Microscopic amounts of radioactive fuel particles were found on
four people who worked inside FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear
plant in March, leading Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials
yesterday to say the agency is concerned by the discovery but
doesn't believe there is a public safety threat.
The NRC this week dispatched three inspectors to Davis-Besse,
along the Lake Erie shorefront in Northwest Ohio, to determine where
the radioactive particles came from. The 13 particles that were
found emitted radiation at nearly undetectable levels -- far, far
less than a person would get from a typical chest X-ray, an NRC
Even so, the particles never should have left the confines of the
power plant if that's where they originated, the official said.
``It is unusual in our eyes,'' said Kenneth Riemer, branch chief
in the division of reactor safety at NRC's Chicago regional office.
``You would normally not expect to see these particles outside the
plant. It caught our attention. It definitely piqued our interest
enough to send out inspectors.''
FirstEnergy said it has since added to its screening procedures
at Davis-Besse to better ensure that anyone contaminated with
radioactive particles is detected before they leave the
The contamination is not related to the damaged Davis-Besse
reactor vessel head, where acid created two cavities on top of the
150-ton steel dome safety device, officials said. The plant was shut
down in mid-February for refueling, and has stayed closed after the
vessel head damage was discovered in March.
It's possible that the particles did not originate within
Davis-Besse, FirstEnergy and the NRC said, though one nuclear power
critic thought that to be unlikely. The workers, who were hired
under contract for Davis-Besse's refueling outage, arrived at the
Oak Harbor site from three different nuclear plants and another
The discovery of the radiation originated with Duke Energy's
Oconee Unit 1 nuclear plant in South Carolina. Monitors there on
March 22 detected radiation on the sleeve of one man who had left
Davis-Besse to work at Oconee Unit 1. The plant then notified
FirstEnergy and the NRC about the radiation, a Duke spokesman
FirstEnergy's investigation subsequently found more radioactive
particles on the workers, in their vehicles and where they stayed in
hotels near Davis-Besse in Port Clinton, and in Texas, Virginia and
South Carolina, the NRC said. Two of the particles were found at
The four workers had all been working on the Davis-Besse steam
generator, which transfers heat from the radioactive fuel core to a
secondary steam system that in turn drives a turbine to make
electricity. The area is highly radioactive -- the workers can stay
there for no more than two minutes.
The amount of radiation from the particles amounts to .002
millirems per hour, FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said. That
extremely low level of radioactivity does not need to be reported to
the NRC, he said.
``If you put all (13) of those on the tip of a pen, you couldn't
see them. They are nothing to be alarmed about,'' he said. ``There's
no health impact.''
FirstEnergy's investigation found one particle in each of the
workers' temporary living quarters, Schneider said. FirstEnergy used
monitoring equipment that went over a 2-inch-square area at a time,
he said. The radioactive particles were removed using a piece of
tape, which was then brought back inside Davis-Besse, he said.
Preliminary findings show that the four workers should suffer no
health problems from being exposed to the particles, the NRC
The particles probably came from small leaks of reactor coolant
at the steam generator, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. The
particles can become electrically charged and then stick to the
clothing of anyone working nearby, he said.
Schneider said Davis-Besse monitors detected similar small
amounts of radioactive particles on two other contracted workers
when they initially checked in at the plant for the current
refueling. The workers had arrived from another plant, he said.
Davis-Besse notified the other plant -- Schneider said he didn't
know which plant -- of the radiation.
Shari Weir of Ohio Citizen Action said Ohio residents need to be
concerned about the incident.
``It appears there was a breakdown of radiation protection,'' she
said. ``The bottom line is, public safety is at risk and worker
safety is at risk. I would hope this is unusual. The community at
large was being exposed.''
David Lochbaum, nuclear power expert for the Union of Concerned
Scientists, said it appeared that FirstEnergy and the NRC were doing
the right thing in investigating how the radiation got out and
sharing their findings with the industry.
``It's not the first time and it probably won't be the last'' for
this type of incident, he said. ``Nobody's happy when it
FirstEnergy stock closed down 8 cents to $32.91.
FirstEnergy finishes damage report
FirstEnergy may have its final report ready today for federal
regulators showing how boric acid damaged a key safety component in
its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.
In addition, the Akron utility may submit its final repair plans
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the end of next week,
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said yesterday. Either report
could be pushed back to other dates, he said.
FirstEnergy has given the NRC a preliminary report showing how it
believes boric acid leaked on the reactor vessel head and created
two cavities on top of the steel structure. It also met with the NRC
last week when it presented its initial repair plans. The company
estimates repairs will cost at least $16 million and take as long as
four weeks to complete.