Published on Sunday, May 4, 2003 by the New York Times
Ohio Reactor's Problems Are Said to Persist
by Matthew L. Wald
WASHINGTON, May 3 A nuclear plant in Ohio shut for 14 months because acid had nearly eaten through the lid of its reactor vessel still has extensive problems in its "safety culture," consultants hired by the plant's owners have determined.
Much of the damage at the Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo, has been repaired, and the owners hope to restart it early this summer. But in a report released on Friday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the consultants said that "accountability and ownership for safety are not yet universally accepted in the organization."
"An integrated and cohesive organizational safety leadership process does not yet exist," the consultants said. "Management's safety goals have not been consistently communicated to nor understood by station personnel."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must concur before Davis-Besse can reopen, has its own evaluation team at the plant, seeking to measure "safety culture," as the commission refers to factors like having everyone accept responsibility for safety and putting it ahead of production. Among the other aspects of good safety culture, according to nuclear experts, is the willingness of technicians and middle managers to raise safety questions and push them up the chain of command.
Discovery of the corrosion shocked the regulators and the nuclear industry, but physical repair has not solved the problems faced by the plant's owner, the First Energy Nuclear Operating Corporation. It is now engaged in a dispute over whether it is fit to run the plant and whether it properly disciplined an employee involved in the corrosion.
First Energy agreed with the commission that it would bring in outside safety consultants.
A spokesman for First Energy, Todd Schneider, said that the report was based on work done in March, and that the situation had improved since then. "The report identifies some strengths and some weaknesses," Mr. Schneider said. "That's what we wanted."
He said the company had created a Department of Organizational Development to "improve plant culture and the safety-conscious work environment."
But another expert on safety culture, Paul Blanch, who has worked at several reactors as a consultant, said the report "doesn't indicate any significant progress" from the days when managers at Davis-Besse failed to perform adequate inspections of the reactor vessel because they were in a hurry to restart the reactor.
The corrosion ate away six inches of steel, about 70 pounds in all, leaving only a half-inch stainless steel liner to hold in more than 2,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.
In February, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revoke First Energy's operating license. Among the charges Mr. Kucinich made was that First Energy fired an engineer, Andy Siemaszko, last September because he had raised safety issues. Mr. Siemaszko, who is pursuing a complaint with the Department of Labor, had tried to do a thorough inspection of the vessel head during a shutdown for refueling in 2000, but was "thwarted" by management, according to Mr. Kucinich's petition.
First Energy responded that Mr. Siemaszko "was terminated for his involvement in the missed opportunities to earlier prevent or detect" the corrosion, and that his firing showed the company's "willingness to hold people accountable for poor performance."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company