“FirstEnergy continues to try to prioritize profits over safety,” Kucinich wrote in a news release Wednesday. In a video released Oct. 14, the congressman called Davis-Besse an “ill-fated” plant and urged NRC officials to reconsider re-licensing Davis Besse.
Kucinich said he and staff found discrepancies between statements issued by FirstEnergy and information from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the government agency charged with overseeing nuclear energy operations in the nation.
The plant along Lake Erie was shut down for maintenance in October when crews discovered a 30-foot hairline crack in the outer concrete wall that’s designed to protect the reactor from anything that might hit it from outside such as storm debris.
Davis-Besse was shut down this fall to replace an 82-ton reactor head, a steel lid that sits atop the reactor vessel.
More cracks were found soon after, leading to closer inspections.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission signed off on restarting the plant after FirstEnergy assured it that the cracks don’t pose a threat. Regulators said they’ve done their own checks and reviewed testing already completed by the plant operator.
Kucinich’s office says it initiated talks with the NRC and investigated the issue that revealed the cracks were more widespread at the Davis-Besse (BEH’-see) nuclear plant outside Toledo than what was publicly released.
Kucinich claims FirstEnergy failed to disclose the significance of cracks found in the concrete shield building while installing a new 82-ton reactor head in October.
The NRC has given Akron-based FirstEnergy until the end of February to find out what caused the cracks.
Those cracks, Kucinich wrote, were characterized by FirstEnergy as being only in architectural elements of the building. Those elements are characterized as being of a non-structural importance. But in one press release, the Ohio congressman provided rough sketches of the building design and indicates the sections that FirstEnergy considers architectural are actually integral components of the shield building.
Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said Kucinich’s information is inaccurate.
“There have been a number of central misrepresentations in his press release,” she said. “I don’t know where he got his information from.”
Young said there are no cracks in the containment vessel and after the 24-foot wide and 36-foot tall hole was cut for the reactor installation, it was resealed and tested.
Ottawa County Commissioner Jim Sass said Davis-Besse is the largest employer in the county, with 800-plus workers on site, not including area businesses that support the powerplant.
And, he said, if FirstEnergy says it’s safe, he believes them.
“The NRC is out there overseeing anything FirstEnergy does,” he said. “They will challenge the utility.”
Viktoria Mitlyng, an NRC spokeswoman, said FirstEnergy was issued a confirmatory action letter by her agency.
“They have to submit a root cause analysis by Feb.28,” she said. “We haven’t received anything yet.”
Mitlyng said NRC scientists and officials don’t know the cause of the cracks, and aren’t likely to speculate.
“We don’t really deal with hypotheticals,” she said.
In March 2002, plant staff discovered that the borated water that serves as the reactor coolant had leaked from cracked control rod drive mechanisms directly above the reactor and eaten through more than six inches.
This significant reactor head wastage left only 3⁄8 inches (9.5 mm) of stainless steel cladding holding back the high-pressure (~2500 psi, 17 MPa) reactor coolant. A breach would have resulted in a loss-of-coolant accident, in which superheated, superpressurized reactor coolant could have jetted into the reactor’s containment building and resulted in emergency safety procedures to protect from core damage or meltdown.
Because of the location of the reactor head damage, such a jet of reactor coolant might have damaged adjacent control rod drive mechanisms, hampering or preventing reactor shut-down. As part of the system reviews following the accident, significant safety issues were identified with other critical plant components, including the following:
- the containment sump that allows the reactor coolant to be reclaimed and reinjected into the reactor;
- the high pressure injection pumps that would reinject such reclaimed reactor coolant;
- the emergency diesel generator system;
- the containment air coolers that would remove heat from the containment building;
- reactor coolant isolation valves; and
- the plant’s electrical distribution system.