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  Wednesday, February 12, 2003

 Local News

FirstEnergy confronts retribution accusations
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station

Staff writer

CAMP PERRY -- FirstEnergy officials addressed controversies Tuesday that had surfaced in recent weeks about the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station -- including accusations of retribution against two workers and a report that a critical piece of safety equipment would not work properly during a major accident.

FirstEnergy Chief Operating Officer Lew Myers told Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials that once he heard claims at a Jan. 30 meeting of two workers being reprimanded for bringing forth safety issues within the last month, the company immediately began to investigate.

The idea that workers don't feel comfortable reporting safety issues has been a major focus at the plant since it shut down last February. In March, workers found severe corrosion on the reactor head, and one of many reports since then detailed worker apathy and lack of attention to safety as reasons for the technical problems.

Surveys in the middle of 2002 showed some workers were not willing to come forward with safety concerns, either because of retribution or because they thought managers would not address the concerns.

Myers said the company's lawyer called both employees said to have been reprimanded and left detailed messages, but neither returned the calls.

After investigating, officials found one incident had occurred six months ago and revolved around a worker complaining about a colleague. The worker found the air let out of the tires of her car in the parking lot shortly afterward.

The second incident occurred in January and involved a worker leaving early without telling a supervisor, said FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins. The worker was reprimanded with a letter in his file. But the worker appealed, and a higher-level supervisor decided in favor of the worker, removing the letter from the personnel file, Wilkins said.

Myers said the incidents show the management is willing to deal with issues as soon as they are brought forward.

"Bring us the allegations and we will address them," he said.

In addition, the company introduced a safety culture model for management to measure the safety concerns of workers.

NRC oversight panel chairman Jack Grobe tentatively praised the new model at an evening public meeting, saying it's a unique way to measure safety in each aspect of work at the plan. He added, however, that he still wants to see details of the program on paper before signing off on it.

"Safety culture is difficult to measure," he said. "It's outcomes are easy to see."

A survey conducted earlier this month of 10 percent of the Davis-Besse population showed 95 percent believe management want workers to report problems, and upwards of 90 percent say any issues of retaliation they may have heard about in the last three months were properly addressed.

Myers and FirstEnergy Director of Engineering Jim Powers also detailed work being completed on the containment emergency sump system -- which is used in the event of an accident. Much of the coolant water is flushed through the sump system, and the company is expanding its screenage from about 50 square feet to more than 1,200 square feet.

A report filed in December by the company shows that while the sump could likely have handled an accident resulting from the reactor head damage, a major loss of coolant accident would have been another story.

The reason, Powers said, is that when the plant was designed, the industry assumed about 50 percent of the screen would be blocked by debris -- including materials such as insulation or paint chips.

Those assumptions, however, have since been recalculated, leaving the sump built at Davis-Besse's inception inadequate.

New research has shown that a violent, large scale pipe break could blast off concrete and paint, forcing large amounts of debris into the sump and clogging the screens.

"We met the real design basis of the plant initially," Myers said. "But those (new) assumptions weren't in the original design."

The new sump modification the plant is currently implementing is an industry leader, and the NRC is in the process of sending out revised suggestions for other plants on revamping the critical safety equipment.

Along with work on the sump, workers also are recoating portions of the containment building, since some of the paints used were not able to hold up in high temperatures situations.

Originally published Wednesday, February 12, 2003

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