|Other | Article published
Saturday, August 17, 2002|
NRC told: Let
new panel probe N-plant conditions
ALBANY, N.Y. - The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission should set up an independent unit, staffed by experts, to
investigate "off-normal ... conditions" at nuclear power plants
before problems occur, a representative of the New York State
attorney general urged in a letter to a task force investigating the
"We believe that the major corrosion hole
in the Davis-Besse nuclear plant’s pressure vessel in Ohio could
have been discovered much earlier if better procedures were in
place," wrote Peter Skinner, chief scientist of the New York
attorney general’s environmental protection bureau.
his state lies downwind from Ohio and "the potential impacts of a
vessel breach [are] so great," Mr. Skinner urged the commission "to
institute better preventative regulatory measures."
commission hearing Thursday in Chicago, Davis-Besse officials said
that plant operators in the 1990s justified potential safety
problems rather than assess and fix them. That led plant operators
to overlook boric-acid corrosion, which, when discovered in March,
had eaten a hole in the reactor vessel head. As a result, only a
3/8-inch-thick stainless steel lining covered the reactor
Mr. Skinner’s letter was addressed to the NRC’s
Lessons Learned Task Force, made up of commission officials not
previously involved with Davis-Besse. The task force is expected to
issue a report in September.
Arthur T. Howell III, head of
the task force and director of the division of reactor safety of
Region 4 in Arlington, Texas, could not be reached for
Mr. Skinner wrote that there was a large body of
evidence of a worsening corrosion problem at Davis-Besse but that it
was not fully investigated either by FirstEnergy, which operates the
plant near Oak Harbor, or the commission.
He wrote that the
commission should establish an independent unit in its inspector
general’s office, with authority "to investigate off-normal and
other conditions before accidents occur."
The office should
be staffed by qualified investigators, scientists, and engineers
"with sufficient authority to obtain necessary information and the
skills to ‘connect the dots.’" This investigative unit would target
and resolve problems at individual reactor sites, "the explanations
of which have eluded licensees."
Richard Wilkins, a
FirstEnergy spokesman, said he had not seen the letter and did not
comment on the specifics of Mr. Skinner’s