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Ohio Nuke Plant Safety Questioned

OAK HARBOR, Ohio (AP)--A team of consultants hired to examine safety attitudes at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, where inspectors last year found acid had eaten into a steel reactor cap, say the plant needs a greater commitment to safety.

``The team believes that not all characteristics are present at the Davis-Besse station to ensure the long-term promotion of a positive safety culture,'' the consultants wrote in the report for plant owner FirstEnergy Corp.

The study was based on observations at the northern Ohio nuclear plant and a survey of 80 percent of the plant's 830 employees.

Researchers visited the plant in February, and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel overseeing the repair of Davis-Besse received copies of the report last week.

FirstEnergy will be permitted to restart the reactor only after it proves to the NRC that safety measures at Davis-Besse have improved.

The company hopes to restart the plant in eight to 12 weeks.

In March 2002, one month after a routine maintenance shutdown began at the plant along western Lake Erie, a cavity linked to boric acid was found in a 6-inch-thick steel cap covering the plant's reactor vessel. It was the most extensive corrosion ever discovered at a U.S. nuclear reactor.

FirstEnergy has made substantial progress since it began efforts to improve Davis-Besse's safety culture late last summer, said spokesman Todd Schneider. The company even halted repair work for a day so employees could take part in a case study of the corrosion and its causes.

Schneider said the consultants' report is a snapshot in time and doesn't reflect continuing development, including creation last week of a management position to focus on safety. The consultant group, hired by FirstEnergy, was headed by industrial psychologist Sonja Haber of New York.

AP-NY-05-04-03 0957EDT

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP Online news report may not be published, broadcast or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution