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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Director assisted feds during Davis-Besse probe

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Moffitt
Moffitt
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

A former Davis-Besse engineering director yesterday revealed he was an early target of the government s investigation of trouble at the Ottawa County nuclear plant in the fall of 2001 not the two utility engineers and outside contractor below him who were indicted.

Steven Moffitt said he went to federal prosecutors and offered his assistance after learning he had become a focus of the probe because of what he called the virtue of my position, in which the buck stops here.

Essentially, I wanted a chance to be heard, he said.

Mr. Moffitt said he met with federal prosecutors at least twice in 2005 and agreed to cooperate even though they didn t give him full immunity. He said they agreed not to use information he provided against him, but wouldn t rule out him being indicted.

He wasn t. David Geisen, Rodney N. Cook, and Andrew Siemaszko were. All three had roles in preparing information about the plant s status for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

They were indicted last year on charges of lying to the government, which carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and $250,000 fines.

The cases against Mr. Geisen, a former Davis-Besse design engineer manager, and Mr. Cook, a Tennessee contractor, went to a jury trial before Judge David Katz. Mr. Siemaszko is to be tried later.

The two cases center on what the employees knew about Davis-Besse s reactor head when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspected something was amiss and wanted to shut it down for an emergency safety inspection by Dec. 31, 2001. FirstEnergy Corp., which paid a record $33.5 million in fines, talked the agency into letting it continue operating until Feb. 16, 2002.

The NRC later said it regretted making that compromise, because it jeopardized northern Ohio s safety. Nobody knew at the time the reactor head was on the verge of bursting, which would have allowed radioactive steam to form.

Though he was called as a government witness, Mr. Moffitt made flattering comments about Mr. Geisen. He said he promoted him to the manager s job at a time when employees in design engineering craved better leadership.

He certainly is a capable engineer, Mr. Moffitt said. He referred to him as his go-to guy and right-hand man who instilled trust, has high integrity, and a deep sense of honesty.

He was a trooper that s probably a good characterization of Dave in general, he testified.

Mr. Moffitt left FirstEnergy Corp. in the fall of 2002. Problems with Davis-Besse s reactor head were discovered on March 6 of that year.

Boric acid had melted away six inches of steel in one area, exposing a stainless steel liner that was a fraction of an inch thick. It had started to bulge and crack. The acid, which came up from the plant s reactor core, had been leaking through the lid s nozzles since at least 1996.

He said the NRC barred him from licensed nuclear activities in January, 2006, but relented after he presented his case at a hearing.

Mr. Moffitt told the jury, though, he was taken aback when prosecutors showed him footage of how much boric acid was on Davis-Besse s reactor head during the plant s 1996 refueling outage. The jury earlier was shown that footage, as well as heavier concentrations documented during the 1998 and 2000 refueling outages.

There was a belief that having this boric acid on top of a 600-degree reactor did not constitute a corrosion issue. That was the belief at the time, Mr. Moffitt testified.

At 605 degrees, Davis-Besse was America s hottest and one of its oldest operating nuclear plants in the fall of 2001. NRC officials, with help from the industry-endorsed Electric Power Research Institute, considered operating temperatures and age as two key factors when determining which plants were most likely to develop dangerous 360-degree, circular cracks that were found in the United States for the first time that year, at a South Carolina reactor.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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