Ohio is looking down the barrel of a nuclear apocalypse. Its name is
Davis-Besse. Reopening it---as its owner wants to do---can be viewed as
nothing more than an act of terrorism.
The 900-megawatt atomic reactor near Toledo has shocked even the industry's
staunchest supporters. An unexpected leak of boric acid has eaten through
nearly six full inches of solid high-grade metal in a critical internal
component. Only 3/8 of an inch of carbon steel protection was left in tact
when the hole was discovered in February. Soon thereafter a second hole
was discovered, raising widespread fears that the reactor could be riddled
with untold other seriously deriorated sites.
Boric acid is laced throughout the water that circulates through all
Pressurized Water Reactors. Similar structural problems have long been known
in the much-vaunted French nuclear industry, whose 55-plus PWRs suffer from a
syndrome known as Vessel Head Penetration Cracking, which threatens the
As it always does, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to
protect the public, says there is no real danger. But in the same releases
it pointed out that the acid has compromised an extremely important safety
feature common to all pressurized water reactors, the world's most widespread
model. There are 68 other reactors with similar designs in the US alone.
The NRC gets its funding from the industry it regulates, and has long been
viewed as little more than a lapdog giving public relations cover to a
corrupt, decayed plutocracy. Critics generally refer to it as "No Real
Chance" and "Nobody Really Cares." Its chairman, Richard Meserve, recently
launched a vicious personal attack against one critic who dared point out
that America's reactors are still vulnerable to a terrorist attack from the
In the wake of September 11, a global debate led the industry itself to
concede that no reactor containment on any commercial nuclear plant could
withstand the crash of a jet the size of the ones that brought down the World
Trade Center. But while ground security has been increased at most reactor
sites, there has been no significant upgrade in the ability of any commercial
reactor to survive an attack from the air. When Paul Leventhal of the
Nuclear Control Institute, among others, pointed this out, Meserve went over
the deep end.
Which is where all of Lake Erie and northern Ohio would go in the event of an
attack or an accident at Davis-Besse. FirstEnergy's aging atomic clunker has
been likened to a radioactive jalopy, patched together with twine, hurtling
down a steep hill. At the bottom is the prospect of a literal apocalypse,
whose radioactive releases could permanently destroy all of northern Ohio and
the Great Lakes, the world's largest single reserve of fresh water. A
melt-down or terrorist-prompted explosion could kill millions, including much
of the populations of Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit.
Davis-Besse is a deteriorating Three Mile Island-style relic which in the
1980s ate millions in funky patches just to keep it on line. Its latest
safety shutdown has caused no blackouts or other noticeable strains on the
grid that supplies northern Ohio with electricity. FirstEnergy is now buying
power from other sources, which are readily available.
The company is also demanding the right to slap in still more cheap fixes and
throw Davis-Besse back on line as fast as possible. FirstEnergy has its
financial reasons. But even the NRC has started to balk at the profound
irresponsiblity of pasting on a few bandaids and then re-firing such an
infernal machine. There is talk of replacing some large internal components
altogether. But that would take FirstEnergy until 2004, by which time much
of the public will have figured out there's no need for this radioactive Rube
Last year nearly 1700 megawatts of windpower were installed in the US alone,
more than twice as much capacity as is theoretically provided by Davis-Besse.
By 2004 far more capacity could be provided cheaply, cleanly and safely by
natural gas or Great Lakes wind machines than by a reopened nuke.
Safety experts have now called for a thorough x-ray examination of every
component of Davis-Besse and the scores of other reactors with similar
designs. But the attitude of the Bush Administration and the NRC has been
that if this might cost FirstEnergy and other reactor owners a few extra
dollars, then they won't do it, even if it endangers the future of the
This is a profoundly important moment in this nation's history. This kind
grotesque risk being taken with the public safety cannot be tolerated.
Davis-Besse must stay shut and the alternatives put in place. To do
otherwise would be an unparalleled act of terrorism, pure and simple.