Since March, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur has been conveying strong thoughts about the apparent maintenance and oversight breakdown that allowed Davis-Besse to become a dangerous nuclear plant.
Yesterday the Toledo Democrat got an earful from an unlikely group - a team of bright children between the ages of 10 and 13 who have put a lot of work into studying what went wrong.
Circuit Breakers, a team of Sylvania and Maumee-area youths that won a national robotics award earlier this year in Orlando, Fla., met with Miss Kaptur for more than 45 minutes in her downtown Toledo district office yesterday to give their perspective of the problems at the FirstEnergy plant in Ottawa County.
Seven of the nine team members attended, each dapperly dressed and eager to give their thoughts in a calm, professional manner.
Their conclusion: incomplete inspections by FirstEnergy and inadequate oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made Davis-Besse “a health and safety risk to our community.”
Three gave Miss Kaptur an overview - a power point presentation, no less. They touched upon themes such as the plant's history, worker anxiety about reporting problems, and a controversial decision made in the fall of 2001 by a senior NRC official to overrule a staff recommendation for a Dec. 31 shutdown.
The official, Sam Collins, NRC director of nuclear reactor regulation, allowed Davis-Besse to continue operating until Feb. 16.
“Don't be nervous. Pretend you're talking to your grandmother,” Miss Kaptur told Ian Shaw, 12; Mia Steen, 12, and Kevin David, 11.
Presenters talked about how they've learned that France uses moisture-sensitive tape on its nuclear reactor heads to detect the kind of problems found at Davis-Besse. They used a hand-made diorama to show similarities between Davis-Besse and Three Mile Island, both designed by the former Babcock & Wilcox Co.
“They put profits ahead of safety,” young David said in reference to FirstEnergy management, something which the company has admitted to the NRC at public meetings.
“If the NRC had done their job, this wouldn't have happened,” the Shaw youth said.
The children said they gleaned much of the team's information from articles that have appeared in The Blade, but said they also spent a lot of time gathering information and graphics from the Internet. Among those they interviewed was David Lochbaum, a nationally recognized nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.
Miss Kaptur said she was impressed not only by the sophistication and quality of the team's presentation, but also by the members' poise.