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Published: Monday, 12/8/2008

Hearings slated for ex-engineers at Davis-Besse

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Geisen Siemaszko Geisen Siemaszko
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Two proceedings will be held this week for the pair of former Davis-Besse engineers convicted of covering up vital information about the Ottawa County nuclear plant weeks before its old reactor head nearly blew apart in 2002.

The first will be at 9:30 a.m. today, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board starts hearing whether David Geisen should be allowed to resume work in the nuclear industry before his five-year ban from employment in it expires in January, 2011.

The hearing, expected to last a week, will be at the agency's headquarters in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md. The NRC said it is broadcasting at least the first day on a live video stream at www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=53643. It hasn't decided if it'll post the rest yet.

On Thursday, Geisen's convicted co-conspirator, Andrew Siemaszko, will be in a Toledo courtroom asking Judge David Katz of U.S. District Court for an acquittal or new trial.

That hearing begins at 1 p.m. The judge is giving both sides 45 minutes.

Geisen of DePere, Wis., and Siemaszko of Spring, Texas, were convicted on three of five counts at separate trials held 10 months apart, in October, 2007, and this past August, respectively.

Their alleged accomplice, Rodney N. Cook, a nuclear contractor from Millington, Tenn., was acquitted of all four counts against him in 2007.

A fourth suspect, Prasoon Goyal of Toledo, was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against the other three.

Each faced up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Geisen was fined $7,500 and sentenced by Judge Katz to three years probation, four months of house arrest, and 200 hours of community service on May 1.

He left Davis-Besse and had been working at a similar job at the Kewaunee nuclear plant 27 miles east of Green Bay, Wis., until the trio were indicted in January, 2006. Siemaszko will be sentenced Feb. 6 if the verdicts against him stand.

FirstEnergy has paid a record $33.5 million in criminal and civil fines for its role in what federal prosecutors have described as one of the nuclear industry's biggest cover-ups.

A radioactive crisis was averted only because another worker discovered one of the reactor head's 69 nozzles was wobbly.

Acid from the reactor had burned away 6 inches of steel from where that nozzle was implanted, exposing a thin liner that was not designed to hold back the reactor's enormous operating pressure.

The discovery was made while the plant was offline for refueling and maintenance. Federal laboratory tests showed the reactor was weeks away from rupturing and forming radioactive steam if it had resumed operation in that condition.

It wasn't. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis-Besse idle for two years while its owner-operator, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., spent millions to fix that and other problems related to Davis-Besse's safety systems. Some were design flaws dating to when the plant went online in 1977.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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