Davis-Besse and other FirstEnergy news

June - December 2005
Dec 31:  Grand jury decision on Besse may come soon

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Ohio residents are expected to learn next month whether criminal charges will be filed against any current or former FirstEnergy Corp. employees linked to the near-rupture of Davis-Besse's old nuclear reactor head in 2002... The grand jury investigation has drawn the NRC licensing board's interest, because it is hearing Mr. Siemaszko's appeal of that agency's proposed sanctions against him. Records show Mr. Siemaszko tried to get FirstEnergy to hold off on restarting Davis-Besse long enough during the plant's 2000 outage to do an adequate job of cleaning rust from the reactor head, as well as identifying leaks or other problems that needed to be fixed. The utility spent a day on maintenance for a job that Mr. Siemaszko said should have taken weeks, if not months. FirstEnergy officials, though, have said they did nothing wrong," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.
Dec 25:  Electricity rates expected to rise

COLUMBUS -- "Ohio’s public advocate for residential customers in utility cases says she thinks deregulation can be salvaged, but other problems need to be addressed. 'I think what we need to do is take a look at the wholesale market,' Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander said. The rates charged by regional transmission organizations, the gatekeepers of the nation’s electric grid, are one problem in the wholesale market that can provide a barrier to competition, Migden-Ostrander said. Migden-Ostrander said the rate stabilization plans violate the deregulation law, which requires the utilities to offer market-based prices and competitive bidding at the end of the development period," Canton Repository.
Dec 23:  Ohio Citizen Action, Union of Concerned Scientists intervene in Davis-Besse whistleblower case

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Judges for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, who are hearing the case brought by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission against Davis-Besse whistleblower Andrew Siemazsko, announced yesterday that the Union of Concerned Scientist and Ohio Citizen Action can intervene in the case in support of Siemazsko. The organizations had filed a motion in May 2005, seeking to intervene in the case, which is now scheduled to be heard in February. In its order, the panel of judges said, 'Our conclusion regarding the ability of the Petitioners to assist in the development of a complete record in this proceeding is based on the totality of our experience to date with the UCS/OCA. Based on Petitioners’ written submissions in this proceeding and their oral presentations at our prehearing conferences, we have concluded that Petitioners are extremely knowledgeable in the factual, scientific, and regulatory areas that will be the focus of our hearings in this matter,'" Sandy Buchanan, Ohio Citizen Action.
Oct 30:  FirstEnergy's self-serving rate proposal

COLUMBUS -- "Ohio deregulated electricity in 2000, but allowed FirstEnergy time and money to move from a regulated utility to a competitive utility. In that process, FirstEnergy was allowed to assess a 'delivery charge,' a 'generation related component' and a 'transition charge.' The law said the transition charge, which is about 35 percent of our bills, would end on Dec. 31, 2005. FirstEnergy has raked in between $8 billion and $9 billion in these transition charges... Ohio is a poster child for manufacturing job loss, and the competitiveness of Northern Ohio is in the hands of Ohio's Supreme Court. I hope the court chooses wisely," Joe Korff, letter to the editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Oct 24:  Keeping rates stable for FirstEnergy customers

COLUMBUS -- "FirstEnergy's rate-stabilization plan has been the subject of a good deal of misrepresentation by the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and Ohio Citizen Action. The facts, however, are clear: FirstEnergy's plan, along with our recently filed supplemental plan, will extend current electricity rates - the same rates that our Ohio customers have paid since the 1990s - through 2008... Despite the fact that the plan is expected to save customers $1 billion over its three-year period, the OCC appealed it to the Supreme Court of Ohio... We are hopeful that the court will reject the OCC's appeal and uphold our rate-stabilization plan and its considerable benefits for our customers and the communities we serve," letter-to-the-editor, Anthony Alexander, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Sep 29:  Court asked to roll back electric rates
PUCO accused of giving FirstEnergy illegal approval to add $2.9 billion surcharge

COLUMBUS -- "The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday received a crash course on electricity competition as it pondered the question of whether FirstEnergy Corp. was illegally granted approval to surcharge customers $2.9 billion over the next three years. The Ohio Consumers' Counsel, Lucas County, Toledo, Maumee, Sylvania, Oregon, Perrysburg, and Holland argue that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio simply renamed and extended the 'stranded costs' utilities have been allowed to pass on to customers since 2002 to recoup the cost of nuclear power plant and other improvements. 'The commission has approved a $2.9 billion insurance premium,' Assistant Consumers' Counsel Kimberly Bojko said. 'This premium fails to offer any insurance for protecting consumers. The so-called rate stabilization plan does not stabilize rates. In fact, it allows increases in rates...' All seven justices presided over the arguments, despite a request from government watchdog Ohio Citizen Action that five of them, all Republicans, remove themselves from the case," Jim Provance, Toledo Blade.

COLUMBUS -- Watchdog criticizes FirstEnergy rate plan , T.C. Brown, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Sep 28:  Group wants justices out of utility case

Cartoon by Jeff Darcy, Cleveland Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS -- "Ohio Citizen Action is calling on five Republican Supreme Court justices to remove themselves from a FirstEnergy Corp. rate case that's before the court today. The watchdog group, which is not a party to the case, said Monday the five received $125,000 in campaign contributions from people connected to FirstEnergy in the last nine years. Nearly half the money, $61,000, went to Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices Terrence O'Donnell and Judith Lanzinger from an August 2004 fundraiser arranged by FirstEnergy Chief Executive Anthony Alexander. The other justices are Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Maureen O'Connor. Only Stratton responded on Monday, saying she would not step aside. Court spokesman Chris Davey said Moyer will also participate in the case and that the other justices are likely to as well. 'Campaign contributions alone are not a basis' for removal, Davey said. 'There are a number of different parties to this litigation, and none of the parties have requested' removal," Associated Press.

Sep 27:  Justices got $125,000 via FirstEnergy

COLUMBUS -- "The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a FirstEnergy Corp. rate case that could cost consumers nearly $3 billion. Less visible than the rates in question is $125,000 in campaign contributions that people connected to FirstEnergy gave five of the seven justices in the last nine years. Nearly half that money - $61,000 - went to Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices Terrence O'Donnell and Judith Lanzinger after FirstEnergy Chief Executive Anthony Alexander threw a judicial fund-raiser in August 2004. Ohio Citizen Action, citing other cases in which justices stepped away after receiving campaign money, asked the three, along with Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Maureen O'Connor, all Republicans, to remove themselves from the FirstEnergy case. 'The justices at the very least need to recognize the appearances of this,' said Sandy Buchanan, executive director of Citizen Action, which is not a party to the case. 'It is an extremely tight relationship with incoming contributions and a case before the court,'" T. C. Brown, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Sep 15:  FirstEnergy to pay $5.45 million fine

AKRON -- "FirstEnergy Corp. yesterday said it will pay the record $5.45 million fine that federal regulators levied against it in April for the 2002 safety lapse at Davis-Besse. The situation almost resulted in the nation's worst nuclear accident since the partial meltdown of the Pennsylvania Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor in 1979... The NRC has said nearly $500,000 of the fine stems from what regulatory officials believe was the utility's intentional misleading of the agency after Davis-Besse's nuclear reactor was refueled in 2000. Gov. Bob Taft said when the NRC penalty was announced against FirstEnergy that he fully supported the NRC's sanction. He said it 'should send a clear message to FirstEnergy that the safety of Ohioans should never be compromised.' The fine is 2 1/2 times bigger than the previous record fine for the nuclear industry," Toledo Blade.

Aug 10:  Davis-Besse has something to learn from nuke plant in Georgia

BAXLEY, GA -- "This past Saturday, I dropped in on the Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. I was down in Florida for a conference and opted to drive up to the first plant I'd worked at after college. As shown in the attached graphic, I turned off Highway 1 onto the main plant access road following signs to the Visitor's Center. When I arrived at the Visitor's Center, a sign informed me it was closed to the public. At that moment, a security patrol appeared out of nowhere. It had been perhaps 30 seconds or so since I turned off the main highway before security patrol arrived to ask what I was doing. The Hatch response mirrors what I'd been told the NRC expects. You'll note it is 180 degrees different from the response at Davis-Besse to the recent onsite tour by a member of Ohio Citizen Action," Dave Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists.

Jul 22:  Council to weigh FirstEnergy Corp. plan to hike rates

TOLEDO -- "Toledo City Council will be asked to oppose a proposed rate hike by FirstEnergy Corp., owner of Toledo Edison Co...The rate hike would cost an average household using 850 kilowatt hours a year an extra $27 annually. It would equate to a $93 million increase in annual earnings for FirstEnergy for the next three years. That led Councilman George Sarantou to question Chuck Krueger of FirstEnergy, who appeared before the committee, about how the utility could justify the increase to area consumers when FirstEnergy received nearly $900 million in profits last year...Janine Migden-Ostrander, Ohio Consumers' Counsel, told the committee that FirstEnergy's rates were the highest in Ohio and warned that there was nothing to stop FirstEnergy from increasing rates again," Toledo Blade.
Jul 13:  Report: Many nuclear warning sirens lack backup power source

MIDDLETOWN, PA -- According to a report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, many nuclear sites across the country lack backup power for warning sirens in the event of a power outage. A total of 28 plants were found to lack an alternate energy source for said sirens, which are supposed to warn residents within a ten-mile radius of impending danger. These included the Indian Point plant just north of New York City and The Davis- Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio. During terror attacks on plants, the NRC assumes electrical power would be compromised. The warning system proves crucial as a loss of electricity could hamper a plant's emergency shutdown system, increasing the risk of a core meltdown," Hector Duarte Jr., All Headline News.
Jul 9:  Group claims access to reactor

OAK HARBOR -- Anybody from grandmothers to terrorists can drive within a few hundred feet of the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor without being challenged, claims an anti-nuclear watchdog group. But that's not really a security issue, say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and plant owner FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron. Two members of the group, Ohio Citizen Action, drove onto the Toledo-area power plant site July 1 after noticing an unguarded and open-gated service road at the plant along Ohio 2. The couple, whom Citizen Action would not identify, wanted to see how far they could drive into the 1,000-acre site before security ordered them to turn around. They stopped and photographed the plant's cooling tower, waited "a while" and left without security ever appearing," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Davis Besse cooling tower
FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear plant cooling tower, photographed on July 1 by a Citizen Action member.
Jul 8:  FirstEnergy leaves Davis-Besse security gates wide open

OAK HARBOR -- Here is a report from a Citizen Action member on what she discovered on July 1: "We were driving along Route 2. When we passed the Davis-Besse plant, I noticed that the service entrance gate was wide open, as was a gate leading from the front parking lot to the service entrance road. We turned around and decided to see how close we could get to the reactor before someone turned us around. We entered the front parking lot, went through the open gate, and travelled down the service road toward the reactor. We didn't pass any security guards or police officers, nor any 'No Trespassing' signs. When we got within a few hundred feet of the reactor, we decided to turn around. However, we did hang out there for awhile to see if someone would approach us. Not a security guard or employee in sight."
  • In April 2002, U.S. Senator George Voinovich visited FirstEnergy's other Ohio nuclear plant, in Perry, and called the plant security 'very impressive'. "Voinovich gave a glowing report on the privately trained security forces and also praised the high tech weaponry on hand and the physical barriers in place to impede anyone's entrance. 'It is incredible how difficult it is to get into the plant,' the senator said," Dino DiSanto, Lake County News Herald, April 2, 2002.
Jun 24:  Reply to NRC response on hearing request

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "Ohio Citizen Action and the Union of Concerned Scientists seek to be allowed to participate in the proceeding at the Panel's discretion...The NRC's unfair and inequitable singling out of Mr Andrew Siemaszko for accountability can only reinforce the perception among the workers at Davis-Besse that the people 'directly involved' in the problems got away with it," David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists. (130 K pdf)
Jun 23:  Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel
Migden-Ostrander sees her role as prosecutor for utility customers

COLUMBUS -- "After briefly returning to work for her old law firm, Migden-Ostrander was selected to succeed Robert S. Tongren as Consumers' Counsel...[Paul Ryder, organizing director for Cleveland-based Ohio Citizen Action] described former Consumers' Counsel Robert Tongren as 'more of a go-along guy' who did little to oppose the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio or the utilities themselves. As a result, Ryder said, the office became 'utterly ineffective.' 'With Janine Migden-Ostrander, we have a return to the stated purpose of the office, which is to protect the interests of consumers,' Ryder said in a telephone interview. 'So we're delighted about that. From her first day, the old boys' network in Columbus was on notice that there was an OCC again,'" Kevin Parks, Columbus This Week.
Jun 11:  Engineer fired from Davis-Besse disputes FirstEnergy's claims; Aborted cleaning, inspection of reactor lid left hole undetected

CLEVELAND -- ". . .there is ample information in the NRC's and FirstEnergy's files that contradicts the agency's basis for barring [Andrew] Siemaszko from future reactor work. The NRC appears to have overlooked or ignored records backing Siemaszko's claim that he didn't mislead anyone. . . . 'The NRC is railroading Andrew. It's a shameful performance,' said David Lochbaum, a veteran nuclear engineer with the watchdog group the Union of Concerned Scientists. Siemaszko has appealed his five-year expulsion from the nuclear industry. Lochbaum's organization and the environmental group Ohio Citizen Action have told the NRC they plan to intervene on the engineer's behalf," John Mangels, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Jun 9:  This is how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission treats whistleblowers

Door knockWASHINGTON, DC -- [Referring to a March 15, 2002 interview conducted by Joseph Ulie, U.S. NRC Office of Investigations, of Davis-Besse whistleblower Andrew Siemaszko:] ". . .the tape is started at 2:30 p.m., but it is my understanding that you and two additional investigators arrived, unannounced, at the home of Mr. Siemaszko sometime around 2:00 p.m., and talked to him for some period of time before you went on the record of this transcript. It is also my understanding, in part explained on the tape, that your initial statement to Mr. Siemaszko was that 'all roads' led to him. As Mr. Siemaszko told you, and as is reflected in the transcript, that statement was very intimidating to him. It is my understanding that you did not explain to or advise Mr. Siemaszko that he was the target of a criminal investigation, that had had an opportunity to have counsel present, or to decline to talk to you at all," attachments, Response to NRC staff motion for delay of proceedings, Billie P. Garde, Counsel for Andrew Siemaszko, Clifford, Lyons and Garde, May 31, 2005.
Jun 7:  NRC staff wants to avoid hearing in Davis-Besse whistleblower case

ROCKVILLE, MD -- "For the reasons set forth herein, the Petitioners have failed to establish standing and, moreover, have proffered no admissible contentions. Therefore, the Hearing Request should be denied," NRC Staff response to hearing request filed by Ohio Citizen Action and the Union of Concerned Scientists in the Matter of Andrew Siemaszko, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 83 KB pdf.
Jun 6:  Davis-Besse targets Utah as waste site
Utilities wait for NRC nod on disposal

WASHINGTON, DC -- "A consortium of eight utilities that includes FirstEnergy Corp. believes it has cleared one of the biggest hurdles for storing spent reactor fuel from Davis-Besse and other nuclear plants on tribal land in Utah for up to 40 years. The issue centers around whether the public stands an unreasonable risk of being exposed to radiation if 40,000 metric tons of the spent fuel gets stored outside in bunkers on a reservation owned by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians. Utilities are negotiating with the Goshutes for use of their domestic sovereign land, the second time in recent years that utilities have undertaken formal discussions with a tribe to send radioactive nuclear waste off to Native American soil. Spent reactor fuel is the only material in civilian hands classified as high-level radioactive waste," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

OAK HARBOR -- Feds vow to keep tabs on plant's operations, Tom Henry, Toledo Blade.

CROSBY TWP -- Waste starts leaving Fernald today, Dan Klepal, Cincinnati Enquirer.
Jun 5:  Casks gain favor as method for storing nuclear waste

WASHINGTON, DC -- "As the Energy Department falters in its effort to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the nuclear industry and Congress are taking steps toward a radically different storage strategy: putting the waste in huge casks that could be parked in a handful of high-security lots around the country for decades. . . . The Energy Department was supposed to have the [Yucca Mountain] site ready by 1998, but the effort has stumbled, and it is now unclear whether it will open. When it became obvious, more than a decade ago, that the government would not fulfill its obligations on time, reactor owners built steel casks to put the waste in, filled them with inert gas to inhibit rust and loaded them into concrete silos. The Yucca project is now so far behind that some of the reactors have been retired and torn down, leaving nothing but a field of storage casks. . . . Just before the House vote, Representative Jay Inslee, Democrat of Washington, said: "This is a hazardous and capricious idea that does not take into consideration the environmental, safety and health impacts of storing such waste in the ground near the Columbia River. There have not been any hearings or public input into this idea, which is an obvious backdoor attempt to circumvent longstanding bipartisan policy,'" Matthew Wald, New York Times.
Jun 2:  Simpler -- and safer: In its comeback bid, U.S. nuclear industry eyes a new generation of reactors. Will they ease Americans' worries?

Davis-Besse control room
Control room at FirstEnergy's trouble-plagued Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.
BOSTON, MA -- "Many remain skeptical that new reactors will solve many of nuclear energy's current conundrums. For one thing, many of these designs could be run as breeder reactors, generating plutonium as a byproduct and thus raising nuclear-weapons proliferation concerns. Moreover, reliance on passive systems could undermine the multilayer, defense-in-depth approach to radiation containment, says Edwin Lyman, a scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. 'We're still learning about how stainless steel degrades' in current reactors. In 2002, workers at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio discovered a football-size hole in the top of the steel housing containing the reactor. The corrosion was traced to dry boric acid that had collected atop the reactor vessel. A study later conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded that had the condition -- overlooked for six years -- gone unnoticed much longer, the hole would have opened wide enough to trigger a loss of coolant worse than Three Mile Island," Peter Spotts, Christian Science Monitor.

Jun 1:  Response of Andrew Siemaszko to NRC staff motion for delay of proceedings

WASHINGTON, DC -- "The Staff's action in proposing to prohibit Mr. Siemaszko's involvement in NRC-licensed activities is based on a convoluted attempt to portray Mr. Siemaszko as creating a deception to his own management about the existence of remaining boric acid, succeeding at it, and also thereby deceiving the NRC. This is not true. Moreover, the NRC Staff knows it is not true. Now, as of the April 21, 2005 decision, Mr. Siemaszko finds himself a target of a criminal proceeding and an action to bar him from working in the industry, without even knowing what evidence is being used against him. While the Order is allegedly not immediately effective, Mr. Siemaszko's reputation and his ability to obtain work in the industry has already been destroyed. The hearing requested by Mr. Siemaszko is critical to undoing the damage he has already suffered," Billie P. Garde, Counsel for Andrew Siemaszko.