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Sunday,
September 15, 2002

 



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Editorials | Article published Sunday, September 15, 2002
Davis-Besse, bad to worse

If it weren’t for bad news, there’d be no news at all coming out of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor. It was troubling enough when investigators found a huge, corroded hole in the plant’s reactor head. Now they say that the stainless steel liner - the last barrier between the reactor’s high-pressure coolant and the containment building that protects the public - had worn thinner than previously believed.

New analysis of the liner, which was supposedly three-eighths of an inch thick, shows it was significantly thinner in the most corroded parts of the reactor head - nearly 50 percent thinner in one location - and had begun to exhibit hairline cracks in several places. The finding raises critical questions about the strength of the integral barrier along with serious doubt about how long it could have withstood the reactor’s operating pressures.

That is key to determining how close Davis-Besse was to a serious nuclear accident.

The reactor’s corrosive coolant leaked on the lid undetected until workers discovered the boric acid had eaten through six inches of carbon steel on the reactor head.

Worse still is the fear that the crucial protective layer of stainless steel on the reactor head may have been likewise affected by the leak.

FirstEnergy has maintained Davis-Besse was not close to a major accident because the liner was strong enough to keep acid away from the reactor vessel. That may have to be revisited with the latest revelations about cracks and corrosion.

Only after northwest Ohio learns to what extent its safety was in jeopardy when Davis-Besse was operating last year can the Nuclear Regulatory Commission act on the plant’s future and dictate appropriate penalties.

But it is abundantly clear with the continuing investigations of plant operations that a dangerous dereliction of official duty led to unacceptable risks of harm.



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