Companies | Article published October 31, 2002|
Expert wonders if rust unique to
Incident dominates talk at
By MICHAEL WOODS
WASHINGTON - The corrosion problem which shut
down FirstEnergy Corp.ís Davis-Besse nuclear plant may be more than
an isolated fluke, the chairman of the federal governmentís reactor
safety committee said yesterday.
"Recent events have shaken
my confidence," Dr. George E. Apostolakis said of the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission system used to assure safety at the nationís
103 nuclear power plants.
"Iím really perplexed," he admitted
at an international conference on nuclear safety research here. "I
donít know how this whole system of checks could fail.
what happened at Davis-Besse an outlier or an indication of a
problem with the whole system? I donít know."
is professor of nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and chairs the NRCís Advisory Committee on Reactor
Safeguards. The 11-member panel serves as the NRCís technical
adviser on nuclear safety.
The Davis-Besse incident dominated
sessions at the annual NRC-sponsored conference, which attracted
hundreds of experts from more than a dozen countries.
indict the whole risk-analysis process because of Davis-Besse is
lubricious," snapped Stephen D. Floyd, a senior director of the
Nuclear Energy Institute, a pro-nuclear industry group based
He referred to the leak of corrosive water that went
undetected at Davis-Besse for years. Workers finally discovered that
it ate a pineapple-sized rust hole into the reactor pressure vessel
head. Only a thin stainless steel liner prevented a potentially
disastrous release of radioactive water from the reactor into the
containment building, the plantís last line of defense for the
Mr. Floyd suggested that the lapses responsible for
the rust hole were a rare exception in an industry that has grown
safer and more reliable with the introduction of new safety
approaches in the 1990s. He cited evidence that nuclear power has an
excellent safety record, especially when compared to the toll from
auto accidents, airplane crashes, and other health and safety
hazards that society accepts.
Edward McGaffigan, Jr., one of
five members of the NRCís governing board, defended the agencyís
actions in overruling a staff recommendation calling for an
immediate shutdown of Davis-Besse last December.
staff concluded that the plant was unsafe, due to likely coolant
leaks, and prepared a shutdown order. Senior staff members, however,
vetoed it, allowing Davis-Besse to continue to operate until a
refueling and maintenance shut down in mid-February. The rust hole
was discovered in March.
Mr. McGaffigan said he endorses the
senior staff decision as sound, based on the fact that the NRC was
not aware at the time that the rust hole existed.
to the conference, David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert with the Union
of Concerned Scientists, said the veto was typical of NRCís
inconsistent regulatory policies in dealing with nuclear plant
Mr. McGaffigan and Mr. Lochbaum engaged in a
lengthy debate as experts from Japan, Korea, Russia, and other
countries looked on in wonderment.
|More articles on this subject Ľ|
|AP Wall Street News Ľ|