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NRC: Davis-Besse workers carry radioactive particles out of state

The Associated Press
4/17/02 7:40 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four workers from the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio carried radioactive particles on their clothing to a home, a hotel room and nuclear plants in other states, federal inspectors said.

The particles, which are too small to see, posed no health risks to the workers or the public, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigator Kenneth Riemer.

However, "You don't typically see something get out of a site and be picked up like that," he said.

Federal investigators reviewed safety procedures at the plant near Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks.

"The licensee is supposed to maintain control over radioactive material and there are indications that they may have been remiss and that's what we are looking into," he said.

Richard Wilkins, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., the plant's owner, said inspectors have tried to determine if the microscopic particles passed by the plant's monitors.

"We're not sure it did," Wilkins said. "We don't have any indication that it is necessarily from our plant."

Last month, four people working for outside contractors on a steam generator at the northwest Ohio plant, which has been shut down since February, carried 13 radioactive particles to three states.

Davis-Besse officials were notified on March 22 by officials at Duke Energy Corp.'s Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca, S.C., that radioactive particles were found on the sleeve of a worker entering the plant.

An investigation by Davis-Besse that was forwarded to the NRC on Friday indicated that additional particles were found on clothing left at a South Carolina hotel and at a worker's home in Virginia.

Riemer said another particle was found on the shoe of a fourth worker who left Davis-Besse and traveled to TXU Corp.'s Comanche Peak power plant near Fort Worth, Texas.

The plant sent inspectors to the workers' homes and found that there was no danger, Wilkins said.

He said the plant's procedures for monitoring radioactive material are standard for the industry and that finding microscopic particles is not unusual, especially during refueling.

Workers typically wear protective clothing while at nuclear plants, then remove their suits in a safe area where they are screened to make sure radioactive particles do not escape the plants.

Environmentalists and nuclear watchdog groups say there's no way to know whether there still are some particles outside the plant.

"What they found was 13 particles that escaped. What we don't know is how many particles they didn't find that also escaped," said Shari Weir of Ohio Citizen Action.

Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer for the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said such situations happen about once every two to three years.

"For radioactive particles to be on their own clothing, they either entered the contaminated zone with improper protection or the radioactive particles got into allegedly non-contaminated zones," he said.

Dricks said Lochbaum's estimate was accurate and described the incident as "unusual but not unique."

Federal inspectors planned to review the screening process at Davis-Besse and the plant's response to the discovery of radioactive particles outside the plant. It was unclear how long the review would take.

Also last month, inspectors found that leaks had allowed boric acid to eat a 7-inch wide hole almost through the 6-inch thick steel cap that covers the Davis-Besse plant's reactor vessel.

"They should have been on the highest alert for safety measures," said Christine Patronik-Holder of Safe Energy Communication Council, a Washington-based nuclear watchdog group.

"It certainly says to me that this is a company that is not paying enough attention to the very grave responsibility they have for safety."


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