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Posted on Wed, Apr. 16, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Davis-Besse safety remains sensitive issue
Survey indicates some company contractors subject to intimidation, retaliation over concerns

Beacon Journal business writer

Employees at FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear plant are making improvements in the way they handle safety issues, company surveys show.

But a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said Tuesday that while surveys show the company is making good progress at improving the plant's ``safety culture'', the information shows inconsistencies that trouble him. The survey results were presented at a regular monthly meeting between FirstEnergy and the NRC held on the grounds of Camp Perry.

In addition, FirstEnergy said it's likely Davis-Besse will be ready for restart no sooner than mid-June, based on work and testing that needs to be done. The NRC also has its own inspections that can start only after repair work is completed at the plant in Oak Harbor.

Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC panel charged with overseeing the Davis-Besse restart process, said FirstEnergy's employee survey information on safety culture indicates in one section that as much as 20 percent of company contractors were subjected to some kind of intimidation, harassment, retaliation or discrimination in the last six months.

But other data included as part of the same survey indicate the problem was much smaller, he said.

``The data appear to be conflicted,'' Grobe said. If 20 percent of contractors working at the plant had experienced some sort of problem, at least some of them would have filed formal complaints with the Department of Labor, with the NRC also being informed, he said. Grobe said he was not aware of formal contractor complaints.

The NRC will be evaluating how well FirstEnergy measures the Davis-Besse safety culture. The company has to show, in order to restart the plant, that it has made significant improvements in allowing employees to freely raise safety issues. The regulatory agency does not have standards, numbers or thresholds when it comes to nuclear plant safety culture, Grobe said.

A FirstEnergy survey done at the end of March of 665 employees of the company and 377 contractors showed 98 percent of the people surveyed said if they had a nuclear safety or quality concern, they would raise it.

But 8 percent of the more than 1,100 people surveyed said they had been subjected to some kind of retaliation or harassment for raising nuclear safety, quality or compliance concerns in the previous six months, up slightly from the same survey question taken last August.

Fifteen percent of employees and contractors said they knew of other workers who were harassed or retaliated against in the previous six months for raising safety or quality concerns.

FirstEnergy officials said the employee surveys overall showed an improving safety culture. The surveys were designed to measure the willingness of employees to identify and report safety issues without fear of reprisal.

Results of a separate study on Davis-Besse safety culture, done by a contractor hired by First-Energy, will be released at an upcoming NRC meeting. First-Energy said the consultant's report mirrored the company-done surveys.

The company is developing ways to address the concerns employees raised in the survey, said Lew Myers, chief operating officer for FirstEnergy's nuclear operating company.

FirstEnergy said it is getting closer to restarting Davis-Besse, which has been shut down since February 2002. Substantial boric acid corrosion found in March on top of the reactor has kept the plant closed for repairs that likely will cost FirstEnergy more than $400 million.

Davis-Besse will do a pressure test of the reactor coolant system, which includes the reactor, in mid to late May. It should be ready for restart about a month after the test is completed, company officials said.

``The company is still making good progress,'' Grobe said. But he refused to speculate on when he thinks Davis-Besse will be allowed to make electricity again. ``We'll get to restart when we get to restart,'' he said.


Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com
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