| Article published Thursday, April 18, 2002|
PARTICLE IN PORT CLINTON HOTEL
Radiation found on 4 workers
Escape of particles from facility
By TOM HENRY
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is
investigating how four contract workers left FirstEnergy Corp.ís
Davis-Besse nuclear plant with radioactive particles on their
The probe into last monthís discovery occurs less
than a week after top company leaders went to Washington in hopes of
winning back confidence of high-level government officials concerned
about problems at the Ottawa County plant.
that stuck to the men have been found at various locations in Ohio,
South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas, including one hotel or motel in
Port Clinton and a condominium there, said Victor Dricks, spokesman
for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissionís headquarters in
While none of the radiation involved appears
to be any more threatening than a typical dental X-ray, the NRC is
concerned "because the circumstances suggest a loss of control of
licensed material," Mr. Dricks said.
The agency on Tuesday
classified the event as an "unusual occurrence" and sent a health
physicist from its Midwest regional office in a Chicago suburb to
Davis-Besse to investigate screening procedures.
typically see something get out of a site and be picked up like
that," Kenneth Riemer of the NRCís reactor safety division
Officials from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and
the Ohio Department of Health have gone to the nuclear plant to
observe the inspection.
Workers are screened for radioactive
particles whenever they finish shifts in the containment area of
nuclear plants and are not allowed to leave until all traces of such
material are removed. That procedure is done as a
The particles in question had a mix of niobium,
zirconium, ruthenium, and cerium. Each are capable of emitting up to
6 millirems of radiation into human tissue over 24 hours, assuming
the particle is not brushed, knocked, or washed from skin during
that time, Mr. Dricks said.
Thatís 6 percent of the
100-millirem dosage the government has set as the annual maximum
exposure limit from background radiation sources, Mr. Dricks
Each dental X-ray emits about 10 millirems. Some
medical X-rays emit as much as 40 millirems, Jay Carey, Ohio
Department of Health spokesman, said.
All 13 particles that
were identified were recovered and will be disposed of with other
low-level radioactive material, Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy
Neither the NRC nor the utility would
identify the Port Clinton locations where the particles were found.
They would not disclose identities of the men, other than to say
they were contract workers who travel around the country and who did
some maintenance on Davis-Besseís steam generator.
came to FirstEnergyís attention on March 22, when particles were
found on three of those four men as they were screened upon arrival
for work at Duke Energy Corp.ís Oconee nuclear power complex in
South Carolina. The fourth man with contaminated clothing was en
route to a job at the Comanche Peak nuclear complex in Texas,
operated by TXU Electric Co.
dispatched its own inspectors on a multistate search for the
particles, while not revealing the information - something that has
upset some Ohio government officials.
At least one particle
was found in a motel or hotel in South Carolina where three of the
men had been staying. Three particles were found at a private
residence in Lynchburg, Va. Locations for other particles included a
noncontainment area of Davis-Besse plus the Oconee and Comanche
sites, Mr. Dricks said.
FirstEnergy verified all four workers
had been at Davis-Besse before leaving for jobs in South Carolina
and Texas but does not admit Davis-Besse is the source for the
Thatís because the clothing those workers wore was
not believed to have been taken inside Davis-Besseís containment
area, from which the particles most likely would have been picked
up. Those workers used lockers in another part of the plant and had
no traces of contamination on protective gear when they suited up
prior to entering the containment area, according to Mr.
"The clothing that was found [in South Carolina] did
not come into the plant [Davis-Besse]," Mr. Wilkins
"Weíre not saying it [the particles] didnít come from
Davis-Besse," he emphasized. "Weíre saying we donít know where it
The Ohio EMA and state health department said
they were notified about the stray particles Monday, more than three
weeks after FirstEnergy learned about them from the South Carolina
"Weíre concerned with the delay in notification,"
said Dick Kimmins, an Ohio EMA spokesman who described the oversight
as "a big deal" to his agency.
Mr. Kimmins said the public
has a "justifiable concern with this."
concerned with how it could have occurred in the first place. Weíre
aware of peoplesí concerns, especially given the recent problems at
Davis-Besse," he said.
Corrosion on top of Davis-Besseís
nuclear reactor head discovered last month was described by
government regulators as the worst of its kind ever found in the
Five of 69 reactor nozzles developed cracks
over the years, one of which allowed boric acid to leak out and burn
through the top six inches of the steel lid. The only thing that
prevented a hole that would have allowed radioactive steam to be
released into the containment structure was a swath of stainless
steel that is only three-eighths of an inch thick.
Kaptur (D., Toledo) called for the plantís shutdown.
Taft is reserving comment until the NRC completes its investigation.
But the governorís press secretary, Joe Andrews, said Mr. Taft is
not completely satisfied with how things transpired.
should have been notified," Mr. Andrews said.
officials spoke with the governorís office this week, and notified
the state EMA and health department as a "courtesy," Mr. Wilkins
He said the utility did not notify state officials
sooner because it did not feel obligated. "There was no risk to
public health or safety here," Mr. Wilkins said. "If this had been a
risk, theyíd have known about it immediately."
federal investigation occurs less than a week after an April 10
meeting at the NRC headquarters, in which FirstEnergy had its top
executives and engineers make the firmís first formal pitch to fix
Davis-Besseís corroded reactor head. The NRC is still weeks away
from deciding whether it will allow the utility to make an estimated
$16 million of repairs, a project that would be the largest of its
kind ever attempted on an in-service nuclear
Anti-nuclear activists said the revelation about the
workers unknowingly carrying radiation particles off site is
stunning, given the intense scrutiny Davis-Besse has been under
since the corrosion issue triggered an investigation. In addition to
sending an inspection team to Davis-Besse, the NRC ordered all 68
other nuclear plants with pressurized water reactors to turn over
their inspection records immediately.
"Even in this time of
high-crisis investigation, Davis-Besse is not paying attention to
some of the most basic regulations. Itís appalling," said Christine
Patronik-Holder of the Safe Energy Communication
"Itís a breakdown of the radiation protection
system, which is a very serious breach in both worker and community
safety. Itís another reason why the plant should not be reopened,"
said Shari Weir, spokeswoman for Ohio Citizen
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