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More staff punished for reactor lid's hole

09/20/02

John Mangels and John Funk
Plain Dealer Reporters

The fallout from the discovery this spring of a big rust hole in the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor lid continues to spread, with a new round of firings and disciplinary actions against managers and staff.

The punishments began Tuesday and continued through yesterday, unfolding even as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grilled plant executives on how they would fix the supervisory lapses that allowed the hole to grow unnoticed for years.

FirstEnergy Corp. nuclear division spokesman Todd Schneider would not say exactly how many people were disciplined. Davis-Besse employees learned of the news from a staff meeting Wednesday morning.

Some of the affected workers were escorted from the Toledo-area plant, Schneider said.

The Davis-Besse staff, who a recent plant survey shows are wary of the plant's new management, reacted somberly to the news.

"The tone of the meeting was very sober," Schneider said. "These actions . . . were hard, difficult decisions."

But Schneider added that they were the right decisions to move Davis-Besse forward. "The employees understand that. They want the plant to get back on line in a safe, reliable fashion," he said.

The disciplinary actions resulted from FirstEnergy's "thorough review" of the events that led to workers' discovery in March of a milk jug-sized hole in the reactor's heavy steel lid. Only a thin stainless-steel liner was left to contain the coolant that bathes the core.

This week, a special NRC panel overseeing repairs and reforms at the plant pressed FirstEnergy managers to explain "inaccurate and incomplete" company maintenance records that reported the reactor lid was free of corrosion when it was not.

FirstEnergy officials acknowledged at a Wednesday meeting with the NRC that the reports were misleading. The agency next week is expected to announce that the faulty record-keeping is part of 11 violations of NRC regulations. The NRC's criminal investigations arm is trying to determine whether FirstEnergy's actions were meant to deliberately deceive the agency.

The company's own review found no criminal actions.

This week's disciplinary actions probably are the last, Schneider said. In May, John Wood, FirstEnergy nuclear division's vice president for engineering services, quit.

Last month, Howard Bergendahl, the vice president in charge of Davis-Besse, was relieved of that job but kept on the payroll.

Bergendahl's predecessor, Guy Campbell, was transferred this spring to the defunct Three Mile Island reactor near Harrisburg, Pa., which FirstEnergy owns.

That placement angered EFMR Monitoring Group, the nonprofit organization paid by FirstEnergy to track radiation levels at the infamous plant. "We prefer not to be the corporate work-release program for FirstEnergy," said EFMR chairman, Eric Epstein.

Bergendahl is still a FirstEnergy employee, Schneider said yesterday.

He would not discuss Campbell's status nor identify other Davis-Besse employees who were either demoted, transferred or fired.

The company told the NRC of its personnel moves this week.

"If this is what they need to do to clean house to create a better safety culture, then that is what they need to do," said Viktoria Mitlyng, an NRC spokeswoman. "The only concern of the NRC is whether the plant can operate safely if it gets to restart."

To reach these Plain Dealer reporters:

jmangels@plaind.com, 216-999-4842

jfunk@plaind.com, 216-999-4138


2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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