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Posted on Thu, Feb. 06, 2003
NRC probes whether inspector had documents showing Davis-Besse corrosion
Associated Press

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating whether an inspector had documents showing that the lid of the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor was badly corroded almost two years before a rust hole was found.

The agency's Inspector General is probing what became of a written report and seven photos prepared by the plant showing that the reactor's steel lid was coated with reddish-brown rust from leaking coolant.

The report was one of several documents Davis-Besse workers reportedly handed NRC inspector Donald Jones in April 2000 during a routine five-day audit of the plant, located east of Toledo.

The plant has been shut down since February 2002, when it was closed for maintenance. 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.

The inspector, from the agency's Chicago regional office, was double-checking the thoroughness of the plant's efforts to monitor the lid for signs of damage.

The report shows that Davis-Besse employees did not think the rust buildup on the lid was significant, but NRC officials have said that if they had known of the dome's deteriorated condition, they would have acted.

Senior NRC officials have insisted until now that the agency had no knowledge prior to the rust hole's discovery last March that the lid was caked with corrosion.

A message seeking comment from Jones was left at his office Thursday.

The summary he submitted to the NRC on April 27, 2000, makes no mention that he saw the report and photos describing the lid corrosion. He wrote that there were "no significant findings identified."

There is no sign that the report and photos ever were in the inspection records kept by the NRC's Midwest office, or that others knew of them, NRC spokesman Jan Strasma said.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to lift Davis-Besse's operating license.

Kucinich also wants the Inspector General to determine why the photos did not get to senior NRC staffers in Washington, who in late 2001 had to decide whether to let Davis-Besse delay a special lid inspection for several months. The NRC, believing plant operator FirstEnergy Corp.'s claim that the lid was corrosion-free, approved the deferral.

FirstEnergy has maintained that the photos and the lid's condition reports were "available" had the agency looked. The company is facing an NRC criminal investigation to determine whether it intentionally kept inaccurate and incomplete inspection records.

A FirstEnergy spokesman declined comment Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation.

The NRC agreed last month to overhaul inspections because of the situation at Davis-Besse. But its proposed budget for 2004, released this week, cuts spending and staff for plant licensing, inspection and incident-response teams.

The budget's focus has been shifted to ensure the nation's nuclear power plants aren't vulnerable to terrorist attacks, according to the 271-page budget proposal.

NRC spokeswoman Elizabeth Hayden said the agency's budget was drafted last fall before an internal review found that NRC employees failed to perform inspections that could have detected damage much earlier at Davis-Besse.

While the agency can not alter its budget proposal, Congress can make changes during the appropriation process.

ON THE NET

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/

FirstEnergy Corp.: http://www.firstenergycorp.com/

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