It probably would be easier to simply shut Davis-Besse down
than try to convert it to another fuel source.
Ohio Citizen Action this week came out with an idea for the
future of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.
The activist group has been highly critical of Davis-Besse,
especially over the past few months as the nuclear plant and its
owner, FirstEnergy, have grappled with unprecedented corrosion that
nearly ate through the plant's reactor head.
It's an extremely serious situation that has attracted the
attention of multiple investigations -- of the operation of the
plant, of the corporate oversight of the plant operators and of the
federal agency charged with making sure the plant is operated
In a nutshell, Citizen Action says, hey, if the nuclear side of
the plant isn't going right, just turn Davis-Besse into a coal- or
gas-fired plant. We hope that Citizen Action understands the
complexity of that idea, but the group certainly made it sound
simple in its announcement this week.
The problem is that it's far from simple. In fact, it probably
would be easier to simply shut Davis-Besse down and build a brand
new plant fueled by some other source. We suspect that's really what
Citizen Action wants.
We, too, have been critical of Davis-Besse's operators and
FirstEnergy as a result of the corrosion problem. A football-sized
chunk of carbon steel wasted away under an assault by boric acid
that leaked from the reactor vessel. Only a thin layer of stainless
steel kept highly radioactive water from pouring out of the core,
possibly leading to a much more serious accident. Subsequent
investigation showed the stainless steel may have been giving way to
the intense heat and pressure in the vessel.
We may never know just how close we came to a major accident at
Davis-Besse, but we do know that the plant's operators were more
concerned about production than safety, and we know that the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission inspectors weren't paying close attention. We
know that because FirstEnergy and the NRC have acknowledged their
Davis-Besse and FirstEnergy has been working to put its house
back in order, and it must continue to do so before the plant is
allowed to go back into operation. The NRC must be more vigilant,
and it must not allow Davis-Besse to restart until it is assured
that FirstEnergy can competently operate a nuclear plant.
But converting a nuclear plant to another fuel source isn't the
answer. It would be quicker and probably less expensive simply to
build new. The decontamination of the plant would take years, and
that would have to happen before coal- or gas-fired boilers could be
installed. In the meantime, those who depend on Davis-Besse -- and
FirstEnergy -- for electricity wouldn't have that power source.
Eventually, Davis-Besse will have to be shut down and
decommissioned. If the NRC doesn't like the answers it gets from
FirstEnergy, it could come sooner rather than later. But if it's
later, FirstEnergy will be able to plan for the loss of
Davis-Besse's power. Converting the plant shouldn't be in the plans
Originally published Friday, October 4, 2002