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NRC to study how nuclear plants address corrosion

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Associated Press

6/4/2003 01:55 pm

Nuclear regulators said Wednesday they will examine regulations at power plants worldwide as they revise inspection requirements following corrosion of a northern Ohio plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also plans to study current technology that identifies leaks at plants, and evaluate internal operations that allowed inspectors to miss warning signs at the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio.

In March 2002, inspectors found boric acid had nearly eaten through a 6-inch-thick steel cap on the plant's reactor head. The damage, which the NRC says should have been spotted years earlier, is the most extensive corrosion ever found at a U.S. nuclear reactor.

"At the staff level there was a recognition that we were not as effective as we could be,"Terry Reis, chief of NRC's operating experience section, said at a meeting Wednesday.

The recommendations discussed at the meeting come from the agency's"lessons learned"task force that was formed to make sure leaks are caught well before they cause the kind of damage found at Davis-Besse.

Jeff Jacobson, an inspection program manager for NRC, said the effort includes making sure staffing levels are maintained. There was a shortage of federal inspectors at Davis-Besse.

"It can't be proven that that was a direct contributor to what happened, but it didn't help matters,"Jacobson said.

He said another critical issue is the breakdown of the agency's and industry's attitudes toward safety.

"We can do better, and in the context of Davis-Besse, we can do a lot better,"Jacobson said.

The NRC already is acting on some of the changes. Others will require budget and staff increases. The plans discussed Wednesday spell out some cost estimates and deadlines, but most details will be released on an ongoing basis. The time frame for implementation ranges from six months to two years.

Nuclear watchdog groups at the meeting raised concerns, saying proposed changes are based on a final draft that omits key recommendations, such as changes the industry should make to make sure it catches extensive corrosion like that found at Davis-Besse.

"There were recommendations for the industry that were deleted from the final report,"said Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace.

Some in Congress have questioned whether the NRC bowed to pressure from FirstEnergy Corp. and allowed the utility to keep Davis-Besse operating despite concerns about the reactor lid.

The NRC has rejected allegations that it put profits ahead of safety, but agreed to make changes to its safety and inspection procedures after conceding it should have detected the damage sooner.

FirstEnergy hopes to restart the plant in early August.

___

On the Net:

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

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





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