NORTHWEST Ohio did more than dodge a bullet when the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant was shut down in 2002, it avoided a potential nuclear disaster. And the best thing that could come out of the criminal trials of three former Davis-Besse workers would be a clearer picture of whether their bosses should have been sitting with them at the defense table.
Former FirstEnergy employee David Geisen and contractor Rodney Cook are on trial in U.S. District Court in Toledo. They are accused of lying to the government in documents used by Toledo Edison's parent firm to argue against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pulling the plug on the Ottawa County plant on Dec. 31, 2001, to fix a corroded reactor head.
Former FirstEnergy employee Andrew Siemaszko will go on trial later on the same charges. The three face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine each if they are convicted.
FirstEnergy insisted in November, 2001, that the plant's nuclear reactor was safe but three months later it was discovered that leaking acid had come within a fraction of an inch of breaching the reactor's protective cap, which could have resulted in a serious nuclear accident.
FirstEnergy was slapped with a record $33.5 million fine for withholding information about the safety hazard. In addition, replacement and repair of equipment cost the company more than $600 million and it spent millions more on replacement power as the plant was idled for two years.
But none of the company's senior managers has been held personally to account because the Justice Department says it lacks evidence of criminal intent.
Leaving aside the guilt of the three former Davis-Besse workers currently charged, we are at a loss to understand why they would decide on their own to fool federal regulators. What did they have to gain? Nothing that we can think of.
Did they merely decide one day, in a fit Homer Simpsonesque logic, that they'd cover up evidence of corrosion on the reactor head? Doh! That's not convincing.
This leaves to the possibility that the decision was made at a higher, even a senior level, and that these three underlings were either willingly complicit or went along to protect their careers.
Whatever the result for these three, we hope the trials result in revelation of the truth about all of those who endangered northwest Ohio.