During a refueling outage in the fall of 2011, workers at the Davis Besse nuclear power plant discovered 30-foot long cracks in the two-and-a-half foot thick concrete walls of the containment building which houses the nuclear reactor. Initially, the utility told the public that the damage was confined to “architectural elements” and “decorative elements” of the containment building walls.
In December of 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it would allow First Energy to restart the Davis Besse reactor, as they felt reasonably assured that the cracks didn’t pose a safety threat, even though the utility had not announced the cause of the cracks yet.
While utility officials worked to downplay the findings, Representative Dennis Kucinich blasted their response saying that FirstEnergy was prioritizing profits over safety. Kucinich said that he and staff had found discrepancies between statements issued by the licensee First Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During a January 5th, 2012 public meeting, FirstEnergy Vice President Barry Allen admitted for the first time that the cracks did in fact rest along the main outer rebar, but did not comment on the previous misrepresentations made by the licensee.
By Febrary of 2012, FirstEnergy completed its Root Cause Analysis Report and suggested that the damage could have been caused in January of 1978 after a blizzard and extreme weather conditions, but did not explain how the damage could’ve been unobserved during 33 years of operations. The utility announced that it would analyze and monitor the cracks and apply a weatherproof sealant.
This week, First Energy announced that the continuing inspections of the concrete containment building found not just more cracks, but that the cracks identified in 2011 have continued to grow in length, but despite these findings said that the structural integrity of the shield building was not impacted. Currently the licensee is in the middle of applying for a 20-year renewal of the operating license for the nuclear reactor from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which would allow it to continue operating until 2037. It is unclear what effect the most recent findings will have on the relicensing application.