| Article published Friday, February 21, 2003|
NRC looking at complaint about Besse
Ex-worker says plant knew of leak in
By TOM HENRY
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Allegations raised in a
federal whistleblower complaint this week will be reviewed by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Inspector General as part
of its probe into NRC oversight failures at FirstEnergy Corp.’s
Davis-Besse nuclear plant.
"The issues will be included in
our ongoing investigation," George Mulley, the inspector general’s
senior level assistant for investigative operations, said yesterday.
"It provides us new information to work with."
Andrew Siemaszko alleged in a 24-page complaint filed with the U.S.
Department of Labor that he was illegally dismissed on Sept. 18, two
days after insisting FirstEnergy replace gaskets on each of
Davis-Besse’s four reactor coolant pumps.
Lew Myers, chief
operating officer of the utility’s nuclear subsidiary and the
plant’s vice president, had told him the company had no plans to
replace gaskets other than those on two pumps that were known to
need such repair, the complaint alleged.
attorney, Billie Garde, said she viewed her client’s firing as a
sign that FirstEnergy was not encouraging its employees to come
forward with their concerns about plant operations, contrary to what
the company has been telling the NRC in recent weeks in hopes of
gaining approval to restart the beleaguered plant. FirstEnergy
claims the complaint has no merit.
Reactor coolant pumps are
used to circulate water through the reactor during normal operating
conditions. They are separate from residual heat removal pumps that
would recirculate water collected by the plant’s containment sump in
the event of a line-break that results in a loss-of-coolant
accident, Jan Strasma, NRC spokesman, said yesterday. The latter set
has come under scrutiny lately because of questions over whether the
sump would have worked in an accident, he said.
has been shut down since Feb. 16, 2002. Three weeks later, workers
found a rusted-out cavity six inches deep in the plant’s carbon
steel reactor head, exposing only a thin liner of stainless steel
that had hairline cracks and had started to buckle. The near-rupture
has been described as the nation’s closest brush with a nuclear
accident since Three Mile Island in 1979.
The NRC’s inspector
general in early January issued a scathing report, claiming the
agency violated public trust by allowing itself to be persuaded by
FirstEnergy’s financial pleas while contemplating an emergency
shutdown order in the fall of 2001. The NRC is required to hold
safety above all other considerations.
A new probe was
initiated Feb. 5 at the request of U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.,
Cleveland), after reports that the NRC may have been privy to a
photo taken during the plant’s 2000 outage depicting serious rust on
the reactor lid. The inspector general’s office, which is
investigating the NRC’s performance in overseeing problems at the
plant, wants to ascertain what NRC officials knew and what they
should have known, Mr. Mulley said.
Mr. Siemaszko’s complaint
cites evidence that FirstEnergy knew about corrosive boric acid
leaking from its reactor and damaging the vessel’s steel cap as
early as 1998. That evidence includes an April, 1998, photo
submitted with the complaint that showed rust on the reactor similar
to that in the 2000 photo.
Though the pictures were taken two
years apart, the issues are similar enough to be incorporated in the
same investigation, Mr. Mulley said.
Also yesterday, the
NRC’s Midwest regional office in Lisle, Ill., said it has notified
FirstEnergy that it will likely impose no fines on FirstEnergy for
radioactive particles that left the plant on four construction
workers due to malfunctioning detection equipment. FirstEnergy was
cited for violating regulations by allowing four contract workers to
leave the Davis-Besse complex on Feb. 20, 2002, with radioactive
particles on their clothing after doing some steam-generator
The particles eventually were traced across Ohio and
other states after those and other workers showed up with some of
them at their next jobs. The NRC’s regional office, after an
investigation, said Jan. 7 it considered the risk to the public
minor and inconsequential. It declared the significance to the
utility as "low to moderate," but required procedural changes to
keep it from happening again.
For earlier stories on
Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse.
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