OAK HARBOR, Ohio — The general public gets its formal chance today to weigh in on FirstEnergy's explanation for hairline cracks discovered last year in the outer concrete structure that both shields the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant's reactor from outside threats and serves as backup should the reactor's steel containment shell be breached.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's public hearing on the "root cause" report will start at 6:30 p.m. at Oak Harbor High School, on State Rt. 163 just west of this Ottawa County village. The hearing is scheduled to last three hours.
A hairline crack was revealed inside the outer shield building's concrete, near its outer layer of reinforcing steel, when contractors cut through the structure in October to create an access hole for replacing Davis-Besse's reactor head.
Further study revealed extensive cracking of similar nature in the concrete.
FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Corp. engineers determined that the cracks formed when windblown rain soaked into the concrete during the early stages of the Blizzard of 1978, before a rapid, deep temperature drop caused the moisture to freeze inside, expanding as it did so. The report said the phenomenon is not believed to have repeated itself since then, with the structure remaining stable for the following 33½ years before the cracks' discovery.
FirstEnergy has proposed applying weather-proofing to the concrete and conducting a monitoring program to detect any crack formation or expansion.
"The NRC conducted a thorough, independent review of the plant's root cause determination to make sure the reasons for the internal cracks in the shield building are well understood," the agency said in a statement announcing the hearing. "The agency evaluated the company's proposed actions to ensure the continued safety of the shield building going forward.… The NRC team concluded that the actions proposed by the company should prevent recurrence of the laminar cracking if properly implemented."
Chuck Casto, the agency's regional administrator, told The Blade's editorial board Wednesday the shield building's strength hasn't been compromised by the cracked concrete because "the structural integrity is in the rebar" — several webs of steel encased by the 2½ feet of concrete.
"The concrete makes it leak tight, it keeps the rain away from the rebar," Mr. Casto said. Its cracking is not comparable to the damage done to the now-shuttered Crystal River plant in Florida, where improper preparations for cutting an access hole caused extensive structural problems, he said.
Several anti-nuclear groups that have intervened in proceedings concerning Davis-Besse's license renewal past its 2017 expiration have scheduled a news conference in front of the high school at 5:30 p.m., one hour before the hearing. Among those scheduled to appear is U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), a frequent FirstEnergy critic who has called out the utility for concealing information about Davis-Besse's problems from the public and has demanded extensive repairs to the shield building instead of the mere application of weather-sealing and continued monitoring that is proposed in the "root cause" report.
Mr. Kucinich said an NRC assessment of the cracks found that the plant no longer complies with standards in effect when it was licensed in 1977.
The opposition groups on Tuesday issued a statement lauding the NRC's vote to issue no new licenses or license renewals for nuclear power plants until the agency responds to a federal appeals-court ruling that it failed to analyze sufficiently the environmental impact of storing spent fuel and other nuclear-plant wastes without having a permanent disposal site in place.
Mr. Casto said the agency would allow plants to continue operating if they have filed their license-renewal applications in a timely manner, even if the "waste confidence" matter prevents new licenses from being issued before the current ones expire.
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