The Davis-Besse nuclear plant is getting less than glowing grades
again from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The federal agency has formally criticized the FirstEnergy-owned
plant for letting five contract workers leave the plant while
contaminated with small amounts of radioactive particles. The Akron
utility will not be fined or otherwise penalized.
In related news, a watchdog group's investigation of the
government's decision to keep Davis-Besse running found that
political pressure played no role in delaying a shutdown of the
Regarding the radioactive particles, the NRC has determined that
their accidental release about a year ago was of low to moderate
importance to safety. The agency on Thursday released a letter sent
to FirstEnergy making final its preliminary finding from about a
``These are important issues, issues that need to be corrected,''
NRC spokesman Jan Strasma said. The agency made those issues part of
a checklist the Akron utility needs to complete in order to be
allowed to restart the Oak Harbor plant.
FirstEnergy has corrected the problems and taken steps to prevent
further accidental release of radioactive particles, a spokesman
said. Davis-Besse has overhauled its radiation detection process,
hired a manager for a new radiation protection department, bought
new detection equipment and recalibrated existing equipment,
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said.
``There was no threat to the public safety,'' he said.
The workers, who had been working on the plant's steam generator,
carried the microscopic radioactive particles to South Carolina,
Texas, Virginia and elsewhere in Ohio.
The NRC has said the workers never should have been allowed out
of the plant with the particles on them. While the workers received
relatively low radiation dosages, the radiation levels probably
exceeded the amount workers are allowed to be exposed to in one
year's time, the NRC said.
Two of the workers ``potentially received a relatively large
amount of internal contamination,'' the NRC concluded.
Also, the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists released
documents this week that show an NRC decision to delay closing
Davis-Besse beyond a Dec. 31, 2001, deadline was not influenced by
The NRC wanted to shut down the plant by that deadline, fearing
possible cracks or leaks in the nozzles that pass through the
But FirstEnergy lobbied the agency for an extension and the NRC
compromised, letting the plant run until mid-February 2002. Two
weeks later workers found a hole in the reactor's lid from years of
leaking boric acid.
The NRC's inspector general's office looked into whether the
decision to delay the shutdown was swayed by politics, but no
evidence of that was found, according to documents released
Wednesday under the Freedom of Information Act.
The NRC's inspector general's office last year looked to see,
among other things, whether Sen. George Voinovich tried to sway the
NRC to let the plant on the Lake Erie shoreline east of Toledo keep
Transcripts of interviews show investigators asked NRC,
FirstEnergy and other officials about Voinovich's role. The Ohio
Republican chairs a Senate subcommittee that deals with nuclear
The inspector general's office concluded that Voinovich and his
staff ``played no role. They were not a factor in this thing at
all,'' George Mulley Jr., deputy assistant inspector general, said