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Published: 12/12/2010

Davis-Besse comments sought

Some activist groups that believe the public was underrepresented at the recent Davis-Besse re-licensing hearings have scheduled what Joe DeMare of Rossford describes as a "people's hearing" at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Toledo's Old West End.

From noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the church at 2272 Collingwood Blvd., residents can step up to a microphone and air their views about the plant into a video camera. All discs or tapes containing the recorded statements will be delivered to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prior to the Dec. 27 comment deadline, Mr. DeMare said.

The format will be similar to one the NRC used at Camp Perry, the Ohio National Guard base west of Port Clinton, when the agency hosted a pair of sessions called environmental scoping meetings on Nov. 4. Those meetings are ones in which the public was invited to say what environmental risks might be posed to the western Lake Erie region by another 20 years of operation by Davis-Besse. The only difference is NRC staffers won't be there in person to hear comments as they're spoken.

Scott Burnell, spokesman for the NRC's headquarters in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., said NRC staffers will view the recorded proceedings if the discs or tapes are submitted in time. Nearly all the comments the NRC and other government agencies get outside of official proceedings are written statements. He said he is not aware of citizens ever submitting such a video as comments for the review of a re-licensing application.

"We all feel that if any plant should be shut down and have its license extension refused, it's Davis-Besse," said Mr. DeMare, a 48-year-old machinist and member of the Wood County Green Party.

The Green Party of Ohio is hosting the meeting with help from the Ohio Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, and Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes — groups which for years have questioned the need for nuclear power. Organizers said, though, they welcome a divergent point of view and will not discourage those with pro-nuclear views from speaking.

"For me, more than anything, is to let the NRC know that we care," said Green Party of Ohio co-chairman Anita Rios, who lives in Toledo.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a Washington-based opponent of nuclear power, said he plans to have his voice heard at the Toledo meeting even though he has "every expectation the NRC will rubber-stamp this."

The agency has not yet rejected an application for a 20-year license extension.

At the Nov. 4 meetings, little dissent was heard. The meetings were held on the Thursday after the 2010 election, during the afternoon and the evening.

Some people have questioned if the timing and location affected the turnout.

The NRC believes it did enough to get the word out.

"There is only so much we can do to publicize an event," Mr. Burnell said. "We can't drive around to every neighborhood and ask them what they think."

During the afternoon session, Davis-Besse's owner-operator — Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. — had a succession of utility executives, plant employees, Ottawa County officials, spokesmen from the United Way, the American Red Cross, an area soup kitchen, labor unions, and even one of the region's top birding organizations speak up on behalf of the plant.

Virtually none of them, though, spoke to the environmental ramifications of Davis-Besse's continued operation, the purpose of the meeting.

Nearly all comments were about the plant's jobs, their economic impact, the tax revenue the plant generates, and the millions of dollars FirstEnergy has donated to worthy causes.

The only dissent from the afternoon meeting was a tersely worded letter written by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), a longtime FirstEnergy critic. The evening session, according to Mr. DeMare, drew about three dozen people. Seven people favored the plant's continued operation and two opposed it.

Mr. Kucinich referred to the near-rupture of Davis-Besse's original reactor head in his letter, saying it put northern Ohio's public safety at risk. After the problem was identified, authorities discovered FirstEnergy and some of its employees had withheld crucial information about the plant's dangerous operating condition from the government in the fall of 2001.

Davis-Besse, which is along Lake Erie and 30 miles east of Toledo, could have had radioactive steam form inside containment if that reactor head had burst. FirstEnergy was fined a record $33.5 million for its role in the cover-up.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), whose district includes Ottawa County, called for the closing of Davis-Besse in 2002. In an interview on the day of those meetings, she implored the NRC and FirstEnergy to continually live up to their "full obligations to safe operations."

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



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