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Kucinich: Yank Davis-Besse license


John Funk and John Mangels
Plain Dealer Reporters

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday to revoke the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor's operating license - a request that, if granted, could severely affect the plant's future.

The Cleveland Democrat, in a 29-page petition, said the plant's owner, FirstEnergy Corp., "ignored numerous warnings from the NRC, ignored repeated warnings from its own monitoring systems, and lied to and hid information from the NRC."

"If there were ever a case for revoking a license, that case has been made, based on the record of events at Davis-Besse," Kucinich said. "If someone operates a car recklessly, they can have their license taken away. If someone operates a nuclear power plant recklessly, they should have their license taken away."

Federal law requires the NRC staff to review whether the petition has enough merit to justify revoking a plant's license. The NRC's five-member board makes the final decision. The process could take as long as seven months, well past FirstEnergy's April target date to restart the plant. Davis-Besse has been idled since workers discovered last March that the reactor's lid had a pineapple-size rust hole.

The NRC has never revoked the operating license of a commercial nuclear plant in response to a petition.

Kucinich stressed that he is not trying to permanently close the Toledo-area reactor, saying instead that new FirstEnergy management or another owner could apply for an operating license.

In such a review, it would be up to the applicant to prove that the reactor is safe to operate.

FirstEnergy's chief execiutive officer, Peter Burg, has said that although the company is commited to Davis-Besse, the plant can't become a financial "black hole." Its repair and the purchase of replacement power has cost FirstEnergy nearly $400 million through Dec. 31, 2002.

A FirstEnergy spokesman expressed doubt that the NRC would withdraw Davis-Besse's license because, he said, there was no intentional wrongdoing in the company's failure over at least six years to detect the rust hole. FirstEnergy has been "forthright about the mistakes at the plant" and has cooperated with NRC investigations, said spokesman Todd Schneider.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group, also is skeptical that the NRC would yank Davis-Besse's license, but for different reasons from FirstEnergy's. Although he thinks Kucinich makes a compelling case, "the NRC doesn't want to admit that anyone outside of its network can be right," said Lochbaum, who has filed many NRC petitions.

Davis-Besse employees have urged the NRC to allow the plant to restart soon, saying that the area's economy is fragile and that jobs are on the line. Kucinich, a strong labor supporter, said a license revocation doesn't necessarily mean lost jobs, if a new owner comes in.

"They're going to tell workers that if we go, you go," Kucinich said of FirstEnergy. "That's not true. They (management) can go, and workers can stay. This is really a matter of public safety - for the people who work at and live near the plant, and the water supply of Lake Erie."

Making a case that a nuclear plant should lose its license will be tough, said NRC spokesman Scott Burnell. "The bar that is set for revocation is extremely high," he said. The agency would have to determine not only that the reactor's operator hasn't complied with NRC regulations in the past, but also that there is no hope it will in the future, Brunell said.

2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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