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  Monday, December 2, 2002

 Local News

D-B staff under fire over photo
Feds say item should have been released sooner

Associated Press

CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- The operator of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant failed to provide federal regulators a photo that shows corrosion stains on its reactor lid, The Plain Dealer reported Sunday.

The photo wasn't in the batch of images FirstEnergy Corp. provided the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in November 2001 to justify postponing a costly shutdown to inspect the lid.

"It was there for the asking," company spokesman Todd Schneider said. "Being our regulator, the NRC has full access to the plant, to our documents, to just about every part of our operation."

"I think that's a little bit disingenuous," said Brian Sheron, the NRC's associate director for project licensing and technical analysis. "We were asking them to provide us with all the information to support their argument to operate beyond Dec. 31. Apparently, we did not get everything."

Davis-Besse has been shut down since February. The NRC began investigating after leaks allowed boric acid to eat a hole almost through the 6-inch thick steel lid that covers the plant's reactor vessel. The leaks were discovered in March, during a maintenance shutdown.

It was the most extensive corrosion ever at a U.S. nuclear reactor and led to a nationwide review of all 69 similar plants.

The April 2000 photo shows rust trails the color of dried blood spilling from inspection ports on the reactor's sloping dome.

The photo didn't surface until April, on page 93 of a thick FirstEn-

ergy report. The document attempts to explain in hindsight how the company had allowed boric acid sludge left behind by leaking reactor coolant to eat a hole in the reactor lid.

"If we knew they had 3 or 4 inches of acid caked on top of the head ... that would have started the chain" of more intense questioning, Sheron said.

Digby Macdonald, an international corrosion expert who directs Pennsylvania State University's Center for Advanced Materials, said the photo would have told him that a serious corrosion problem probably existed.

FirstEnergy is paying about $200 million to repair the plant, install a new lid and buy replacement power until Davis-Besse is restarted. A new reactor should be installed by early December.

Initially, the company had hoped to restart the plant by the end of this year but has pushed that deadline back to January.

Originally published Monday, December 2, 2002

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