Thursday, May 17, 2007

The nuke with a hole in the head keeps digging

The Cleveland Plain Dealer sets the stage:

CLEVELAND (AP) — The owner of a nuclear power plant where an acid leak nearly ate through a steel lid on the reactor vessel is trying to distance itself from blame while fighting a $200 million insurance dispute, a newspaper reported Sunday.

FirstEnergy Corp. paid a record $5.45 million fine from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and $28 million in civil penalties after acknowledging it failed to stop the leak at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Toledo.

The leak, discovered by investigators in 2002, was the most extensive corrosion ever seen at a U.S. nuclear reactor. It's not clear how close the plant was to an accident.

The company now argues that corrosion ate through the steel lid so quickly — in four months, not the previously accepted four years — that normal inspections every two years couldn't have caught it, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.

FirstEnergy bases its switch on a new analysis it paid for, the newspaper said. The report by consulting engineers is based on new information, some of it from the government itself.

Some industry observers say they're troubled by findings favorable to Akron-based FirstEnergy and what they say is a failure to take into account contradictory information.

"I think — and this is a personal opinion — that some of the arguments presented in the report were selective," said Alex Marion, executive director of nuclear operations and engineering for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group.

The Davis-Besse plant was closed for two years after the damage was discovered but returned to full power in 2004. FirstEnergy spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power because of the shutdown.

What FENOC has done is to change the story they told to their regulator in order to demonstrate their plant was safe to restart. FirstEnergy provided that previous explanation to the NRC under oath and affirmation.

FENOC also entered a DOJ plea deal in 2005 that required them not to contradict the agreed-upon facts submitted to the NRC.

FENOC was also obligated by federal regulation to evaluate this new information to determine if Davis Besse remained safe to operate under the new scenario. Instead FENOC used this information for commercial advantage with their insurer and ignored their utmost obligation as a nuclear licensee, to ensure the health and safety of the public.

Headless Blogger has learned that the new analysis was commissioned by FENOC's legal department and refuted internally by a FENOC metallurgy expert. The FENOC's expert advised the company not to submit the report to the insurer.

More to come ...


Dad29 said...

That's just the kind of PR the nuke industry needs...

Headless Blogger said...

I'm not so concerned with the PR as with the financial costs the rest of the industry faces due to FENOC's poor decisions. The costs are already in the 100's of millions or billions of dollars for reactor head inspections and replacements. This new report could result in a new round of costly requirements on other operators.

We need to self police where possible, to get the bad performers out of the business.