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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2003

NRC promotion provokes criticism

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is promoting a senior management official who was ultimately responsible for letting Davis-Besse continue operating in the fall of 2001 when some agency officials had expressed serious misgivings about the plant and tried to get it shut down early because of their safety fears.

Sam Collins, the NRC's powerful Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation director, has been named to replace William Kane as deputy executive director for reactor programs. He will report directly to executive director of operations William Travers.

As the agency's reactor regulation director, Mr. Collins has been in charge of licensing decisions. He halted a rare government shutdown order that had been prepared for Davis-Besse, about 31/2 months before the near-hole was discovered in the plant's reactor head in March, 2002. It was the first such order since 1987.

Mr. Collins declined to enforce it after hearing FirstEnergy Corp.'s financial pleas, sparking harsh criticism in a January report by the agency's own Office of Inspector General. The company has since admitted to oversight lapses that led to numerous equipment and workplace issues.

James Dyer, administrator of the NRC's Midwest regional office, has been named to replace Mr. Collins. The office that Mr. Dyer has headed oversees Davis-Besse and Detroit Edison Co.'s Fermi II nuclear plant in Monroe County, among others.

The management changes were among six announced by the NRC. Scott Burnell, an agency spokesman, said they will be phased in over the next several weeks.

The promotions resulted after Mr. Kane was named deputy executive director for Homeland Protection and Preparedness, Mr. Burnell said.

Critics questioned why the NRC has kept Mr. Collins around. “I still think Sam Collins should have been fired,” Amy Ryder, of Ohio Citizen Action, said.

“He's allowed utilities to run reactors to the point of breakdown. That's not a good regulator,” Jim Riccio, Greenpeace nuclear policy analyst, said.

“We're disturbed there hasn't been a more thorough housecleaning at senior management levels,” Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, said.

Howard Whitcomb, a former NRC inspector and former FirstEnergy employee, said the reshuffling is another sign of the NRC's lack of commitment to improving its own safety culture. “It seems to me nobody's really taking [the safety culture] seriously,” Mr. Whitcomb, a Toledo lawyer, said.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) has renewed his request to have the NRC revoke FirstEnergy's license at Davis-Besse. On Monday, he filed a 20-page appeal of the agency's denial of a petition he had submitted in February for license revocation.

In the newly filed appeal, Mr. Kucinich said the NRC “has chosen not to hold FirstEnergy accountable for its violations.”

The site of today's monthly NRC oversight panel meeting has been changed to Oak Harbor High School. The meetings will be at their usual times, 2 and 7 p.m.

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



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