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Davis-Besse hearings open

Opponents of nuclear-plant license go before federal board

A federal board heard arguments Monday in which opponents of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant contend that cracks discovered in the plant’s concrete shield building last year should be considered when weighing the renewal of the plant's license.

Four groups oppose the 20-year extension that the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. seeks for its Ottawa County plant. The current license expires in 2017.

On Monday, a three-member board made up of administrative judges from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board appointed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked questions about the cracking issue and another motion related to the renewal process. A second day of arguments is to begin at 9 a.m. today in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Board Chairman William Froehlich said the board will issue a written decision on the motions within 45 days.

Groups who oppose the license renewal want the issue of the hairline cracks admitted as a contention in the proceedings. However, FirstEnergy officials argue they missed the deadline to file in a timely fashion. The utility said it discovered the cracks in October, 2011. It contends the cracks were caused by the blizzard of 1978. Spokesman Jennifer Young said FirstEnergy has weather-proofed the building and continues to monitor the cracks.

In board documents, license-renewal opponents contend the cracking “is an aging-related feature of the plant, the condition of which precludes safe operation of the atomic reactor beyond 2017 for any period of time, let alone the proposed 20-year license period.”

Among FirstEnergy’s arguments against admitting the contention as part of the process is the timing of the filing, which is to take place within 60 days of when the relevant material becomes available. Intervenors initially filed the proposal over cracking on Jan. 10, five days after a public meeting convened by the NRC to discuss the cracking, said Terry Lodge, a lawyer representing the intervenors.

Mr. Lodge said it took time for the public and intervening groups to learn the scope, and potential effects, of the cracking problem identified last fall.

“We believe the initial filing was certainly timely ... ” he said. “We also believe that this is an incredibly serious issue.”

The intervening groups are Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan, and Green Party of Ohio.

Attorney Timothy Matthews, who represents FirstEnergy, called on the board to reject what he said are untimely filings. He said intervenors lack support for the cracking contention and have provided only “layman’s speculation” on the issue. NRC attorney Catherine Kanatas also argued the contention is inadmissible.

The board on Monday also heard arguments on FirstEnergy’s motion to dispose of a different, previously admitted contention that deals with analysis of what would happen in the case of a severe plant accident, said Viktoria Mitlyng, NRC spokesman.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: or 419-724-6065.

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