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Published: Sunday, 12/16/2012

Ensuring the safety of Davis-Besse

BY CHARLES CASTO

Is the Davis-Besse nuclear plant safe?

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we ask that question constantly, to make sure public health and safety are protected. The key values we focus on are nuclear safety, independence, and transparency.

Last year, cracks were discovered in the shield building of the Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor. Our staff made sure that our questions about the impact of the cracks on the building’s safety were answered to our satisfaction before the plant returned to service last December.

I can say with confidence that we did what was necessary to ensure the continued safe operation of Davis-Besse. We formed a diverse technical review team, consisting of inspectors and specialists in such areas as materials and mechanical and structural engineering.

In addition to the 2,000 hours of regular annual inspections of Davis-Besse, this response team spent more than 1,000 hours making sure that we understood the safety implications of the cracks.

Our independent inspectors stood over FirstEnergy’s shoulder during important tests. We verified the credentials of the utility’s experts, and visited laboratories in different parts of the country to ensure its testing techniques met the highest standards.

The NRC conducted two extensive reviews. First, we verified the current safety of the shield building. Then we made sure that FirstEnergy’s proposed actions were more than sufficient to keep the plant in a safe condition. We concluded that the shield building is safe and can be maintained safely.

We based these conclusions on independent, intrusive reviews. Our inspectors continued to challenge the company’s calculations, engineering assumptions, and conclusions until all concerns were effectively addressed.

FirstEnergy submitted two safety evaluations before our technical team was satisfied that they were thorough enough to show that the shield building could continue to operate safely. As a result of the questions raised by our team, the company performed additional tests.

We knew citizens also had many questions about Davis-Besse’s safety. We went beyond our normal requirements to keep people informed about how we were addressing the shield building cracks.

We held two public meetings near the plant, even though we were not required to do so. We generated blogs, press releases, and other written materials about our inspection activities.

We issued detailed reports of our inspections, to make our assessments and reviews totally transparent. We frequently briefed state, local, and federal officials about the status of our reviews.

We will continue to monitor how FirstEnergy carries out the measures it has outlined to maintain the safety of the reactor and shield building at Davis-Besse. We will continue to listen to citizens, and keep them informed about our oversight of the plant. And we will continue to pursue relentlessly our values of nuclear safety, independence, and transparency.

Charles Casto is administrator of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Region 3, based in Chicago.

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