The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff might have let a power
company's financial concerns influence a decision to put off a
shutdown of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, according to three
But the NRC and FirstEnergy Corp. denied the allegation.
Akron-based FirstEnergy is paying about $200 million to repair
the plant, install a new lid and buy replacement power until it is
restarted. The reactor, about 20 miles east of Toledo, has been shut
down since Feb. 16.
Inspectors found violations of 10 federal regulations at
Davis-Besse, where acid nearly ate through a 6-inch-thick steel
reactor cap. An NRC report released Thursday said FirstEnergy failed
to take action to correct multiple safety concerns and violated
rules for operating the reactor.
The agency is also continuing to study whether FirstEnergy should
be charged with crimes, such as willful deception.
Workers have removed a damaged reactor head and are replacing it.
The company wants to restart the plant by the end of the year, but
regulators have given no indication when they will allow it to
The NRC is not supposed to consider the financial impact on
nuclear plants when making safety decisions. The Plain Dealer
reported that three nuclear power watchdog groups -- the Nuclear
Information and Resource Service, the Union of Concerned Scientists
and Greenpeace -- made the cost consideration charge Thursday based
on newly released NRC documents obtained through the Freedom of
The documents do not prove the NRC took costs into consideration,
but ``it's a strong circumstantial case,'' said UCS engineer David
The information included an e-mail dated Nov. 21 between two
technical advisers to the NRC commissioners. The e-mail recounted a
conversation that Samuel Collins, the NRC's senior safety officer,
had with Robert Saunders, president of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating
Co., which runs Davis-Besse.
At the time, FirstEnergy was trying to convince the NRC that
Davis-Besse should not have to shut down by Dec. 31 for an
inspection. FirstEnergy wanted to keep Davis-Besse running until
March 31 for refueling.
FirstEnergy ``does not want an order,'' the document summarizes
from the Collins/Saunders conversation, citing the company's
concerns about public perception, its inabilityto get its fuel
delivered any sooner than February and the shutdown order's impact
on ``financial markets.''
Collins, through a spokeswoman, said that FirstEnergy's cost
concerns did not come into play, although the ``availability of
equipment and personnel to do the inspections'' was a factor.
He said the NRC believed DavisBesse was safe to operate until
Feb. 16, the compromise shutdown date the agency and the company
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said Thursday night that
late last year Saunders ``certainly wasn't aware there was a cavity
in the reactor head. He was operating with the best knowledge he had
at the time.''
Schneider said that Saunders recalls making remarks at a public
meeting that if FirstEnergy had to shut down Davis-Besse in
December, that ``the company wasn't prepared to do that because fuel
was not on site.''
Saunders' other concern was that one shutdown for inspection and
another later for refueling might ``double the (radiation) exposure
rate to employees,'' the spokesman said
He said Saunders ``doesn't know about any private conversation or
e-mail'' that may have sought to influence the NRC through cost