylvania, he said.

The demand by Kucinich, D-Lakewood, comes after the agency's inspector general issued a report accusing the NRC of allowing the plant to continue operating, despite strong evidence that it could have cracks in its reactor head, because it didn't want to hurt the plant owner financially.

NRC Chairman Richard Meserve has said officials made the right decisions based on available information.

The nuclear plant, about 25 miles east of Toledo along the Lake Erie shoreline, has been shut down since February 2001, when it was closed for refueling, maintenance and a safety inspection.

The NRC had asked all plants to shut down to make sure they did not have such cracks. Davis-Besse was the last plant to shut down.

Last March, leaks were discovered that had allowed boric acid to eat nearly through the 6-inch-thick steel cap that covers the reactor vessel. A second, smaller cavity was also found. No radiation was ever released into the environment.

According to the inspector general's report, the plant owners told federal regulators that an early shutdown would be costly and cause wintertime power shortages.

Kucinich alleges FirstEnergy deliberately withheld information from the NRC, putting the public at risk.

His petition would require FirstEnergy to re-apply for an operating license, which would make it responsible for proving the entire plant is safe.

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, said he agreed with Kucinich's request.

``If the NRC is not going to fix its problems, then it's important more than ever to make sure that there are no remaining or unfixed problems at the plant, and the congressman's petition would do that,'' he said.


Business writer Jim Mackinnon contributed to this report.
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