OAK HARBOR -- Workers at Davis-Besse Nuclear
Power Station should have seen the symptoms of corrosion problems at
least four years ago, according to a preliminary federal report
The energy company missed a number of opportunities to spot acid
that ate through 6 inches of a steel cap on the plant's reactor,
said Jack Grobe, who is one of several Nuclear Regulatory Commission
members in town Friday for a public meeting with the operators of
Davis-Besse, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company.
The meeting became contentious at times, with protesters hooting
and shouting out comments like "shut it down," and holding up signs
during statements from NRC and FirstEnergy officials.
The NRC called the meeting to present its initial findings from a
special inspection team sent to the plant at the beginning of March
to review the corrosion problem.
FENOC Vice President Howard Bergendahl admitted to NRC officials
and more than 300 visitors that FirstEnergy "could have and should
found it in previous inspections."
"We believed it to be from other sources and we were mistaken,"
Bergendahl said. "The condition found was unexpected, but it is our
responsibility to expect the unexpected, and we did not do so in
NRC officials explained the corrosion problem in detail, as well
as the missed opportunities that led to nearly 35 pounds of steel
being eaten away from the reactor head. Only a 3/8-inch thick
stainless steel layer impervious to boric acid stopped the
"Had it been pursued vigorously it could have been identified
early so it wouldn't have become an issue," Grobe said. "This
problem would have been prevented."
NRC officials cautioned, however, that there are three barriers
to prevent a release of the low level radioactive coolant water, and
none of the barriers were actually breached. Therefore, the
corrosion problem posed no significant public health risk.
One of the tell tale signs, in hindsight, were radiation air
filters in the containment area that were getting clogged with boric
acid deposits back in 1999.
Boric acid is used in the cooling water to diffuse the nuclear
reaction process, and it had been leaking out onto the reactor head.
While officials knew there was boric acid deposits caking the
reactor head (to the point that crowbars and hot water were used to
chip the deposits off the head), they thought the source was
something else -- not a crack in one of the nozzles that protrude
from the top of the reactor head.
The filters began to clog more frequently, NRC officials said,
and Davis-Besse workers went from changing them monthly to every
"This was a missed opportunity to identify leakage in the reactor
head," said Mel Holmberg, a senior metallurgical engineer for the
Davis-Besse officials also dropped the ball when it came to a
1990 modification to improve access to the reactor head, NRC
Plant officials decided almost 12 years ago to modify the reactor
head to allow greater accessibility to clean and inspect areas that
are currently impossible to see and nearly impossible to maintain.
That modification, said NRC spokesman Jan Strasma, was pushed
back during each routine outage since then and has never been
With that modification, Davis-Besse workers would have been able
to spot the corrosion symptoms long before now, he said.
FirstEnergy officials are hoping to present a repair plan to the
NRC for approval, and weld stainless steel to block off the corroded
The company also plans to replace the reactor head in 2004 with a
new one currently being constructed in Japan.