Environmental groups try to stop Davis-BesseWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental groups are gearing up to take down a nearby nuclear power plant’s request for a 20-year operating license extension.
FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse, which opened in the 1970s, is waiting for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve its request — a decision that could take anywhere between 22 and 30 months. The plant would otherwise close in 2017.
Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear and other environmentalists are determined to stop the process. The groups will host a public hearing from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 18 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2272 Collingwood Blvd.
“We talk about regulation by guardian angel,” Kamps said. “It is sheer luck that something major hasn’t taken place there.”
Kamps and others are racing to compile their argument by the Dec. 24 deadline, in hopes of securing an official NRC hearing. Although the commission has granted numerous hearings, the agency has never declined a license request based on information from the hearings, said Scott Burnell, spokesperson for the NRC.
Sometimes groups will prompt the need to find more information. But the companies have always pulled together to provide sufficient research to back their request, Burnell added.
Anita Rios, a leader of the Ohio Green Party, said slim odds will not stop her fight against the plant.
“What dictates you is what is in your heart,” Rios said. “If you can see the right thing to do, then shame on you if you don’t do it. What I have to do doesn’t change — the odds don’t matter.”
Despite a history of mishaps, the NRC has deemed the plant safe since 2005.
“It is reasonable to say that Davis-Besse has had a couple of the more significant safety episodes among plants in the United States,” Burnell said. “That being said, the overall inspection and oversight process the NRC has in place shows us that at this point, Davis-Besse is operating safely and has been doing so since 2005.”
The plant shut down in 2002 after multiple cracks in nozzles leaked coolant water onto the reactor vessel head. Boric acid left by the evaporated water eventually ate away a football-size chunk of the carbon steel. That steel is one of the barriers between people and radiation, said Viktoria Mitlyng, spokesperson for the commission’s Midwest region.
The commission was unaware of the safety hazards because the plant told the NRC that the area was being cleaned, when no one was actually cleaning it, Mitlyng said.
“There’s no disagreement that the head corrosion was the most significant challenge to safety that we have seen since Three Mile Island,” Burnell said.
The plant shut down for a couple of years and reopened with a new vessel head. But cracks in the new installment were found during a routine checkup. Davis-Besse plans to install new, more crack-resistant equipment in 2011.
Most other plants in the U.S. have installed the more crack resistant material already, Burnell said.
After the plant reopened, the commission stationed three local inspectors rather than the normal two and mandated annual independent safety inspections for the next five years, Mitlyng said.
Rios said she wants the commission to turn FirstEnergy down so it doesn’t set a precedent of allowing bad safety behavior to continue. She added that the commission has not taken responsibility for its “weak oversight.”
Nuclear power has its benefits, but not without drawbacks, said David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project with the Union of Concerned Scientists. The union is neither for nor against nuclear power, but rather analyzes its benefits and drawbacks.
Nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases and is more efficient than using coal or oil, he said.
“But those benefits aren’t free,” Lochbaum said.
The early 2000s incident was one of many problems that could have ended in disaster, one that also caused the plant to shut down in the late 1980s, Lochbaum said.
The people working at Davis-Besse now are not the same people involved in the safety breaches, said Todd Schneider, a spokesperson for FirstEnergy.
“The plant has come a long way. We worked very hard at changing the culture there to make sure that operating the plant safely is first,” Schneider said.
The plant employs 700 full-time workers and generates enough energy to provide 40 percent of electrical needs for Northwest Ohio.
The potential hazards that come with nuclear power seem too hefty for some. The groups hosting the hearing plan to record the event and send it to the commission.
“I don’t want to be a pessimist,” Rios said. “This would be worst-case scenario, but if something were to happen it would open a whole Pandora’s Box of illness, of destruction of property, of any number of things.”