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May 14, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Wednesday, May 14, 2003
NRC’s handling of Besse examined;
House panel asks for agency documents on reactor’s near-disaster


By FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER


WASHINGTON - The chairman of a U.S. House subcommittee charged with oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is launching a review of the agency’s handling of problems at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ottawa County.

Rep. James Greenwood (R., Pa.), chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the NRC to submit documents associated with its handling of the problems at Davis-Besse over the past 18 months, primarily to prevent a repeat of the Davis-Besse problems at other U.S. plants, said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the full committee.

"The NRC has assured us that it will cooperate fully," he said. "We’re simply trying to determine why the NRC may have ignored several warning signs about problems at the plant."

Davis-Besse, along Lake Erie 25 miles east of Toledo, is owned by FirstEnergy Corp. It has not operated since it was shut down for refueling on Feb. 16, 2002.

A six-inch cavity was found in the reactor head three weeks later, the result of boric acid used to control the core reaction process that had burned its way through carbon steel on the reactor head.

The only thing holding back the reactor’s intense pressure was a stainless steel liner two-tenths of an inch thick - about the thickness of three credit cards.

It had started to buckle and crack, and was not engineered to be used for anything other than corrosion control, NRC officials have said.

NRC officials have for months described the situation as the nation’s worst corrosion problem of its kind, a maintenance letdown that put northwest Ohio on the brink of an accident akin to the one at Three Mile Island.

New NRC chief Nils Diaz, on the job since April 1, called the problem "an enormous failure" of safety oversight by both FirstEnergy and the NRC.

Mr. Greenwood requested the documents in a letter to Mr. Diaz that also said he was concerned "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," Mr. Greenwood wrote.




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