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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Feds shape inquiry of NRC's Besse role


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Federal investigators soon will finalize the scope of a probe they are doing for Congress about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's admitted oversight lapses at Davis-Besse.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is to provide such details next week in a meeting with U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland Democrat who asked for the probe. The congressman will learn of the projected timetable for it, GAO spokesman Laura Kopelson said.

She told The Blade yesterday the investigation will go beyond the scope of a controversial report issued in January by the regulatory commission's own Office of Inspector General. That report accused the agency of putting profits ahead of safety by letting FirstEnergy Corp. talk it into a six-week shutdown delay for Davis-Besse. Commission officials have denied the accusation.

The GAO report will draw from information used to compile the inspector general's report, as well as records from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and FirstEnergy. It will analyze events leading to the Feb. 16, 2002, shutdown and take a broad look at the commission's problem-solving process, including the reactor oversight program in which the commission is considering changes.

The NRC's near and long-term proposals for Davis-Besse also will be analyzed, Ms. Kopelson said.

The commission is continuing inspections at the beleaguered plant, where FirstEnergy is still likely weeks away from applying for restart authorization.

National attention has focused on leaking acid that nearly ate a hole through the reactor's steel lid.

But in the months that followed, a number of other issues have been raised, such as the integrity of the reactor's underbelly, the design of some emergency systems, and the safety culture of Davis-Besse's management and workforce.

On Feb. 3, Mr. Kucinich petitioned the NRC to revoke the plant's operating license. The commission has not yet issued its decision.

His call for congressional hearings has been supported by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse.

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