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Posted on Fri, Oct. 25, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Kucinich promises more questions
Congressman to probe alleged negligence at Davis-Besse plant

Beacon Journal business writer

Congressman Dennis Kucinich said he is only beginning to ask questions about how negligence by FirstEnergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission damaged the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.

The Lakewood Democrat, in a ``field briefing'' Thursday at Cleveland City Hall, asked the NRC if it will make available videotapes FirstEnergy made in 2000 at Davis-Besse.

The Akron utility videotaped the reactor vessel head then and gave the tape to the agency, saying it showed no damage or boric acid accumulation. Boric acid-created cavities were discovered on the vessel head during an inspection in March, while subsequent research showed the acid corrosion probably started in 1998 and possibly earlier.

While Kucinich said he wanted to see how investigations in Congress and by the NRC's inspector general's office play out, he did say further investigation will be needed. The congressman said his staff on Thursday had received a stack of NRC documents they had requested as part of their own inquiry into the Oak Harbor plant, about 25 miles east of Toledo.

The morning briefing in the City Council chamber involved a four-member panel made up of FirstEnergy lawyer George Edgar, NRC official Jack Grobe, watchdog group representative Paul Gunter and Ottawa County resident Howard Whitcomb, a former NRC inspector and Davis-Besse employee who has been a vocal Davis-Besse and NRC critic. The event attracted more than 50 people, including the participants and media.

``We're just at the beginning of these questions. Just the beginning,'' Kucinich said. ``The company acknowledges it was wrong. The NRC acknowledges that there have been shortcomings. And now we have to make sure that the system is changed in order to protect people's safety.''

Gunter, of the anti-nuclear watchdog group Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said while Davis-Besse's vessel head had a hole in it, the larger holes are in the credibility of FirstEnergy and the NRC.

FirstEnergy attorney, Edgar, said the utility won't seek approval to restart the plant until it is convinced Davis-Besse can operate safely and reliably. The company has said it hopes to restart the plant in early 2003.

Likewise, Grobe, chairman of the NRC panel overseeing the Davis-Besse restart efforts, said Davis-Besse will not be allowed to power up until his agency is convinced the plant will be safely repaired and operated.

``Safety is our only focus, and not schedule,'' he said.

Grobe said after the hearing the NRC has halted temporarily three of its own inspections of work being done at Davis-Besse. The inspections will be resumed at a later stage of the work, likely in several weeks, he said. ``It's not a big deal,'' he said.

Kucinich said he thought all four panel members were forthcoming.

``It's healthy when the company is willing to come forward in a public forum and answer questions, unrehearsed questions,'' he said. ``This is the beginning. And it's a good beginning. What it is all about is regaining public confidence.''


Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com
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