| Article published Saturday, April 19, 2003|
Davis-Besse snafu leaves an
By TOM HENRY
WASHINGTON - A major government symposium ended
yesterday with little doubt Davis-Besse’s problems will have a
lasting impact on the nuclear industry.
The Ottawa County
nuclear plant was by far the most talked-about during the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission’s 15th annual Regulatory Information
Conference, a three-day event that drew 1,200 scientists, government
officials, and industry lobbyists from 15 countries.
theme was how the nuclear industry was embarrassed by FirstEnergy
Corp.’s complacency and how the NRC dealt its own credibility a blow
by failing to provide diligent oversight.
Lew Myers, chief
operating officer of FirstEnergy’s nuclear subsidiary, noted that
discussions went far beyond technical aspects of the acid-induced
corrosion that nearly burned a hole through Davis-Besse’s reactor
The plant traverses a variety of issues, from the
workforce’s safety culture to the company’s willingness to be
forthcoming with information, he said.
The latter concern was
in regard to a warning issued yesterday by Jim Dyer, the NRC’s
Midwest regional administrator. A Michigan utility official asked
Mr. Dyer why the NRC’s Midwest office has issued twice as many
violations as any other recently for incomplete or inaccurate
"We do have a sensitivity, post-Davis-Besse, to
complete and accurate information. We do need to get that trust.
We’re going to validate and verify the information we get," Mr. Dyer
Among other things, NRC investigators have been
checking out allegations about the presence of 1998 and 2000 photos
that depicted rust stains on Davis-Besse’s reactor head - each long
before FirstEnergy publicly acknowledged the problem March 6,
The corrosion is the worst of its kind in U.S. nuclear
history, leaving a mere 0.2-inch of steel to hold back the reactor’s
enormous pressure of 2,200 pounds per square inch.
FirstEnergy has taken responsibility, the NRC has acknowledged more
in recent months how Davis-Besse has helped expose its weaknesses as
"This has been a significantly emotional event
for the NRC, as well as the industry," Mr. Dyer said.
Myers told The Blade he believes FirstEnergy spent too much time
trying to "put our best foot forward" when the incident was
revealed. "We’re [darn] sure not doing that today," he
"My challenge is to put an organization into place that
is sustainable," Mr. Myers said. "We’ve got to do our best to bury
NRC Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield, a member of
the agency’s governing board, told a packed ballroom Thursday that
Davis-Besse has prompted the NRC and nuclear industry to do "some
significant soul-searching to understand how this incident could
Agency officials at the regional and national
level let problems slip by because their attention was diverted by
"These were missed opportunities that have
left the citizens of Ohio and members of Congress questioning the
NRC’s oversight activities and capabilities," he said.
unprecedented reactor-head problem not only caught the NRC off
guard, but was worsened by the fact the agency took almost a year
documenting its justification for letting Davis-Besse continue
operating until Feb. 16, 2002 - six weeks longer than some staff
members had wanted.
That understandably led to accusations
that the NRC "had caved in to the very industry it was responsible
for regulating," Mr. Merrifield said.
"This left the
impression that economics had won out over safety. Nothing could be
further from the truth, and that is certainly not the message that
should be sent to the American people," he said.
One of the
more hands-on changes at Davis-Besse will be the addition of a third
resident inspector. Those are NRC officials assigned to specific
nuclear plants to monitor day-to-day activities.
have two. The NRC had only one at Davis-Besse for several months
before the plant was shut down, in part, because the plant was seen
as a solid performer, said Darrell Roberts, technical assistant to
the NRC’s nuclear reactor regulation director.
The NRC is
looking into why that particular resident inspector was left alone
for an extended time, as well as the circumstances that led to him
being hired by FirstEnergy, Mr. Roberts said.
Ottawa County administrator, said the county commissioners want the
NRC to adopt a stronger nationwide policy in regard to utilities
that hire NRC resident inspectors to help avoid the appearance of
NRC policy requires only that resident
inspectors be reassigned during the time they are negotiating for
employment with a plant they’re regulating, Mr. Roberts
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to
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