|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.
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.
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.