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October 31, 2002

 



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Local Companies | Article published October 31, 2002
DAVIS-BESSE
Nuclear plants told to give up more data
NRC plans directive with tougher code

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Dissatisfied with the response from the nation's 68 other pressurized-water nuclear plants about potential corrosion damage like that which shut down the Davis-Besse plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will issue a directive next week demanding they give more detailed information.

The pending directive will affect two-thirds of America's 103 nuclear power plants. The other 34 plants, including Detroit Edison Co.'s Fermi II plant in Monroe County, have boiling-water reactors.
Pressurized-water reactors are the focus of the directive because - unlike boiling-water reactors - boron is added to help operators keep the nuclear reaction under control.

Leaks that went undetected for years around some 69 nozzle openings atop Davis-Besse's 80-ton reactor lid allowed boric acid to escape onto the lid, eventually eating a 7-inch long by 6-inch wide hole through six inches of carbon steel. The leak occurred much the same way pop sometimes escapes out of the straw hole in a plastic drink cup lid, only with far more serious consequences.

Only a thin layer of stainless steel about a quarter-inch thick prevented radioactive steam from bursting out of the pressurized reactor into the concrete containment building - the public's last line of protection.

Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman, said that the agency has enough information to stand behind its assertion that no other plant has a rust problem that rivals the one at Davis-Besse.

However, the NRC will tell utilities in its directive that it believes a comprehensive boric acid corrosion control program is needed that would exceed American Society of Mechanical Engineers code requirements under which plants now operate.

Asked by The Blade whether the NRC believes the codes are now insufficient to deal with the corrosion problem discovered at Davis-Besse, Mr. Dricks declined comment.

The NRC has known of the corrosive side-effects of boric acid since at least 1988, prompting nationwide warnings in the past. The agency has accused FirstEnergy of not heeding those warnings and compromising safety.

Days after the corrosion problem at Davis-Besse was revealed, the NRC required all 68 other plants with pressurized-water reactors to provide status reports on their own boric acid corrosion-control programs. Such programs are not limited to reactor heads.

The initial responses convinced the NRC there is not another problem of Davis-Besse's magnitude, but technical follow-up information was largely lacking, Mr. Dricks said.

Earlier this month, an NRC panel called the "Lessons Learned Task Force" issued a 96-page report that said the agency's oversight at Davis-Besse has been lax and that regulators historically have been too quick to accept industry positions on matters such as boric acid corrosion.

Mr. Dricks yesterday would not comment about specific points raised by that task force. But he acknowledged its overall findings - plus a deeper understanding of Davis-Besse's problems - led to the upcoming directive.

Paul Gunter, spokesman for a national citizens group called the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said Davis-Besse has magnified the "underlying gullibility of the NRC to accept industry assumptions."

He said FirstEnergy's admission that it turned over inspection records that were incomplete and inaccurate "shook" the NRC. "The Davis-Besse event undermined the agency confidence in industry reporting," Mr. Gunter said.

Steve Kerekes, spokesman for the nuclear industry's chief lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Davis-Besse is an "extreme example of an issue that the industry has given attention to for a long time."


More articles on this subject »
Expert wonders if rust unique to Davis-Besse 10/31/2002
Kucinich vows to put nuclear plant to test 10/25/2002
Davis-Besse worker sues over suspension 10/23/2002
FirstEnergy pledges to pay down debts 10/22/2002
Citizens’ appeal rejected by NRC 10/22/2002

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