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Davis-Besse has emergency shutdown, pressure boundary leakage; coalition presses case against risky steam generator replacements

Toledo attorney Terry Lodge speaks out against Davis-Besse's 20-year license extension at an August 2012 press conference in Oak Harbor, OhioOn June 29th, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore near Toledo experienced an emergency shutdown.

The event notification report posted on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) website states:


"Automatic trip of Reactor Coolant Pump 1-2 due to an electrical differential current fault resulted in an RPS actuation on Flux/Delta Flux/Flow. Startup Feedwater Valve 1 did not respond as expected post-trip and has been placed in manual control. All secondary side steam reliefs initially re-seated following reactor trip. Subsequent Main Steam Line #1 Safety Valve leakage mitigated during post-trip recovery actions. All other systems have functioned as expected. The plant is stable in Mode 3 - Hot Standby."

All rods inserted into the core during the trip. Decay heat is being removed via turbine bypass valves to the main condenser with normal feedwater to the steam generators. The plant is in its normal shutdown electrical lineup. The licensee characterized the trip as uncomplicated. 

The licensee will be notifying Lucas and Ottawa counties, the State of Ohio and will be issuing a press release. They have notified the NRC Resident Inspector.'

Helpfully translating that Nukespeak into plain English, David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Nuclear Safety, has prepared a powerpoint presentation to explain what happened at Davis-Besse.

Vanessa McCray at the Toledo Blade has reported on this story. She quotes Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps:

'...Kevin Kamps, a radioactive-waste specialist for Beyond Nuclear, said the most recent incident is another worry.

“A lot of plants have problems, but often times it’s a single problem a plant will have ...,” he said. “But for Davis-Besse, they have just a whole long list of problems, and that’s what concerns us too —that those might line up one day in a very bad way.”...'

Kevin has dubbed this a risky game of radioactive Russian roulette at Davis-Besse. He has documented numerous near-misses with disaster over the decades, including a June 9, 1985 steam generator dry out which cut off cooling to the reactor core for 12 minutes, and risked a loss of coolant accident that could have quickly led to a meltdown.

FENOC is currently taking similar safety shortcuts on its planned 2014 steam generator replacements which Edison International took at San Onofre Units 2 and 3 in southern California. A month ago, Friends of the Earth, with Fairewinds Associates, Inc's Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen as its expert, successfully pressured Edison to simply permanently shutdown San Onofre 2 & 3. Arnie and Maggie Gundersen of Fairewinds also had a major hand in another recently announced permanent reactor shutdown, at Duke/Progress Energy's Crystal River, FL nuclear power plant. In that case, fatal cracks in containment -- self-inflicted during a botched steam generator replacement project -- doomed the reactor. What's disconcerting is that Davis-Besse is not only taking major shortcuts on safety with its steam generator replacements, but also has severe containment cracking. Despite this, FENOC is seeking a 20-year license extension, to begin, ironically enough, on Earth Day (April 22), 2017. 

Days after its emergency shutdown, Davis-Besse then suffered another problem. On July 1st, during reactor cool down operations, Davis-Besse suffered a primary coolant pressure boundary leak. As reported in the event notification report posted at the NRC's website:


"On 07/01/2013 at 1103 [EDT], inspection personnel identified leakage from a 3/4 inch small-bore pipe socket weld for RCP 1-2 first stage seal cavity vent line. At current Reactor Coolant System conditions (Normal Operating Pressure and Temperature), the leak rate is approximately 8 to 9 drops per minute. 

"The plant entered Technical Specification (TS) Limiting Condition for Operation (LCO) 3.4.13, 'RCS Operational Leakage', Condition B. Repairs to the line are being evaluated. 

"This pressure boundary leakage is reportable per 10 CFR 50.72(b)(3)(ii)(A). The NRC Resident Inspector has been notified." 

The LCO requires the licensee to be in Mode 5 by 2303 EDT on 7/2/13.'

In 2010, UCS's Lochbaum successfully challenged FENOC and NRC over primary coolant leakage through the pressure boundary at Davis-Besse. Such leakage had previously led to the most infamous near-disaster at a U.S. reactor since the Three Mile Island meltdown of 1979: the 2002 reactor lid corrosion hole-in-the-head fiasco, that came within 3/16ths of an inch of breaching and causing a loss of coolant accident in the core. In response, FENOC installed the third reactor lid in a decade at Davis-Besse in 2011. That project revealed the severe cracking in Davis-Besse's steel reinforced concrete containment Shield Building.

Meanwhile, on June 28th, both FENOC and NRC staff filed Motions to Strike against the coalition's recent defense of its intervention against the steam generator replacement. The coalition will respond to these attacks within days. An NRC Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board (ASLB) has scheduled a telephone conference call oral argument pre-hearing to deliberate on the coalition's standing and the merits of its arguments, to be held on Wednesday, July 24th at 1:30 PM Eastern. 

On this week's Fairewinds Energy Education podcast, Maggie and Arnie Gundersen speak with Terry Lodge, a trial lawyer with significant experience working on nuclear issues. The Gundersens have worked with Terry on cases involving San Onofre, Fermi, and Davis Besse. In this podcast he joined with them to discuss the challenge of participating meaningfully with the NRC. Is the NRC doing their job to protect citizens, or have they designed a byzantine system to thwart the public and protect the industry?

Terry Lodge (photo, above left) serves as the environmental coalition's attorney at Davis-Besse, while Fairewinds Associates, Inc's Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, serves as its expert witness. The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club.