It's time for FirstEnergy Corp. to tell Ohioans the truth about the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.
Last month, FirstEnergy disclosed that workers who were replacing a deteriorating reactor head had found cracks in the concrete wall of the Davis-Besse shield building.
FirstEnergy said they were "hairline" cracks, "barely visible" in an "architectural" or "decorative" section of the concrete. We were told that the shield building merely "provides protection from natural phenomena, including wind and tornados."
Later, though, it was revealed that these cracks ran for about 30 feet along the line of steel reinforcing rods in the wall. A photo of the wall posted on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Web site appears to show cracks that are not "hairline" and are clearly "visible."
This month, FirstEnergy acknowledged to investors that the wall of the shield building has many cracks. In fact, there are cracks in 15 out of 16 of what FirstEnergy calls "exterior architectural elements."
The shield building provides the primary defense for Davis-Besse's nuclear reactor against terrorist attacks. It offers secondary defense against the release of radiation in the event of a nuclear accident and a breach of the inner containment vessel.
The areas where most of the cracks have appeared have structural significance, and are not merely "architectural elements." A drawing provided by FirstEnergy -- a cross-section of the wall where the cracks were discovered -- shows that these areas have steel reinforcing rods within the concrete.
These rods are anchored into the wall in two places. They provide an anchor to the bands of steel rods that run around the circumference of the shield building wall, and also a perpendicular anchor through most of the thickness of the wall.
What FirstEnergy calls "architectural … attachments" are an integral part of the shield building wall. The concrete they contain was poured at the same time as the rest of the concrete in the wall.
We should expect that the same age-related deterioration that has occurred in this concrete would occur throughout the wall. That is exactly what FirstEnergy is discovering.
In its letter to investors, FirstEnergy revealed it has found subsurface cracks in other areas of the wall that it does not even try to claim are "architectural." We still have no idea how many other cracks there are in areas of the shield building that have not been tested.
Davis-Besse's reactor is aging. Its concrete is more than 34 years old. It is likely that more concrete will crack during the remaining six years of the plant's operating license, and even more if FirstEnergy gets the 20-year license extension it is seeking from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It's time for FirstEnergy to tell the truth about Davis-Besse. It's time to release all the photos, all the test results, and all the reports. It's time to stop the spin and start full disclosure.
Rather than risk the future of our region and the contamination of the Great Lakes, we must safeguard the public interest. We must insist that First Energy be honest and forthcoming about the serious defects in its reactor containment.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) represents Ohio's 10th Congressional District.
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