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Published: Thursday, 1/9/2003

One more Davis-Besse villain

The scariness of having no guardians for the guardians of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant 25 miles east of Toledo is obvious again with yet another report - this time an inspector general's - on last year's near calamity at the plant.

Whereas a report last month by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations pointed to an industry slacking off on its inspections as it tried to produce more power, this new report nails the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency Americans rely on to assure the safety of these power production facilities.

The inspector general's report said the NRC came down on the side of corporate profits, not public safety, when it kept the plant open until Feb. 16, 2002, though staff had ordered it closed Dec. 31, 2001.

As a result, the NRC compromised its mandate to keep safety paramount to financial considerations, the report said.

In the wake of this report the agency is taking its licks from members of Congress and environmentalists who want at least one head to roll - that of Sam Collins, the official who signed off on the later date.

But let us not forget the pennywise-pound-foolish members of Congress who cut the NRC's budget, limiting it to 25 percent fewer inspections than in 1997, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The nuclear safety watchdog also found that members of the U.S. Senate, election coffers bulging with energy industry lucre, had threatened the NRC for being too hard on the companies, for frustrating them with “burdensome regulations,” and for looking after the public good.

Sam Collins may be easier to get, but he is not the instigator of the troubles, not with the Senate pushing pro-industry views, and not with the bulk of NRC money coming from nuclear industry licenses, an inevitable invitation to coziness.

We've had enough of “reckless complacency” by the NRC, whose slack attitude is encouraged by the people Americans elect to represent them.

First Energy, which operates this troubled power plant through a subsidiary, the subsidiary itself, and the NRC all share blame here, but so do the U.S. senators who've stood by for too long, fiddling while Rome very nearly burned.



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