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Environment | Article published Friday, March 29, 2002
NUCLEAR PLANT WOES
Kaptur: Shut Down Davis-Besse
Nuke Plant Threatens Public Safety

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur last night expressed serious reservations about the government’s ability to inspect FirstEnergy Corp.’s beleaguered Davis-Besse nuclear power plant and said she would like to see the facility shut down permanently.

"I have zero confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If it’s possible to have less than zero, that’s what I have," the Toledo Democrat fumed during a half-hour interview with The Blade, referring to the federal agency in charge of regulating the nuclear industry.

She said America’s rising energy needs cannot take precedence over public safety and that, at a minimum, the regulatory commission should require a new reactor head for Davis-Besse before allowing the utility to restart the plant.

"At this point, the burden of proof falls upon the company and the NRC to regain the public’s trust, which they don’t have," Miss Kaptur said.

As to the prospect of a permanent shutdown, she said: "I think right now that would be my preference."

Five of 69 reactor nozzles developed cracks over a number of years, one of which allowed boric acid to leak out and burn through the top six inches of the steel lid.

The only thing that prevented a hole - one that would have allowed radioactive steam to be released into the containment structure - was a warped swath of stainless steel that is only three-eighths of an inch thick. That is about the width of a pencil eraser.

Miss Kaptur is one of at least two Democrats from northern Ohio who want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject FirstEnergy’s anticipated proposal to fix the reactor head at a cost of up to $10 million. The utility wants to do that so it can stick to its timetable of getting Davis-Besse running again by late June.

"Any repair of the current lid is unacceptable," U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) wrote in a letter to the commission. "There is no scientific basis that such a repair can withstand the environment of an operating reactor."

Miss Kaptur and Mr. Kucinich have expressed anti-nuclear views in the past.

Keeping Davis-Besse shut down until a new reactor cap is installed is a project that could idle the plant until spring 2004 and cost $20 million.

The regulatory commission has not ruled out that possibility.

FirstEnergy must convince federal regulators that it can operate the plant safely before the government will authorize a restart, commission spokesman Jan Strasma said.

"If it won’t, we’ll turn it down," he said of any restart proposal submitted by the utility.

The issue will be discussed at 9 a.m. April 5 at Oak Harbor High School at a public meeting during which NRC officials will release their preliminary inspection results. Officials said they will take questions from the public after their presentation.

Miss Kaptur sent a letter yesterday to commission Chairman Richard Meserve, calling for the government agency to organize a "fact-finding session" at Davis-Besse for members of Congress from this region, as well as those from other parts of the country with similar nuclear plants.

The commission likely will comply, Mr. Strasma said.

"Any government official who has ever wanted to see our plant has been afforded that opportunity just by picking up a phone and asking," said Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman.

Both said they believe the regulatory commission has been diligent in its role of regulating the nuclear industry.

"Certainly, there’s a serious engineering issue at Davis-Besse. It needs to be fully resolved and we intend to do that," Mr. Strasma said.

Mr. Wilkins said the industry’s safety record speaks for itself.

As for Miss Kaptur’s preference to mothball Davis-Besse, he replied: "People who don’t like nuclear power want nuclear power plants to be closed down permanently. Given the amount of electricity [Davis-Besse] generates, it doesn’t seem to be a very sound idea."


Related articles »
6 FirstEnergy execs sell stock for $3 million 03/29/2002
Warning signs went unheeded 03/27/2002
Regulators issue acid-damage alert 03/20/2002
More damage found on Davis-Besse reactor 03/19/2002
A scare at Davis-Besse 03/14/2002
Outage at Besse extended 2 months 03/14/2002
Boric acid leak eats 6-inch hole in cap of Davis-Besse reactor 03/12/2002
Davis-Besse, Fermi II pass safety evaluations 03/07/2002
No leaks found in Davis-Besse’s cracked nozzles 03/06/2002
Tests spot 5 defects in safety devices at Davis-Besse 03/05/2002

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