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October 04, 2002

 



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Local Companies | Article published October 4, 2002
DAVIS-BESSE
Inspectors hint at 10 violations for plant

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday specified 10 federal violations it likely will issue against FirstEnergy Corp. for letting rust nearly eat a hole through the reactor head at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

Some of the violations contain multiple allegations of wrongdoing. All are documented in a 33-page report written by the NRCís augmented inspection team, the first group of inspectors the government agency sent to Davis-Besse after the company reported the plantís massive reactor-head problem in early March.

(For more Davis-Besse coverage, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse)

That inspection team briefed the public about its preliminary findings in April before returning to the nuclear plant to deepen its probe and decide which violations should be filed. The report, provided to the utility Tuesday, was made public yesterday.

Violations included allegations that FirstEnergy:

  • Operated Davis-Besse while the plantís reactor coolant system was leaking and that the utility failed to remove highly corrosive boric acid crystals as they built up over time on the plantís steel reactor head.

  • Failed to keep airborne boric acid from building up on containment air cooler fins, which reduced the plantís heat removal capability and reduced the coolerís air flow, and that it failed to take action that would have kept air filters from clogging so often.

  • Nixed a simple modification that could have prevented the degradation by vastly improving visual access to the reactor head, a $250,000 work order the company has admitted it stopped as a cost-saving measure.

  • Has provided incomplete and inaccurate information to the NRC on several occasions.

    The severity of each allegation is still being determined, although nearly every violation cited in the inspection teamís report was listed as "more than minor."

    No word on a fine or other enforcement action is expected until early next year, in part because the identified violations are still subject to more layers of review.

    Davis-Besseís steel reactor head became so affected by rust that several NRC officials have conceded northwest Ohio came about as close to experiencing a nuclear mishap as anything the nation has seen since the Three Mile Island accident near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979.

    FirstEnergy officials have acknowledged for months they expect fines or other enforcement action to eventually be handed down for their neglect of the plant, although they remain optimistic about finishing repairs and getting NRC approval to restart the plant by early December.

    Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy spokesman, said yesterday the latest NRC report was "pretty consistent with our own findings" and said it should not alter the companyís timetable.

    The findings will be used as a basis for determining the penalty, as will any violations which the NRCís Office of Investigations might formally cite the company later in a separate report.

    Those investigators are looking for evidence that could show whether the plantís history of neglect resulted from anything willful or deliberate, Jan Strasma, NRC spokesman, said.

    The agency likely will hold off on the penalty until both reports are finished, Mr. Strasma said. "We wonít be taking piecemeal enforcement," he said.

    (For more Davis-Besse coverage, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse)



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