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Published: Saturday, 9/3/2011

Red flags at a nuke plant

Since the near-disaster at its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor in 2002, FirstEnergy insists it has put its troubles behind it and renewed its focus on safety. But its performance at its Perry nuclear plant near Cleveland raises questions about that assertion.

Last week, after a series of mechanical and performance issues at Perry in recent years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it would exert greater oversight there. The commission cited an April 21 incident at Perry, in which four workers narrowly avoided serious radiation exposure during a procedure at the plant’s reactor.

The NRC classified that violation as one of “low to moderate safety significance.” But its plan for elevated enforcement at Perry puts the plant, the utility, and the nuclear industry on notice that it expects better performance.

The commission wants FirstEnergy to do more to identify potentially serious workplace violations before they become bigger problems. Such additional oversight usually takes months to remove, and will require proof from the utility that it has become more proactive.

Given Davis-Besse’s record, northwest Ohioans have reason to be concerned about FirstEnergy’s performance at its plant along the Lake Erie shoreline, even if it is far away and downwind.

Davis-Besse generally has performed well since it was allowed to resume operation in 2004, after its forced two-year shutdown. Yet it would be only prudent to recognize the red flags the NRC has raised at Perry.

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