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