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Opposition gets time to respond to plant's relicensing plans

PORT CLINTON -- A federal agency has canceled a legal hearing related to relicensing the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant after groups opposing that relicensing requested time to respond to amendments the plant's owner has made to its application.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board had been scheduled to hear oral arguments Friday from FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Corp., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and four "intervenors" opposed to FirstEnergy's 20-year license renewal application for Davis-Besse. But on Monday, the four groups requested time to complete their response to information FENOC provided April 5 to the NRC, including an amendment to the application.

The "intervenors" have until June 4 to amend their filings in response to the new information. The licensing board said it will then consider the amended document and replies from FirstEnergy and the regulatory commission before deciding whether to reschedule oral arguments.

The information and amendment pertain to hairline cracks discovered last year in Davis-Besse's concrete Shield Building, also known as the Outer Containment Building. A regulatory commission statement issued Tuesday said a "Shield Building Monitoring Program" is included in the documents.

In a report filed Feb. 28, FirstEnergy blamed the concrete cracking on wind-whipped moisture penetrating deep into the structure during the Blizzard of 1978, which then froze during a sharp temperature drop. The utility said the building has been stable since then and the cracks went undiscovered until a hole was cut through the concrete in October for access to replace the plant's reactor head. A previous hole cut for reactor-head replacement was not in the same place and did not reveal the cracks, the company said.

The opposition groups -- Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio -- maintain that the cracks should be declared "an aging-related feature" that should at least be monitored throughout any extended plant operation.

-- David Patch

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