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Published: Wednesday, 8/15/2007

FirstEnergy ordered to improve communications in wake of contradictory Davis-Besse reports


ROCKVILLE, MD. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided not to come down hard on FirstEnergy Corp. for holding back on contradictory information the utility had gathered about the near-rupture of Davis-Besse's old reactor head in 2002, letting the utility off with what is effectively a warning.

The federal agency's headquarters in this Washington suburb today issued an order requiring FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. to improve employee training in communications by Nov. 30, and to hire outside consultants to analyze the utility's progress in that area in 2008 and 2009. It also ordered the company to develop a formal review procedure for technical reports created for non-regulatory purposes to better recognize what should be instantly shared with the NRC.

The NRC made it clear since issuing a "Demand for Information" in May that it was irked by FirstEnergy Corp.'s three-month delay in releasing the two documents, prepared by outside consultants to help bolster the utility's arbitration case over a $200 million insurance claim. The agency said it had the authority to impose hefty fines or sanctions up to and including license suspension under that process.

One of the documents in particular, a 661-page report, had potential nationwide ramifications for safety operations at other nuclear plants because of how it attempts to portray the Davis-Besse incident as a fluke. Its conclusions contradicted earlier research by both FirstEnergy and the federal government, which had agreed years ago that safety was compromised at Davis-Besse because of neglected maintenance.

The report prompted the NRC to verify no other plants were on the verge of what happened at Davis-Besse in 2002, the closest the United States had come to having radioactive steam formed in containment since the half-core meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.

FirstEnergy is using the two new reports to seek $200 million in insurance payments for the damaged head.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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