|Local Companies | Article
published August 21, 2002|
fears cited at Davis-Besse nuclear plant
Staff reluctant to report problems, NRC
(THE BLADE)The Davis-Besse nuclear
power has been shut down since February.
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Employees of the Davis-Besse
nuclear power plant do not feel like they can report operating
problems for fear of retaliation and the ''boomerang effect,''
meaning the work would be turned back on them, a federal regulator
Jack Grobe, head of the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's oversight panel investigating whether Davis-Besse
violated federal safety rules, cited a report filed earlier this
month that criticized Davis-Besse's efforts to improve
accountability at the plant. The facility, located about 25 miles
east of Toledo, has been shut down since February for refueling and
to deal with the discovery that boric acid leaks had corroded the
carbon steel cap on the reactor vessel until only a 3/8 -inch layer
of stainless steel remained.
''It's fairly clear that those
[accountability] activities are not yet bearing fruit,'' Mr. Grobe
said. ''The fact that boric acid is corrosive is not a surprise to
anyone ... It wasn't the cracking or the boric acid. It was the lack
of safety focus of your staff.''
The NRC yesterday outlined
proposed safety violations against Davis-Besse because of the
corroded reactor head, including the fact that the plant did not
adequately train its inspectors to look for boric acid and did not
follow its own corrosion response plan.
Among the proposed
violations, the NRC said Davis-Besse had inaccurate information on
reports, including work orders, corrective action documents, and
responses to a NRC safety bulletin.
Lipa, head of the reactor oversight program in the NRC's Chicago
office, said the commission did not look into whether the plant
intended to falsify information, but did verify that information was
Inaccurate information on reports,
including work orders, corrective action
documents, and responses to NRC safety
Safety violations because of the
corroded reactor head, including the fact that the
plant did not adequately train its inspectors to
look for boric acid and did not follow its own
The NRC said inspectors at Davis-Besse had
inadequate training and certification. According to the training
program standards, inspectors required at least six hours of
training and 60 hours of practical experience; Davis-Besse
inspectors did not have that, said Mel Holmberg, NRC's lead
inspector for the plant.
Mr. Holmberg said he found boric
acid corrosion in other parts of the plant that Davis-Besse
inspectors did not find. This includes corrosion in the gap between
the floor and the containment liner and in the ventilation fans in
the service structure, a stovepipe-like fixture above the reactor
The plant also did not have ''acceptance
criteria,'' or a list of standards to be met, for inspection
''There was no administrative requirement to even
follow the plan,'' Mr. Holmberg said.
Other violations proposed
by the NRC include:
Failure to follow safety specifications that require
the plant to have no boundary leaks. Boric acid leaked from cracked
control rod nozzles onto the reactor vessel head.
Missing numerous opportunities to identify the boric
acid corrosion and the cracked and leaking control rod nozzles,
including deferring modifications that would have let workers see
and have access to the reactor vessel head. Plant personnel did not
recognize the problem even though they changed air filters every
other day instead of monthly because of clogging from rust particles
caused by the corrosion, or when employees found plugging of the
radiation monitors, the NRC said.
Failure to follow the utility's own plan to find and
clean up boric acid, and having a plan that focuses only on bolted
connections, not on the reactor head. Also, the procedures did not
require the plant to document actions to correct the
The proposed violations are considered ''unresolved
items,'' because the NRC management needs to review the issues and
make a risk assessment before they decide whether to issue any
formal violations or impose fines.
Operating Company, the parent company of Davis-Besse, yesterday
reiterated its statements from last week that plant officials failed
to follow procedures that would have led them to find the leaking
acid and the corrosion.
In its formal "root cause" report
last week, the company stated that "there was less than an adequate
nuclear safety focus" by management beginning in the 1990s. "There
was a focus on production, established by management, combined with
taking minimum actions to meet regulatory requirements, that
resulted in the acceptance of degraded conditions."
company said yesterday it was surveying Davis-Besse staff, as it did
in 1999 and 2000, to gauge their attitudes and their commitment to
Davis-Besse is trying to change that attitude through
employee meetings where workers can confidentially report problems
and through better oversight by managers, said Lew Myers, chief
operating officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating
''I was just technically embarrassed. We were
complacent in a lot of areas,'' he said.
Mr. Myers said
company managers are meeting with each work division at Davis-Besse
and explaining to them how the actions of that division affected the
corrosion problem, and how they could have prevented it. Each
employee will be given a performance test, he said.
senior management team is in place at Davis-Besse, and they are
better observing what is happening at the plant, Mr. Myers
Davis-Besse said it has more than 800 corrective
actions that need to be taken care of before the plant is restarted,
and workers are behind schedule in program reviews of the plant.
Still, officials said the plant is expected to re|start by the end
of the year.
Workers are reinspecting the plant, filing
condition reports on any problems, and working to put in the new
reactor vessel head that FirstEnergy bought from an unused plant in
Midland, Mich. Davis-Besse is cutting a hole in the side of the
containment building to swap the reactor heads. FirstEnergy expects
to spend as much as $75 million on the repairs.
who came yesterday from NRC national headquarters, said Davis-Besse
should give the agency a schedule of inspections to get the plant
''You've got a lot of work to do. I don't think
you need me to tell you that,'' Mr. Johnson said. "You've got to get
the trust back of your employees.''
The NRC has issued a
preliminary decision rejecting a request by the Union of Concerned
Scientists and more than a dozen other environmental groups from
Ohio and elsewhere who want an independent reviewer to assess the
problems at Davis-Besse. The groups maintain that the NRC failed to
properly oversee the plant to begin with, contributing to the
The NRC said in a statement that
establishment of an additional oversight program would represent an
"unnecessary regulatory burden."
About 30 members of the
Citizens Campaign to Close Davis-Besse, a Toledo area environmental
group seeking an independent review of the plant's problems,
picketed outside Oak Harbor High School before the start of a second
public hearing last night.
Once inside, members of the group
cheered on some residents who told the NRC that the agency should
shut the plant down. The protesters later disrupted the meeting for
several minutes as they left, loudly chanting "Two, four, six,
eight, the NRC can't regulate."
|AP Wall Street News