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Incompetence has left us in the dark

In March 2002, Davis-Besse, a nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, shutdown for routine repairs when workers discovered “the worst case of corrosion atop a U.S. nuclear reactor head,” according to the Toledo Blade. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists contends that thousands of people could have been killed if the reactor head had blown —- a figure that FirstEnergy, the utility company that owns Davis-Besse, denies.

Davis-Besse is now being reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and hopes to restart operations in February. The NRC has prevented the plant from re-opening since December 2003. The question is whether Davis-Besse and FirstEnergy are responsible enough to operate a potentially great source of energy/disaster.

In the December inspections, the Blade reported that there were so many citations for safety that the NRC didn’t have an exact count. Operators were not able to explain how to prevent routine buildups of pressure in the reactor. What’s worse was that some workers crucial to operating the plant, led inspectors to believe that they were unsure about the time they were supposed to report for duty.

Earlier this month, a communication error at Davis-Besse allowed the emergency power system to run for two hours before shifting to the back-up system, causing FirstEnergy to cancel its special restart meeting with the NRC. All of these mistakes were made while the reactor was running in non-nuclear mode, preventing any chance of danger to the public safety.

I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of nuclear power, I’m not that scientifically inclined to understand its power. I do know that a nuclear plant, which has a record of poor safety and an owner that needs its restart to rebound from a disappointing fiscal year in 2003, are a dangerous mix.

But would FirstEnergy really put the public in danger for profits? According to the workers of Davis-Besse the answer is: Yes.

A consultant for FirstEnergy surveyed the employees of Davis-Besse and found that in some essential departments, workers are tired from working long hours and frustrated from being rushed by management, the Cleveland Plain Dealer said. The NRC concluded in its initial investigation that management was putting dollars and voltage ahead of safety.

From a business standpoint it’s easy to see why FirstEnergy has invested $535 million in order to restart the plant since its shutdown in March 2002. Not to mention that last year FirstEnergy had its profits cut in half, partially due to the blackout on Aug. 14. Oh wait, that was their fault, too.

According to a report sanctioned by the Department of Energy, FirstEnergy almost single-handedly caused the largest blackout in U.S. history. Fifty million people lost their power that day, not to mention the $6 billion in economic damage. Apparently, one of the primary causes of the blackout was that FirstEnergy failed to trim trees around its major transmission lines.

So to review, FirstEnergy/Davis-Besse employees don’t know when to come to work or what to do when they are there. Employees don’t trust management, neither does the NRC. FirstEnergy effectively shutdown eight states and parts of Canada less than a year ago with the massive blackout it caused by not trimming its hedges —-bringing us back to the beginning when workers stumbled upon extreme corrosion in Davis-Besse’s reactor head, narrowly averting a nuclear disaster.

What FirstEnergy doesn’t seem to understand is that neglecting simple, fundamental duties can have major consequences. Hey, if they can straighten up their act, I say turn the bad boy back on. I need that juice to run my food dehydrator, purchased from a kindly old gentleman on QVC late last night. After all, there are plenty of mountains in Nevada just begging to be filled with radioactive waste.

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