OAK HARBOR, Ohio - It's not yet clear whether
FirstEnergy Corp. has made the changes needed to ensure a safe
restart of the Davis-Besse power plant, a Nuclear Regulatory
Commission official said.
"I believe that this is the basic issue and the root cause and
the issue you have to grapple with," Jack Grobe, chairman of a
special NRC oversight panel, told FirstEnergy at a hearing Tuesday
The panel's credibility was the focus of a walkout at a Tuesday
evening NRC hearing at the same location.
About 25 protesters from a group called Citizens Campaign to
Close Davis-Besse walked out after telling the panel that they do
not have confidence in its oversight.
The group includes at 50 members from several local environmental
and anti-nuclear organizations, according to member Steve Miller of
The plant alongside Lake Erie has been shut down since February,
when inspectors discovered during routine maintenance that boric
acid had corroded a steel cap that covers the reactor vessel.
As a result, the NRC is investigating the safety of reactor
vessel heads at 69 pressurized-water reactors across the nation.
At issue before the oversight panel is whether Davis-Besse
violated federal safety rules last year when it kept operating while
the reactor lid was cracked and leaking.
Grobe said during the afternoon hearing at Oak Harbor High School
that boric acid corrosion of the lid was not surprising, based on
technical issues known in the industry for years.
FirstEnergy last week confirmed that its nuclear division made
mistakes at the plant about 25 miles east of Toledo.
Lew Myers, chief operating officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear
Operating Co., said that before the corrosion was discovered, there
had been communications problems and a feeling of complacency among
the Davis-Besse workforce. He said the plant's history of reliable
performance made employees hesitant to bring up problems.
"We were tremendously embarrassed by the reactor head issue and
the missed opportunities," Myers said.
The company said it's now encouraging workers to discuss problems
as soon as they know about them. Myers said FirstEnergy wants to
"set the standard of returning Davis-Besse to service in a safe and
reliable manner and doing the job right the first time. We have to
fix the problem and not try to justify it away."
NRC panel member Jon Johnson, the deputy director of the
commission's office of nuclear reactor regulation, toured the plant
Tuesday and spoke with employees.
He said FirstEnergy has a lot of work to do to accomplish its
"You've got to get the trust back of your employees. They said
action speaks louder than words," Johnson said.
FirstEnergy officials said at the hearing that they are waiting
for the NRC's permission to begin installing the replacement reactor
lid, which has been at Davis-Besse since July 18.
Akron-based FirstEnergy will spend as much as $75 million to
replace the reactor lid. It wants to reopen the plant by the end of
FirstEnergy operating companies serve 4.3 electric customers in
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
ON THE NET
First Energy: http://www.firstenergycorp.com/
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/