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Hagan fires nuke at Taft

10/15/02

John Funk and John Mangels
Plain Dealer Reporters

The nearly football-size rust hole in the lid of the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor became a political football yesterday.

Gov. Bob Taft dropped that ball long ago, said his Democratic challenger, Tim Hagan. That's because Taft has not used his office to make it clear that the state will not allow plant operator FirstEnergy Corp. - or federal regulators - to put the public in jeopardy in the push to repair and restart the damaged reactor, Hagan said.

A Taft spokesman said the governor has been keeping close watch on the situation at Davis-Besse.

Hagan said FirstEnergy's record at Davis-Besse shows it cannot be trusted.

And now that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has admitted it did not do a good job monitoring the plant, the public is vulnerable, he said.

"Who is minding the store?" Hagan said in an interview after holding a news conference near the Toledo-area plant.

"The state and the governor should hold them both accountable. The governor has the ability, if health and safety are jeopardized, to shut down the plant and tell them to go to court if they don't like it," he said.

The last time there was a major problem at Davis-Besse - a cooling system failure in 1985 brought the reactor to within two hours of core damage - the administration of Gov. Richard Celeste was heavily involved in the aftermath. Among other activities, the state attorney general fought to delay Davis-Besse's restart because of the Celeste administration's concern that the NRC's and Toledo Edison's evacuation plans for residents were inadequate.

Hagan said campaign contributions have silenced the governor. "Bob Taft is unwilling to speak out because he has received thousands of dollars [in donations] from FirstEnergy," he charged.

"Ludicrous!" shot back Taft campaign spokesman Orest Holubec.

"To suggest that the governor put the safety of Ohioans behind campaign contributions is nothing more than a campaign stunt 20 days before the election," he said.

An analysis of state campaign contribution records from 1997 to 2000 by Ohio Citizen Action showed that FirstEnergy's political action committees, employees, board members and lobbyists contributed $30,650 to Taft, said Catherine Turcer, the group's campaign reform director.

Holubec said Taft is confident that the NRC will not allow the plant to restart until it is safe. The Ohio Emergency Management Agency keeps abreast of developments at the plant, said Taft spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey.

"They don't have oversight at the plant, but nevertheless they are kept up to date," said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider.

While the state does not have a representative on a committee that the company formed to determine whether the reactor is safe to restart, members of the Ohio Emergency Management staff have been included on the NRC inspection teams.

Taft also has been monitoring the situation through Alan Schrieber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Holubec said.

Schrieber said he requested and got a tour of the reactor's containment building last week because he has been fielding so many questions about it.

"This [repair and restart] is not really our thing," Schrieber said. "Ours is economics. Safety is the NRC thing, and they are on site. All I know is that the stockholders, not the rate payers, will be paying for this."

To reach these Plain Dealer reporters:

jfunk@plaind.com, 216-999-4138

jmangels@plaind.com, 216-999-4842


2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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