Thomas Ballantine of the U.S. Department of Justice's environmental crimes section told a U.S. District Court in Toledo Friday that the words "let's win this war" became the mantra inside FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant in the fall of 2001, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was preparing an order to shut down the plant three months earlier than it had planned to go offline.
Mr. Ballantine said in opening remarks to the jury hearing the government's case against former engineer Andrew Siemaszko that those words, previously undisclosed to the public, help illustrate the fervor in which FirstEnergy was fighting the proposed NRC action.
He told the jury Mr. Siemaszko, who had started working at the plant less than two years earlier, was trying to make a good impression on his new employer by selectively deciding what kind of information the utility would present to the NRC as the agency contemplated its shutdown order.
The NRC ultimately compromised by allowing a 47-day extension, based on the information it received. It has since said repeatedly that Davis-Besse was America's most dangerous operating plant at the time and that, had it known the extent of the problem, it would have followed through with the shutdown order.
Mr. Siemaszko's lead attorney, Chuck Boss, of Maumee, spent two hours walking the jury through an outline of the defense's case.
He said it will prove Mr. Siemaszko is being set up as a scapegoat - that officials higher in the FirstEnergy chain of command knew much more about the problems inside the plant and that the NRC itself knew the plant was in bad shape because of excessive boron and rust it had been told about during the station's 2000 outage.
"Andrew Siemaszko's a scapegoat. He's not a criminal. That's what the evidence will show," Mr. Boss said.
The trial is expected to last two to four weeks. At issue is what Mr. Siemaszko knew about the plant's condition during the weeks leading up to Davis-Besse's historic two-year outage that began on Feb. 16, 2002.
Six weeks after the plant was shut down, its old reactor head was found in a near-ruptured state due to excessive rust and corrosion that had been tolerated - the first time in U.S. nuclear history a plant had come so close to having its steel reactor head blow apart and allow radioactive steam to form in containment.