Companies | Article published October 10, 2002|
LESSONS LEARNED TASK FORCE
NRC officials admit own failure with Davis-Besse
Agency cites distraction, poor
The task force was convened in response to the
unprecedented rust problem at Davis-Besse.
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission acknowledged yesterday that it failed to properly inspect
FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant and that contributed
to the worst reactor-head corrosion ever in the United
In a 96-page report, a panel of NRC officials called
the "Lessons Learned Task Force" documented how the government
agency and the nuclear industry knew for at least a decade that many
of the nation's nuclear plants have had the potential for the same
type of problem found at Davis-Besse on March 5.
regulatory commission has done little to address those concerns
beyond issuing nationwide warning letters, in part because the
agency erroneously accepted the nuclear industry's argument that any
corrosion induced by tiny reactor-head nozzle leaks would be
discovered before they ate through the reactor head.
accepted industry positions regarding the nature and significance of
VHP [vessel-head penetration] nozzle cracking without having
independently verified a number of key assumptions, including the
implementation effectiveness of boric acid corrosion control
programs and enhanced visual inspections of RPV [reactor-pressure
vessel] heads," the report said.
of the commission's Midwest regional office in Lisle, Ill., where
Davis-Besse inspectors report, allowed themselves to become too
distracted by activities at other plants to diagnose Davis-Besse's
problem, the report said.
|WHAT WAS LEARNED|
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission
panel documented how the NRC and the nuclear
industry knew that many of the nation's nuclear
plants have the potential for the same type of
reactor-head corrosion found at Davis-Besse and
acknowledged that it failed to properly inspect
the nuclear plant.|
Managers of the NRC's Midwest
regional office allowed themselves to become too
distracted by activities at other plants to
diagnose Davis-Besse's far-reaching
The agency erroneously accepted
the nuclear industry's argument that any corrosion
induced by tiny reactor-head nozzle leaks would be
before they ate through
"If focused inspections had been
performed, then the NRC may have ultimately discovered the VHP
nozzle leaks and RPV head degradation," it said.
force - composed of commission officials from outside the Midwest -
was convened in response to the unprecedented rust problem at
Davis-Besse, where boric acid from the reactor leaked through
cracked nozzles for years without being fixed.
The acid ate a
footprint-shaped cavity through one section of six-inch-thick carbon
steel, leaving nothing but a thin liner of stainless steel which had
started to crack and bulge.
The state of disrepair put
Northwest Ohio fractions of an inch away from having pressurized
radioactive steam inside the reactor burst through the head and into
the reactor containment building - the plant's last line of
protection for the public. High-ranking regulatory commission
officials have described the Davis-Besse problem as the nation's
most chilling scenario with a nuclear plant since the Three Mile
Island accident near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979.
recommendations have been forwarded to the NRC headquarters for
review by a senior management team. By late November, that review
team is expected to decide which recommendations should be forwarded
to the commission's executive director of operations for
FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins had little to
say about the report, noting that he had expected the commission to
do a tough self-assessment.
"Based on what I have seen,
they've kept their word on that," he said.
director of engineering for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy
Institute, the industry's powerful lobbying group, told The Blade
yesterday that the problems identified by the task force "were
probably on the mark."
A former NRC commissioner, Victor
Glinksy, last spring accused the energy institute of being notably
silent on the problems at Davis-Besse, located 25 miles east of
Mr. Marion pointed out that the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission had concluded last spring that no other nuclear plants
likely have the degree of reactor-head corrosion as Davis-Besse,
based on inspection records and responses to a detailed government
survey. The NEI came up with similar results, based on a less formal
query of its own.
Mr. Marion said he remains convinced the
problems at Davis-Besse are an anomaly and that inspections and
camera monitoring at other plants is sufficient.
confident other utilities are doing [a combination of inspections]
in an effective manner," he said.
Paul Gunter of the Nuclear
Information and Resource Service, a national activist group, said he
was dismayed the task force did not focus more attention on a
decision last fall in which Samuel J. Collins, NRC director of
nuclear reactor regulation, overruled a staff recommendation to shut
down Davis-Besse by Dec. 31.
NRC staffers suspected that
Davis-Besse's cracked reactor-head nozzles might be evolving into a
more significant problem, but their shutdown recommendation was
nixed by Mr. Collins without explanation. Instead - after hearing a
FirstEnergy executive privately explain the extensive financial
hardship the company would incur from such an order - Mr. Collins
allowed Davis-Besse to continue operating until Feb. 16, according
to internal NRC memos obtained by the activist group.
Regulatory Commission officials have said on behalf of Mr. Collins
that the financial hardship did not factor into the decision to let
Davis-Besse keep operating until shutting down for refueling on Feb.
"I think that's the prime lesson this agency needs to
learn - how the senior management overrules its staff
determinations," Mr. Gunter said.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear
safety engineer with the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists,
agreed. However, Mr. Lochbaum said he was impressed by the breadth
of the task force's report.
"It's pretty thorough. It covers
a lot of ground," he said.
For earlier stories on
Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse.
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