Davis-Besse and other FirstEnergy news

January - May 2005



May 28:  FirstEnergy asks PUCO for rate increase for '06; Utility would pass on rising fuel costs; state official wants hearings

AKRON -- "Ohio Consumer's Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander called for public hearings on the request: 'When FirstEnergy got its rate stabilization plan approved, they kept saying we were not going to get increases in rates, and here six months later, they are filing for increases in rates, and we would hope the public utilities commission would hold hearings on this,'" Dave Scott, Akron Beacon Journal.

TOLEDO -- FirstEnergy wants a rate hike; Monthly bills could rise $2.04. "Janine Migden-Ostrander, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel who had objected to the rate plan last year in part because it allowed for some rate increases, yesterday objected to FirstEnergy asking for an increase based on 2002 price data, when prices were low. 'We think that 2005 should be the logical starting point and we will be intervening in this case and making our views known,' Ms. Migden-Ostrander added," Toledo Blade.

AKRON -- FirstEnergy Ohio utilities file to establish a generation charge adjustment rider, release, FirstEnergy, May 27.

May 25:  The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel needs your help

Alan Schriber
PUCO Chair Alan Schriber, whose fingerprints are all over this proposal. Why didn't Schriber try to take over the Consumer Call Center when Rob Tongren was Consumers' Counsel? Because he could rely on Tongren to go along with his decisions. Now that Ohio consumers have an articulate advocate in Janine Migden Ostrander, Schriber is resorting to bureaucratic theft, rather than engaging her on the issues.
COLUMBUS -- "As you may already know, our state senators and representatives are deliberating the budgets of all of Ohio’s state agencies. Unfortunately, some legislators recommended that our Consumer Response Center operations be eliminated from the services we are able to offer residential utility customers like you. What it means to you? Legislators have not only recommended cutting the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel’s budget, but have included language in the budget bill that would take away the ability for consumers to call us – your advocate – to help you resolve your utility complaints. Our Call Center would no longer be in operation. There would be no one answering our telephones to help you resolve your utility complaints," Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel, 396 KB pdf. ROCKVILLE, MD -- Order scheduling prehearing conference call, and granting in part the NRC staff's motion for a temporary stay, in the matter of Andrew Siemaszko, Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 14 KB wpd.

PORT CLINTON -- Davis-Besse receives favorable report; Enough progress made for oversight panel to be phased out by July 1, Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

May 23:  Application for a temporary stay to preserve the status quo, in the matter of Andrew Siemaszko

ROCKVILLE, MD -- "The instant case, involving the release of Staff documents that were referred to the Department of Justice for consideration of criminal prosecution, is one of the extraordinary situations contemplated by the rule. A temporary stay is necessary here to prevent irreparable injury to the criminal proceeding. Once the documents are released, the damage cannot be undone," Sara E. Brock, Counsel for NRC Staff, before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 23 KB wpd.
May 21:  NRC to scrap Davis-Besse oversight unit

CLEVELAND -- "In a letter to plant owner FirstEnergy Corp. this week, James Caldwell, the NRC's top Midwest administrator, said the panel itself recommended disbanding. . . In the first round of independent inspections late last year, outside experts said Davis-Besse's program to correct technical and procedural problems had shown only marginal improvement, that its engineering department had not been able to whittle down a huge backlog of work, and that the depth of the plant's "safety culture," or commitment to safety above all else, was stable overall but had declined in some areas," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

OAK HARBOR -- NRC to disband Besse watchdog panel. "On March 10, 2004, NRC Chairman Nils Diaz told The Blade during an interview in Washington that the agency would not scale back on its oversight of FirstEnergy Corp. for at least three to five years," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

AKRON -- NRC dissolves special oversight panel for Davis-Besse; But extra inspector will stay indefinitely, regulators plan extra inspections, Dave Scott, Akron Beacon Journal.
Helen Caldicott
Dr. Helen Caldicott
WASHINGTON, DC -- Huge costs of nuclear power. "The true economies of the nuclear industry are never fully accounted for. The cost of uranium enrichment is subsidized by the U.S. government. The true cost of the industry's liability in the case of an accident in the United States is estimated to be $560 billion, but the industry pays $9.1 billion -- 98 percent of the insurance liability is covered by the federal government. The cost of decommissioning all the existing U.S. nuclear reactors is estimated to be $33 billion. These costs -- plus the enormous expense involved in the storage of radioactive waste for a quarter of a million years -- are not included in the economic assessments of nuclear electricity," Dr. Helen Caldicott, president, Nuclear Policy Research Institute, column, United Press International.
May 20:  NRC panel to review penalty for engineer Former Davis-Besse employee is focus

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has created a three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to review the agency's April 21 decision to ban Andrew Siemaszko from working in nuclear plants or performing other NRC-licensed activities for at least five years. NRC officials said the agency was acting upon a request it received May 11 from Mr. Siemaszko to have his case heard by a review board. A supplemental 21-page request was to be submitted today by David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety engineer, and Ohio Citizen Action, one of Ohio's largest environmental groups," Toledo Blade.
May 19:  A lesson in Ohio politics: Supreme Court recusals in the rare-coin scandal and the FirstEnergy rate case

Supreme Court

Ohio Supreme Court. Standing: Justice Terrence O'Donnell, Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger. Seated: Justice Alice Robie Resnick, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justice Paul E. Pfeifer

CLEVELAND -- Yesterday, five Supreme Court justices recused themselves from three public records lawsuits in the rare-coin scandal. All had received big contributions from Thomas Noe, the central figure in the scandal, or his wife, Bernadette Noe: Thomas Moyer ($5,250), Terrence O'Donnell ($5,250), Judith Lanzinger ($5,000), Evelyn Stratton ($4,510), and Maureen O'Connor ($3,500). These justices did the right thing, of course, and they are receiving plenty of press coverage for it.

By contrast, last fall Ohio Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden Ostrander appealed a multi-billion dollar FirstEnergy rate case to the Ohio Supreme Court. On December 10, Ohio Citizen Action asked Moyer, O'Donnell, and Lanzinger to recuse themselves from the FirstEnergy case. Each of these justices received at least $20,000 in campaign contributions from FirstEnergy on August 6, 2004 -- two days after the PUCO made a key decision in the FirstEnergy rate request. The contributions were four times larger than in the rare-coin case, and the consequences of the decision would be incalculably higher. None of the three justices, however, recused themselves, and the clear conflict of interest was ignored in the press.

The lesson: Thomas Noe is not powerful, so he is fair game for attack. FirstEnergy is quite powerful, so its attempts at corruption are not only not stopped, they are not even mentioned.
May 19:  Indictments in Davis-Besse probe possible by fall, lawyer says

Gregory White
U.S. Attorney Gregory White leads the federal grand jury investigating Davis-Besse's near-meltdown.
CLEVELAND -- " "The investigation is nearing its conclusion and is expected to be complete by November. I expect this investigation will conclude with a charging decision soon," Justice Department attorney Thomas Ballantine wrote in legal papers filed Tuesday. Ballantine's comments are the first indication in months of the status of the highly secretive and closely watched case. . . The Justice Department and the NRC are seeking to keep secret for now some information they believe could hurt the criminal case if disclosed. Andrew Siemaszko, a fired Davis-Besse engineer whom the NRC intends to banish from the nuclear industry for his role in the rust-hole incident, has appealed that punishment. The appeal will be heard by an NRC administrative panel that operates under different rules than the criminal justice system. The Justice Department and the NRC are concerned that Siemaszko, in gathering evidence to support his appeal, might be entitled to NRC investigative reports or witness statements that he wouldn't be able to get in a criminal case," John Mangels, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
May 18:  Groups seek hearing for Davis-Besse ex-engineer

Alexander

FirstEnergy CEO Anthony Alexander, above in black, was the company's Chief Operating Officer while Davis-Besse was falling apart. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not plan to ban Alexander from work in the nuclear power industry for five years. Instead the NRC has reserved that punishment for whistleblower Andrew Siemaszko.

TOLEDO -- "Andrew Siemaszko, a former Davis-Besse system engineer banned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month after the agency accused him of withholding information about the plant's old reactor head, has environmental groups in Cleveland and Washington trying to get the action overturned. Elizabeth Hayden, spokesman for NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., yesterday confirmed the agency had received a request from Ohio Citizen Action and the Union of Concerned Scientists to have Mr. Siemaszko's appeal heard. David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety engineer, said in his 21-page filing it is 'a miscarriage of justice for the NRC to single out Mr. Siemaszko,' and that the former employee's reputation has been damaged by the agency. 'Crafted and announced as such, the NRC provides the public with the totally false perception that Mr. Siemaszko and Mr. Siemaszko alone caused Davis-Besse. Nothing could be farther from the truth and this travesty will in all likelihood be remedied,' Mr. Lochbaum wrote," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

COLUMBUS -- Former Consumers' Counsel still in hot water. "Yesterday, the Columbus city attorney’s office said it will file a complaint about [Robert] Tongren with the Ohio Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates allegations of unethical behavior by lawyers," Robert Ruth, Columbus Dispatch. Access fee; no link.
May 17:  Union of Concerned Scientists and Ohio Citizen Action ask NRC for hearing on order banning Davis-Besse whistleblower Andrew Siemaszko from nuclear power work

Nils Diaz
Nils Diaz, Chair
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
WASHINGTON, DC -- "In the specific matter of problems at Davis-Besse that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission now seeks to exclusively blame on Mr. Siemaszko, [the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)] retained counsel in the person of Diane Curran to review the available documentation and prepare a legal memo for UCS outlining the potential violations. . . USC's legal memo identified individuals at Davis-Besse who may have played a role in the incomplete and inaccurate information provided to the NRC. Mr. Siemaszko's name appears on that list as do the names of nine other indidviduals, most of whom are senior to Mr. Siemaszko and none of whom are sanctioned by the NRC," David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists, also on behalf of Ohio Citizen Action, request for hearing in response to order (IA-05-021) banning Andrew J. Siemaszko from involvement in NRC-licensed activities, to Annette Vietti-Cook, Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 286 KB pdf, May 13, 2005.
  • NRC staff answer to request for a hearing, in the matter of Andrew Siemaszko (IA-05-021), May 17, 2005, 28 KB wpd.
  • NRC staff motion for delay of proceeding, in the matter of Andrew Siemaszko (IA-05-021), May 17, 2005, 31 KB wpd.
  • Affidavit, Thomas T. Ballantine, Trial Attorney, Environmental Crimes Section, U.S. Department of Justice, before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, May 17, 2005, 180 KB pdf.
  • Licensing Board Memorandum and Order - Andrew Siemaszko Proceeding, May 20, 2005, WordPerfect file.
May 5:  Ex-watchdog pleads guilty to violations; Former consumers' counsel failed to report utilities' gifts

Robert TongrenCOLUMBUS -- "Former Ohio Consumers' Counsel Rob Tongren pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor ethics violations for failing to properly report gifts he was taking from utility companies while he served as a watchdog for their customers. . . He was sentenced in Franklin County Municipal Court in April to 120 days in jail, 40 hours of community service and to pay $1,425 into the coffers of his former office. The jail sentence was suspended. . . Tongren resigned in November 2003 amid a scandal involving his handling of a potentially explosive consultant's report. The report by LaCapra Associates, which Tongren never made public, might have saved FirstEnergy customers billions of dollars when Ohio's electric market was deregulated," Julie Carr Smyth, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
May 2:  Interest in building reactors, but industry is still cautious

Thomas Capps
Thomas Capps
Dominion CEO
WASHINGTON, DC -- "President Bush may be cheerleading for nuclear power, but the electric industry is not ready to order new reactors. . . . Thomas E. Capps, the chairman and chief executive [of Dominion, an energy company based in Richmond, Va.], said in a telephone interview, 'We aren't going to build a nuclear plant anytime soon. Standard and Poor's and Moody's would have a heart attack,' said Mr. Capps, referring to the debt-rating agencies. 'And my chief financial officer would, too.' . . . Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the former head of the public service commissions in New York and Maine, said that in the last 20 years, predictions of a revival had 'rivaled -- in frequency and in accuracy -- forecasts of the second coming of the messiah.' But the technology is still uneconomic, he said. And there is still the risk of accidents, which could devastate the industry even if no one outside a plant was harmed. 'The abiding lesson that Three Mile Island taught Wall Street was that a group of N.R.C.-licensed reactor operators, as good as any others, could turn a $2 billion asset into a $1 billion cleanup job in about 90 minutes,'" Matthew Wald, New York Times.
Apr 27:  What about the NRC?

TOLEDO -- "Indeed, by citing whistleblower Andrew Siemaszko, a former Davis-Besse engineer, for blame along with FirstEnergy, it appears that federal regulators are attempting to deflect responsibility for their own shortcomings. Fortunately, a federal grand jury in Cleveland is investigating possible criminal violations, and all the facts may yet emerge. . . Now the NRC contends that FirstEnergy withheld information on the safety of the reactor head from regulators. Mr. Siemaszko, however, presents a persuasive case that he is being made a scapegoat to protect top utility and NRC officials," editorial, Toledo Blade.

AKRON -- Was $5.45 million enough? The NRC missed an opportunity in fining FirstEnergy, editorial, Akron Beacon Journal.
Apr 26:  Feeling fine, FirstEnergy?

CLEVELAND -- "The NRC's banning of a former Davis-Besse engineer also seems dubious. Andrew Siemaszko will be barred from working in the industry for five years because he misled his employers about the increasing corrosion on the reactor's lid and about his crew's inability to get rid of it. Siemaszko said he tried to warn his bosses in 2000 about the corrosion, but they didn't want to hear about it or give him time to clean it up. He said he will appeal the ban," editorial, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Apr 25:  Don't forget us, say Chernobyl victims

Radioactivity dispersion

Distribution of Iodine-131 from the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The figure depicts the radioactivity field in on May 12, 1986, 384 hours after the reactor explosion. Source: Janusz Pudykiewicz, Meteorological Service of Canada. Units are becquerel/kg at 850 mb. level. A becquerel is one nuclear decay per second.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA -- "Hundreds of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster marched in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, at the weekend demanding greater compensation from the government. Nineteen years ago tomorrow, reactor No 4 at the power station exploded sending radioactive fallout across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and northern Europe. At least 3.3 million Ukrainians were affected by the blast, 60 miles north of Kiev, and are entitled to subsidised medical treatment or holidays. The average monthly compensation for those directly affected by the accident depends on individual cases, but it rarely exceeds the equivalent of £26 [$50]. . . The move is the first serious effort to force Ukraine's recently elected president, Viktor Yushchenko, to tackle the disaster's legacy," Nick Paton Walsh, Guardian.
Apr 23:  Criminal case still possible at Davis-Besse; Whether company lied about repairs is now federal issue

TOLEDO -- "A proposed record fine for the operator of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant didn’t scare investors. What hangs in the air is an ongoing federal grand jury probe into whether FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. gave false statements to federal regulators. The grand jury is close to wrapping up its work, according to U.S. Attorney Gregory White. Parent company FirstEnergy Corp. has been told it likely will face charges. FirstEnergy’s stock didn’t take a hit from the $5.45 million fine that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed Thursday, saying the plant failed to stop an acid leak that nearly ate through a 6-inch-thick steel cap on the reactor vessel. In fact, the company’s stock price went up the day of the announcement and rose 41 cents yesterday, closing at $42.38 on the New York Stock Exchange. Analyst Hugh Wynne of Bernstein & Co. in New York said the bigger question hanging over the company and its stock is the criminal case," John Seewer, Associated Press. Columbus Dispatch access fee; no link.
Apr 22:  NRC to bar engineer from reactor work

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The government intends to banish a former Davis-Besse engineer from the nuclear industry for his role in a coolant leak that nearly caused a major nuclear accident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday that it plans to bar Andrew Siemaszko from reactor work for five years. Nuclear watchdog groups and Siemaszko's lawyer were shocked and angered by the punishment. They said he tried to call attention to Davis-Besse's problems but is being made a scapegoat for plant management's careless safety attitudes and the NRC's lax oversight. 'Anyone with any ethics is banned from the industry,' said Paul Blanch, a nuclear whistle-blower and former engineer at Connecticut's Millstone reactor. 'It is as if Paul Revere were put in front of a firing squad, not by the British, but by the colonists he was trying to warn. How many more people will highlight problems to the NRC if this is how they are treated?,'" John Funk, John Mangels, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

WASHINGTON, DC -- NRC scapegoats Davis-Besse whistleblower, release, Billie Pirner Garde, Clifford & Garde.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Request for Hearing in Response to Order Prohibiting Involvement in NRC-Licensed Activities In the Matter of Andrew Siemaszko, IA-05-021, Billie Pirner Garde, Clifford and Garde to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 18 KB doc.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Freedom of Information Act Request, Billie Pirner Garde, Clifford and Garde to Carol Ann Reed, FOIA/Privacy Act Officer, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 19 KB doc.

WASHINGTON, DC -- FirstEnergy is slapped with $5.45M fine, NRC cites deception, corroded reactor lid, Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Besse troubles bring big fine, Nuclear panel issues $5.4 million penalty for corrosion dangers, John Funk and John Mangels, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Apr 21:  $5,450,000 fine for Davis-Besse reactor vessel head violations

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a $5.45 million fine against FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company for violations of NRC regulations associated with the significant reactor vessel head damage discovered in March 2002 at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant. The plant is located at Oak Harbor, Ohio. This is the largest single fine ever proposed by the NRC. The principal violation, assessed a $5 million fine, was that the utility restarted and operated the Davis-Besse plant in May 2000 without fully characterizing and eliminating leakage from the reactor vessel head which led to significant corrosion damage. Additional violations (assessed $450,000) included providing incomplete and inaccurate information to the NRC on the extent of cleaning and inspecting the reactor vessel head in 2000," release, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 45 KB pdf.
David LochbaumDavid Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists, comments:
"The previous record [fine] was $2.1 million for the Millstone fiasco. In the Millstone case, the fine was levied before the reactor restarted -- when it sent a message. In the Davis-Besse case, the fine was levied more than a year after the reactor restarted -- when it sends no message to no person. The violations that prompted this NRC 'sanction' [of FirstEnergy] happened back in May 2000 and in fall 2001. The NRC squeaked in just under the 5-year statute of limitations."
Apr 18:  FirstEnergy, one nuclear plant back, has another under spotlight

NORTH PERRY -- "FirstEnergy Corp. was still struggling to get one nuclear power plant back in operation when a series of problems and botched repairs at its second Ohio plant alarmed critics and put the utility in the cross hairs of regulators. Davis-Besse, whose corroding shield discovered in 2002 ranks among the nation's worst nuclear problems since Three Mile Island in 1979, and Perry currently are among four of the U.S. nuclear plants under the strictest NRC scrutiny. That means more government inspectors in the plants making safety checks from top to bottom. One wild card is a federal grand jury investigation of FirstEnergy statements to the NRC on its Davis-Besse inspections and maintenance. FirstEnergy said it has been informed by federal prosecutors that FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating is a target of the probe and charges are likely," Thomas J Sheeran, Lorain Morning Journal.
Apr 7:  Nuclear plants may be vulnerable to terrorists, science advisers say

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Fuel storage pools at nuclear power plants in 31 states may be vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could unleash raging fires and deadly radiation, scientists advised the government on Wednesday. The group of nuclear experts said neither the government nor the nuclear industry 'adequately understands the vulnerabilities and consequences of such an event.' They recommended undertaking a plant-by-plant examination of fuel storage security as soon as possible. . . . Paul Ryder, organizing director at the Cleveland-based advocacy group Ohio Citizen Action, said the report didn't surprise him. His group has been critical of FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear plant which was shuttered for maintainence problems, and of the industry's push to expand nuclear power plants. 'They are sitting ducks for a terrorist attack,' Ryder said," H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press.
Apr 5:  Perry nuclear plant risks shutdown, NRC report says

CONCORD TWP -- "FirstEnergy Corp.'s efforts and a small army of federal inspectors have not turned things around at the Perry nuclear power plant. And the company is flirting with a tougher federal response -- including the risk of a rare shutdown order. The slow decline over several years has prompted the agency to gradually step up inspections and demand more changes. Recurring equipment problems, human performance issues and inadequate work procedures have together earned the Lake County plant the dubious distinction of being under the second-highest level of federal scrutiny in the nation. A Wisconsin plant is in the same boat as Perry, while FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse plant near Toledo continues to be under the most invasive federal presence," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Apr 3:  Tumultuous initiation: Utilities watchdog for Ohio hit the ground running

Janine Migden-OstranderCOLUMBUS -- "One year ago tomorrow, Janine Migden-Ostrander, 51, became the third person to occupy the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel, the state-sanctioned public watchdog on all utility matters. . . In a case involving a FirstEnergy Corp. rate plan that would let the parent of Toledo Edison collect nearly $3 billion from customers in exchange for keeping rates locked from 2006 through 2008, the watchdog newcomer filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court, alleging the deal violated state law. 'On these rate plans, I think what stopped us cold was, well, first of all, they're not good deals,' she said. 'But secondly, they're not legal, and I don't want to put my name on a deal that's not legal.' As for how she's performed, the organizing director for the nonpartisan consumer group Ohio Citizen Action gives Ms. Migden-Ostrander high marks. 'FirstEnergy was rolling towards a multibillion rate deal,' said Paul Ryder. 'By the time she took office, everyone assumed that was a done deal, but she got to work on that right away and as a result, by June the PUCO' was modifying the deal, he said," Jon Chavez, Toledo Blade.
Mar 30:  Agencies fight over report on sensitive atomic wastes

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The academy, under orders from Congress, produced a study last summer about whether the spent-fuel pools at nuclear reactors were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The pools hold most of the radioactive material ever produced at the reactors, far more than the reactors themselves. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an independent group of scientists published a paper in a Princeton scientific journal asserting that an enemy could drain a pool and set a fire that would be 'significantly worse than Chernobyl,'" Matthew Wald, New York Times.
Mar 19:  FirstEnergy settlement with U.S. EPA: $1.1 billion

Sammis plant
FirstEnergy's W.H. Sammis plant, Stratton, Ohio.
WASHINGTON, DC -- "FirstEnergy Corp. and the federal government on Friday settled a landmark air pollution lawsuit that will require the Akron-based utility to pay fines and install anti-pollution devices expected to cost $1.1 billion. The expense cannot be passed on to customers at least until 2009, when the company's current rate plan expires. The penalty equals the settlement Exxon paid after its disastrous Valdez oil spill in Alaska. . . The deal ends FirstEnergy's five-year legal battle with the EPA over emissions from one of the nation's dirtiest coal-fired facilities, the W.H. Sammis plant on the Ohio River north of Steubenville. It is among the nation's top producers of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain and particulate pollution, and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog. Both chemicals cause serious respiratory problems and asthma. By 2012, FirstEnergy will be required to cut Sammis' sulfur dioxide emissions by 82 percent and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 71 percent," Sabrina Eaton, John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

TOLEDO -- U.S. levies $1.1 billion pollution settlement against FirstEnergy; Dirty coal plant violated EPA rules, Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

AKRON -- Akron utility settles lawsuit; FirstEnergy agrees to pay $1.1 billion in clean-air case against Sammis power plant, Bob Downing, Jim Mackinnon, Akron Beacon Journal.

NEW YORK, NY -- Power plant that pollutes Northeast agrees to cut emissions, Anthony DePalma, New York Times.
Mar 12:  NRC investigating slip-up in control room at Perry

Supervisor pushed button meant to be off-limits

Todd Schneider
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider: "This was a rare incident that we certainly don't want to happen again. We want to be error-free."
PERRY -- "A supervisor at FirstEnergy Corp.'s nuclear plant here is being investigated for pushing a control-room button that is supposed to be left alone while the plant is idle. The unidentified employee's error caused one of the Perry nuclear reactor's many control rods to leave its fully inserted position. . . The plant has been down for refueling since Feb. 21. The supervisor engaged the one control rod at 2 p.m. Thursday, even though such buttons are supposed to be pushed only by front-line operators. He also should have known better: The supervisor has a higher level of training. He holds an NRC license as a senior reactor operator, [Jan Strasma, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission] said,'" Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.
Mar 6:  Safety of nuclear power plants remains emotional issue

China Syndrome VHS box
In 1979, when the movie 'The China Syndrome' opened, the nuclear industry, politicians and the media vilified Jane Fonda, saying that the plot about a nuclear power accident could not happen. Eleven days later a similar accident occured at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. No one apologized to her.
TOLEDO -- "No new plants have been authorized for construction since the Three Mile Island Unit 2 partial meltdown near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission points out, though, that the stoppage wasn't ostensibly because of Three Mile Island. Wall Street pulled the plug on nuclear power before Three Mile Island because almost every plant had come in millions of dollars over budget. Just this past October, a U.S. Department of Energy official told members of the Society of Environmental Journalists that Wall Street is still so fickle about nuclear power that utility boards know their company stock could plummet if they even hint about financing new plants. 'American capitalism is brutally honest,' mused Eric Epstein, chairman of a Harrisburg-area watchdog group called Three Mile Island Alert. Though one of the industry's fiercest critics, Mr. Epstein told The Blade that eastern Pennsylvania wasn't emotionally conflicted about nuclear power before Three Mile Island. He said it was decidedly pro-nuclear, caught up in the era when the industry had promised future electricity that would be too cheap to meter. Attitudes changed with Three Mile Island. Among the things that weren't immediately revealed was the presence of a potentially explosive hydrogen bubble in the plant's reactor. To this day, the amount of radiation that was vented to the atmosphere -- and its effect on the population -- remains hotly debated," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.
Mar 1:  FirstEnergy fined after whistleblowers lost jobs

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has fined FirstEnergy Corp.'s nuclear operations unit $55,000 for a safety culture-related incident five years ago. The agency also named Georgia-based contractor Williams Power Corp. for violating federal regulations. The company employed three painters at Perry who immediately lost their jobs in March 2000 after pointing out a potential safety violation. Williams Power has not been fined -- though its site superintendent involved in the incident has already pleaded guilty to a federal felony for lying to the NRC about his actions. The contractor's site superintendent at Perry forced two of the painters to take a voluntary layoff and fired the third after he learned that they had complained to Perry's maintenance supervisor and then to the plant's ombudsman that they had been instructed to ignore proper procedures when painting the interior of Perry's nuclear fuel handling building. By NRC regulation, workers may not be harassed or fired for bringing up safety-related problems," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

LISLE, IL -- NRC proposes $55,000 fine for discrimination against Perry, release, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Feb 25:  Report questions Perry's safety ethic
Federal inspectors criticize nuclear plant's response to December pump failures

PERRY -- " A question about the Perry nuclear power plant's commitment to safety has turned up in a federal inspection of the Lake County facility. The preliminary results of the recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation into reactor pump failures at Perry suggest that repair crews were overly rushed to repair the pumps when they first failed on Dec. 23. The inspection findings also note that when the pumps began to falter -- causing wide and potentially uncontrollable energy swings in the reactor -- Perry's operators didn't react quickly enough despite multiple alarms. The reactor shut itself down. Engineers traced the pump failures to electrical controls, and operators restarted the reactor in just three days. Ten days later, the controls failed again -- shutting down the reactor for most of the month as more problems were uncovered -- and prompting the NRC to create a special inspection team. ," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Feb 23:  Safety climate not better at Davis-Besse, study says

OAK HARBOR -- "Despite the efforts of a new management team, attitudes toward safety at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant did not significantly improve in 2004, an independent assessment has determined. . .Mark Bezilla, vice president of plant owner FirstEnergy Corp.'s nuclear operating company, cited the company's reorganization of the workforce at its three nuclear power plants and union contract negotiations going on about the same time as possible reasons for the disappointing results from October's snapshot. . . Key findings of the October study include: . . 'Management attention to developing a strong safety-conscious environment is needed because many employees do not believe such a program exists at Davis-Besse,'" John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
  • As you read FirstEnergy blaming the bad results on "the company's reorganization of the workforce," remember that, a year ago, it was the reorganization of their three nuclear plants into a "fleet" that was supposed to cure all the safety problems.
Feb 19:  Davis-Besse: a plan for change or a worst-case scenario?

Magazine coverCLEVELAND -- "Sandy Buchanan, the executive director of Ohio Citizen Action, Ohio's largest environmental organization, isn't optimistic about the findings of the safety culture assessment. She says intimidation of employees about safety issues at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station is ongoing. . . According to NRC's [Jan] Strasma, a report by an NRC oversight panel examining management and human performance issues at Davis-Besse (which examines some of the same ground the safety culture assessment is expected to cover) found that, 'while workers by a large percentage indicated they would report safety issues without fear of reprisal, there was a decline in that number from previous surveys.' In other words, a growing number of employees indicated they felt intimidated when attempting to report safety issues. . . .'Instead of investigating the alleged illegal management activity, the commission examined what was wrong with employees that might have caused them to answer surveys in such a negative way. They concluded, at great length, that the employees were tired and frustrated,' says Buchanan, who adds, 'Another explanation is possible: The employees were telling the truth about the misconduct,'" Sandy Smith, Occupational Hazards, Feb 18, 2005.
Feb 10:  Davis-Besse restarting after 3-week shutdown

OAK HARBOR -- "The scheduled outage began Jan. 17. Few surprises were revealed beyond some unexpected ice damage to the interior of the plant's cooling tower, the hourglass-shaped structure used to help circulate nonradioactive cooling water to and from the plant's steam condenser. The extent of ice damage has not been calculated. But several days of mild weather that preceded yesterday's snow melted enough ice for workers to get inside the cooling tower and repair many of the damaged baffles," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.
  • Key phrase in the above passage: "repair many".
    Why not "repair all"?
    Because this is FirstEnergy, whose watchword is -- Never do a thorough job when you think you can get away with cutting corners.
Jan 31:  Nuclear Backers Modify Stance on Waste

The U.S. Department of Energy began studying Yucca Mountain, Nevada, in 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for the nation's first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.
WASHINGTON -- "Nuclear energy advocates who have said a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada must be opened before a new power reactor can be ordered are now backing away from that position, as completion of the repository looks later and less certain and the prospect for new reactors improves. Some nuclear supporters say the industry has made a strategic error by tying its future to the repository, which was once supposed to open in 1998, and is now scheduled for 2010. The departing energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, said earlier this month that the opening would be even further off than that. In the meantime, as pools for spent fuel fill up, utility companies are building giant concrete-and-steel casks near their reactors designed to hold waste for many decades. The industry has long assumed that opening the waste repository would change the politics and make a new plant more palatable for communities. Among other considerations, they must, as a condition of their plant licenses, have a plan for the waste, and for now, the Yucca site is it. But lately they have raised the idea that new reactors, which may soon be financially practical, need not wait for the Yucca project to be completed," Matthew L. Wald, New York Times.
Jan 26:  Davis-Besse: Ice buildup damages the liner of plant tower

Situation not likely to extend shutdown

Davis Besse cooling tower

OAK HARBOR -- "Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the resulting buildup of heavy ice inside the cooling tower has broken or damaged some of the baffles inside. An unknown number of them broke and fell to the tower's base, he said. The plant's shutdown was completed Jan. 17, and the outage is scheduled to last 21 days. The utility is in the process of removing the debris and installing a finer mesh screen to keep any stray debris from getting into the plant. However, Mr. Wilkins said Davis-Besse has had little success trying to melt the tower's ice with industrial-sized heaters. Mr. Strasma said Davis-Besse officials are "still assessing how [the ice] will affect the operation of the cooling tower and whether it will affect restart." But Mr. Wilkins maintained that the tower is operable and that the recent damage to it is not expected to push back restart beyond the scheduled three-week outage. Any repairs that might be necessary to the cooling tower will be done next year, he said. Although delaying the baffle repairs won't affect immediate operations, Mr. Wilkins said the utility might be forced to reduce power at Davis-Besse during peak usage this summer because the cooling tower will not operate as efficiently. FirstEnergy performed the shutdown according to its written procedures. But as the utility has since learned, those procedures did not account for freezing rain, snow, and sub-zero wind chills," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

CLEVELAND -- FirstEnergy updates plant status. "There is at least one cracked tube in the plant's two 30,000-tube steam generators. Unless more cracks are found, a plug will solve that," Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Jan 20:  Inspector says Davis-Besse's second pump set is safe to use; Coolant devices are likely to be refurbished next year

OAK HARBOR -- FirstEnergy "prefers to wait until 2006 to do the job [of refurbishing a second pair of pumps] because it expects the plant to be down longer then, [Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman] said. Each pair of pumps costs about $5 million to refurbish. Of greater concern is time: A typical nuclear plant can lose nearly $1 million a day in energy production when shut down. Refurbishing the pumps could take weeks. Andrew Siemaszko, a former Davis-Besse plant engineer, claimed in a U.S. Department of Labor whistle-blower complaint in 2003 that he was fired illegally from his job on Sept. 18, 2002, for insisting two days earlier that all four pumps be refurbished at once. Documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists have cited similar concerns about the pumps by two other employees in recent years," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.
Jan 19:  Feds cite FirstEnergy for "discrepant" Davis-Besse siren reports

WASHINGTON, DC -- "By letter dated January 13, 2005, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified FirstEnergy that its special inspection determined that: 'The licensee's submittals of discrepant ANS [Alert & Notification System] PI [performance indicator] data for the second and third calendar quarters of 2004 adversely impacted the NRC's ability to perform its regulatory function.' The NRC proposed a White finding. FirstEnergy is currently the target of a Department of Justice investigation for allegedly having submitted discrepant information to the NRC in 2001 that adversely impacted the NRC's ability to perform its regulatory function. FirstEnergy is providing bum data to the government faster than the government can write the tickets," David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • "Discrepant" is a bureaucratic term meaning, formally, "not compatible with other facts". Lochbaum has correctly translated it as "bum data".

  • A "white" finding means that the safety significance of the violation requires additional NRC scrutiny.
Jan 15:  Nuclear Regulatory Commmission busy at the area's two nuclear power plants

CLEVELAND -- "Perry's latest problems have a history that could lead to an NRC sanction. Operators at the 1,320-megawatt facility 'scrammed' the reactor last week, shutting it down in less than two seconds, after one of two large reactor coolant recirculation pumps tripped off. Without the pumps, reactor power levels can oscillate wildly and make the reactor difficult to control. It was the second shutdown in as many weeks due to electrical problems in circuits that control the pumps -- and the fifth 'scram' due to problems with the same pumps since 1993, said the NRC. Last week's repeat shutdown prompted the NRC to send a four-member team to investigate why the company cannot seem to get to the bottom of the problems," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Jan 7:  Regulators probe problems at Perry
Pump failures trigger extensive investigation

PERRY -- "Federal regulators want to know why pumps have failed twice in two weeks at the Perry nuclear power plant, shutting down the reactor. Two Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors are beginning a special investigation today into the pump malfunction and will be joined by three NRC experts Monday. Perry has not performed at federal standards for more than a year. The NRC last fall placed the plant under its second-highest level of scrutiny and began thorough inspections. As Perry goes under this new federal microscope, FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse power plant near Toledo remains under the NRC's highest level of scrutiny," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

PERRY -- Pump problem shuts Perry nuclear plant, Toledo Blade.
Jan 6:  First Energy to seek vote on takeover defense

TOLEDO -- "FirstEnergy Corp., parent of Toledo Edison Co., said yesterday that its board of directors is honoring the wishes of its shareholders and will submit any future shareholder-rights plan - commonly called "poison pill"- to a shareholder vote within a year of adoption. At FirstEnergy's annual meeting last year, a majority of shareholders approved a measure to put poison pills, aimed at making takeovers more difficult, under tighter review, but the vote wasn't binding. The utility's board ended its earlier poison-pill plan in May, 2004," Toledo Blade.
Jan 5:  Legislators may take a look at electricity deregulation law

COLUMBUS -- "Ohio Senate President Bill Harris has said he may want to re-examine the electricity deregulation law that's been in effect for four years as part of an overall state energy policy. Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander says lawmakers should give deregulation more time before making changes. 'Under deregulation, no customers have paid more for electricity and some have paid less,' Migden-Ostrander said. At the same time, Migden-Ostrander is unhappy about recent decisions by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that will allow utilities to collect the stranded costs for years beyond the Dec. 31, 2005, deadline written into state law. 'It's the same amount as stranded costs, it's just a different name,' she said. 'That's not part of the law, and we think that's not justified. We've paid the stranded costs. We're done,'" Akron Beacon Journal.