A federal board Friday dealt two blows to opponents of renewing the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant’s operating license.
The three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, appointed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, dismissed two lines of argument advanced by groups seeking to block a 20-year extension for the Ottawa County plant run by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. The plant's current license expires in 2017.
The board declined to admit the groups’ contention from Beyond Nuclear, Citizens’ Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio that cracks discovered last year in the plant’s shield building are related to aging and preclude the plant from operating safely.
The groups’ cracking-related claims “amount to bare assertions,” according to its ruling, and lack supporting evidence that hairline cracks discovered nearly 15 months ago in the shield building’s concrete walls are related to the structure’s age and preclude the plant’s safe operation.
“Intervenors have articulated a vague and generic concern that the cracking in Davis-Besse Shield Building will create some sort of safety and/or environmental issues over the course of the relicensing term, but they have not ‘connected the dots,’ as it were, and articulated a dispute with FENOC’s renewal application,” the order states.
An engineering study commissioned by FirstEnergy blamed the cracks on wind-whipped rain that soaked into the concrete and then froze during the Blizzard of 1978. The cracks were revealed in October, 2011, when an access hole was cut through the shield building for a reactor-head replacement.
Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the building has since been weather-proofed and will be inspected regularly to monitor the cracks.
“We feel very comfortable that the building can meet its design functions for the long-term operation of the plant,” she said.
The board also granted FirstEnergy’s motion to dismiss another, previously admitted contention dealing with analysis of what would happen in the event of a severe plant accident.
Kevin Kamps, a radioactive-waste specialist for Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear, was unconvinced by the licensing board’s findings.
The cracks pose a “major safety risk,” he said. “If they can dismiss the cracking contention given the gravity of that risk, then it’s not a good sign for due process.”
Relicensing opponents believe the NRC and FirstEnergy don’t “understand the root causes” of the cracking problem, and if the wrong cause is pinpointed then “they can’t have adequate corrective action in place.”
“[It’s a] huge loss for the public. The risks don’t go away regardless,” he said.
Ms. Young said the license renewal process continues, and a number of other reports are required. But she said the recent decisions make the process simpler.
Mr. Kamps said the licensing board’s rulings are subject to challenge, and re-licensing opponents also may raise new contentions as the renewal process continues. Among unresolved issues is the effect of a June 8 federal appeals-court ruling in Washington declaring that regulators had not assessed potential environmental consequences of long-term radioactive waste storage at nuclear plant sites if no permanent disposal site is developed.
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