Will Ohio's Hole-in-Head Nuke Machine of Mass Destruction Soon Reopen?
By Harvey Wasserman
The Free Press
Monday 07 July 2003
Ohio's infamous nuke with the hole in its head is being forced toward critical mass. Only a global outcry can stop it. Meanwhile, ample wind power is ready right there to replace the plant.
Last year the Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo, missed bringing Chernobyl to the Great Lakes by a mere fraction of an inch of deteriorating metal. Boric acid ate through six inches of solid steel and left only a warped shard between the superheated core and unfathomable catastrophe.
Now DB's owner, First Energy of Akron, wants to reopen a machine of mass destruction that nearly destroyed, in one fell swoop, a region with millions of people along with Earth's largest bodies of fresh water. Indefensible against terrorist attack, Davis-Besse provides potential killing power beyond Saddam's wildest dreams.
But public outcry is also reaching critical mass. You can join in by clicking onto www.ohiocitizen.org/campaigns/electric/2003/nrc_email.html and telling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep this reactor shut.
Indeed, as it races to critical mass, First Energy faces charges of criminal negligence. Critics say it used "questionable means" to strongarm the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After the NRC noted disturbing problems in numerous reactors of similar design, First Energy held inspectors at bay for at least 75 days.
When they finally came to Davis-Besse, NRC inspectors were horrified to find---by accident---that boric acid had eaten through the entire six-inch solid steel reactor pressure vessel that contains the super-hot radioactive core that powers the plant. The decay had been in progress for at least six years. Only an unrelated thin shield---already warped from intense heat, pressure and radiation---prevented an incalculable radiation release. Thousands of people and millions of acres of land and water hung by a shred.
Davis-Besse is a clone of the reactor at Three Mile Island, which melted to global horror in 1979. It's long been plagued by bad design, multiple mishaps, low worker morale and slip-shod procedures. Thousands of northern Ohioans repeatedly packed rallies and hearings demanding that the reactor stay shut. Ohio Citizen Action and national organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service challenged the NRC to face up to First Energy's blatant disregard of standard safety and maintenance procedures.
But First Energy barreled ahead with a quick fix. Spending as much as $400 million, they carted in a vessel head from a Midland, Michigan reactor shut by citizen opposition in the 1980s.
Serious problems remain. Decay has been found on the bottom of a Texas reactor, calling into question whether similar problems could still materialize at Davis-Besse. And UCS has raised the specter of criminal charges against FE for its apparent violations---and coverup---of a wide range of violations of NRC regulations. UCS's David Lochbaum says the notoriously slipshod safety culture at Davis-Besse remains at issue.
And new studies now indicate that wind energy in the northern Ohio area could replace Davis-Besse. It's long been assumed that the breezes along Lake Erie, while substantial, were not powerful enough for serious commercial turbine development. But recent advances in windmill design have made the harnessing of "marginal" wind potential like that in northern Ohio economically feasible. And the winds there now seem far more powerful than previously believed, especially offshore from Cleveland.
Were Davis-Besse to stay shut, the ample transmission lines left vacant could carry a flood of wind-driven electricity. The state's first two utility-scale machines will be installed in September by the city of Bowling Green. With wind replacing Davis-Besse's power, billions in development revenue and thousands of jobs could result.
Rumors have spread that if the NRC has not signed off on reactor re-start by mid-July, FE might pull the plug.
So safe energy proponents are flooding the Commission with calls and e-mails, demanding a full vetting of potential criminal charges and proof that the plant can be operated safely before Davis-Besse re-opens.
Meanwhile, the wind industry waits with baited breath. As do millions of northern Ohioans.
Ohio-based Harvey Wasserman is senior advisor to the Nuclear Information & Resource Service and author of THE LAST ENERGY WAR (Seven Stories Press).