Davis-Besse’s extension


FirstEnergy Corp. is moving closer to getting federal approval of an extension through 2037 of its operating license for the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County. But formal action likely won’t occur before fall, 2014 — which gives regulators ample time to ensure that the plant is running smoothly.

That hasn’t always been the case since Davis-Besse, one of the region’s largest employers, opened in 1977. Still, an NRC board last week declined an opportunity to delay the license-extension process.

Four activist groups, citing exterior cracks found in Davis-Besse’s containment shield building in 2011, questioned FirstEnergy’s assessment of its ability to handle a severe plant accident. The licensing board ruled, largely on narrow technical grounds, that the issues the challengers raised were speculative or irrelevant.

The next step in the licensing process is FirstEnergy’s response to items in the safety report the NRC issued for Davis-Besse last summer. The plant’s current license is scheduled to expire in 2017.

At the same time, the NRC has said it will not issue new or renewed licenses for nuclear plants until Congress decides what to do about tons of highly radioactive spent reactor fuel that is piling up at plant sites. An Obama Administration task force is scheduled to present its recommendations by fall, 2014. The administration has rejected Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the federal government’s potential repository, after years of research and development there.

Davis-Besse has been one of the nuclear industry’s more erratic performers. A license extension could provide economic stability and energy security, if the plant operates as it should. That will require regulators to stay on their toes, and Congress to resolve the national waste-disposal dilemma.