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Saturday, May 18, 2002

Gillmor wants D-B probe

Congressional committee to send investigators to nuclear plant

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A congressional committee will send investigators next week to the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio, where an acid leak burned a hole in the reactor cap.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin said he called for the review so lawmakers could get a firsthand account of the damage.

"Public confidence in the safety of nuclear energy is critically important to our long-range energy needs," said Tauzin, R-La.

Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, said Friday the investigators will help lawmakers determine why the damage wasn't discovered earlier and what should be done to keep nuclear energy safe.

In March, inspectors found leaks in reactor nozzles had allowed boric acid to eat a hole in the 6-inch thick steel cap that covers the plant's reactor vessel. It's the most extensive corrosion ever found on top of a U.S. nuclear plant reactor.

"We want to make sure that whatever problems that are taking place at Davis-Besse don't happen at other plants," said Gillmor, a Republican whose northwest Ohio district includes the plant along Lake Erie.

An industrywide review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the 68 other nuclear plants with similar designs and conditions has reported nothing similar to what led to the corrosion at Davis-Besse.

Two staff members from the committee will visit the plant on Tuesday and meet with NRC officials and representatives from FirstEnergy Corp., which runs the plant located about 25 miles east of Toledo, Ohio.

Gillmor said the committee will then decide whether it should hold a hearing on the topic and what, if any, legislation is

needed to safeguard the nuclear industry.

A spokesman for the Senate committee that oversees NRC operations said the panel wasn't planning its own investigation.

FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins said Friday the company welcomes congressional investigations.

"The more people like this that go through the plant and get their questions answered, the better," he said.

The congressional probe comes as Reps. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Edward Markey, D-Mass., are calling on the NRC to answer questions about the damage.

Environmental and nuclear activists also have asked federal regulators for an independent review of the damage at the 25-year-old plant.

The NRC plans to answer Kaptur and Markey's questions by next month and has not yet made a decision on the request for an independent review of the plant, agency spokesman Jan Strasma said.

He said the agency was expected this week to begin an internal review of the agency's regulatory requirements and performance during the Davis-Besse investigation.

The plant was shut down in February for refueling and isn't expected to be restarted until September. The NRC must first approve the company's proposal for repairing the reactor head.