It's cliche to say all politics is local.
But when it comes to theDavis-Besse nuclear power plantin Oak
Harbor, a lot of politicsis downwind.
Today marks the first anniversary of when workers encountered
problems that led to the discovery of boric acid damage on the
reactor. Later, two cavities were found on top of the reactor.
Owner FirstEnergy Corp. now hopes to finish a series of repairs
and get Davis-Besse ready to restart ``in the April time frame,'' a
company spokesman said Tuesday. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
has final say.
Some Ohio politicians say they're aghast at what happened and
what they have learned since the damage was found, and are calling
for the revocation of FirstEnergy's license to operate the reactor.
Other officials say although they are concerned, they'll monitor the
plant's status while making sure federal regulators do their
In addition, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a 29-page
report this week severely criticizing the NRC's oversight of the
plant. Author David Lochbaum wrote that the NRC ignored its findings
at previous problem plants when it allowed Davis-Besse to keep
running past a Dec. 31, 2001, safety inspection deadline. Evidence
shows FirstEnergy and the NRC knew the reactor had been leaking
boric acid for some time before that, a probable violation of
FirstEnergy's operating license.
Members of Congress Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur say the more
they learn and look into Davis-Besse and the NRC, the more they
Kucinich has petitioned the NRC to revoke
FirstEnergy'sDavis-Besse operating license.
FirstEnergy's 20-page response, sent last Friday to the NRC, asks
the agency to deny Kucinich's request because the petition
``contains numerous allegations that are unsupported, incorrect or
mischaracterize existing documentation.'' The utility's letter also
says some claims are ``patently false'' and that Kucinich fails to
raise any new issues or provide significant new information.
If the pineapple-size cavity in the reactor head had ruptured and
a worst-case fuel core meltdown happened, all of Northeast Ohio,
which is downwind of the Lake Erie shoreline plant, would have been
affected, Kucinich said. Kucinich's district includes the west side
of Cleveland and is less than 100 miles east of Davis-Besse.
``This is not just some private matter between FirstEnergy and
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,'' Kucinich said. ``There is an
overriding public interest in getting all the facts, so the public
interest can be protected.''
The NRC did not do its job, he said.
If FirstEnergy has admitted it failed to observe safety
standards, deliberately withheld information from the NRC and
misrepresented the plant's condition, how can the utility keep its
license, he asked.
At the same time, ``nobody wants to see FirstEnergy fail,'' he
said. ``I want them to succeed. But they should reapply for the
license. They weren't the management that built that plant. But they
Kaptur's district is home to Davis-Besse.
More needs to be known about how the NRC allowed the plant to
delay a mandatory safety inspection in 2001 that would have
discovered the reactor damage sooner, she said. Kaptur said plant
management and regulators need to be held accountable.
``I think we've learned the truth will out,'' Kaptur said. ``The
NRC has been -- I can't think of a mad enough word. I want
individuals held responsible.''
But not everyone likes what Kaptur, Kucinich and other critics
have to say.
In Ottawa County, whereDavis-Besse is the largest employer with
more than 800 jobs, County Commissioner Carl Koebel said while he
and other local officials were shocked at the damage found at
Davis-Besse, he thinks some of Kucinich's and Kaptur's comments were
inappropriate and uninformed.
Koebel said he has attended every monthly NRC meeting at Oak
Harbor and Port Clinton about Davis-Besse. ``I have not seen
Kucinich or Marcy Kaptur at one of those,'' he said.
Koebel said he's pleased with the repairs at the plant and in
making employees more safety-conscious.
Ottawa County Administrator Jere Witt said both FirstEnergy and
the NRC are correcting the mistakes they made at the plant. Witt is
a member of a restart overview panel that was set up to have
independent oversight of the restart process atDavis-Besse.
``I'm comfortable with the changes they are making,'' Witt
Sen. George Voinovich, chairman of a subcommittee that oversees
the NRC, said, in a written statement, that ``I made it clear to the
NRC that their most important priority is safety and that they
should be focused on that above all other issues.''
The NRC gave Gov. Bob Taft a one-hour briefing last week on
Davis-Besse, a spokesman for the governor said.
Taft said afterward he is satisfied the plant will not restart
until repairs are finished and there is a much-improved safety
culture among all plant personnel that will ward off future
problems, the spokesman said.
Davis-Besse still needs to pass several tests before it can be
restarted, FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said.
Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists said it's more
likely that Davis-Besse will be ready to be restarted in May or
June, based on past experiences at other troubled nuclear
Finding a ``showstopper'' problem at this stage of repairs and
oversight that would keep the plant shut down for a long period is
unlikely, he said.