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October 02, 2002


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Local Companies | Article published October 2, 2002
Feds test Davis-Besse contractors
Exposure levels are questioned


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent inspectors to the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant to find out how much radiation exposure was received by some contractors who accidentally carried tiny radioactive particles out of the plant on their clothes.

A team of six NRC inspectors are at the plant doing their own testing and analysis because the agency came up with a different level of radiation exposure for the workers than the one reported by Davis-Besse.

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

"We have [radiation exposure] estimates, and so does Davis-Besse," said NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng. "It’s not that they are higher. It’s that they are different.

"It’s not gelling together. Unlike a hole in the reactor head, you can’t see it."

The NRC did determine some of the contractors working at the plant’s steam generators in February inhaled radioactive particles, but the amount of exposure isn’t known yet. Ms. Mitlyng said any inhaled particles would have been very small, with a low amount of radioactivity. The agency used fecal and urine samples to find out the contractors had inhaled the particles.

The contractors unknowingly carried tiny radioactive particles on their clothes off the site. Low levels of contamination showed up in Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

The NRC has been investigating why the radioactive particles were not detected, and yesterday the agency announced it was expanding the investigation to determine for sure the amount of worker radiation exposure.

Certain workers were screened for whole body counts of radiation, but the equipment that was used was not set correctly to detect the radioactive isotopes found in the type of particles that stuck to those workers’ clothing. Seven workers were found to have carried the particles off the site.

Todd Schneider, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., parent company of Davis-Besse, said the firm sent samples to a lab last month. Results came back showing radiation exposure to the workers was higher than the level allowed by federal regulators. But he said that was because the sample was flawed, which was evident because only one isotope had an elevated radiation level, when officials expected other isotopes to be elevated too.

A second sample was sent to the lab and showed there was no overexposure, Mr. Schneider said. A third sample was sent to the lab this week. "We do not believe there was overexposure. ... The third set of tests will show that," he said. "We sent the flawed test results to the NRC and explained that they were flawed."

Mr. Schneider noted that the contractors went into the steam generator without respirators so they could work faster and have less exposure. It is reasonable, he said, that they would inhale tiny radioactive particles.

Ms. Mitlyng said a lot of factors go into determining estimated levels of exposures for the workers, so it’s easy to get different results. But the NRC wants to do its own analysis because the agency, the company, and a lab hired to study the levels all came up with different numbers.

The investigation comes at a time when Davis-Besse is trying to get ready to restart. The plant, located about 25 miles east of Toledo, has been shut down since February for refueling. In March, workers found a football-sized hold in the carbon steel reactor head.

Investigators determined that the corrosion was caused by boric acid - an important component in controlling the nuclear process - that leaked from cracked nozzles onto the head. Plant officials made major management changes and bought a replacement reactor head. The NRC is investigating what went wrong at the plant.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists, said the only effect the investigation might have on the plant’s restart is that it could slow down some jobs because workers are being especially careful with radiation exposure. "They don’t want to have to explain anything else," he said.

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

More articles on this subject
Nuclear plant cited by regulators for violating procedures 09/24/2002
Changes, dismissals occur at Davis-Besse 09/20/2002
Operators quizzed on reactor oversight 09/19/2002
Utility aims for Davis-Besse restart this year 09/18/2002
Power plant to install new reactor heads as precaution 09/14/2002

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