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SAMA contention defended, resistance to Davis-Besse license extension continues

Toledo attorney Terry Lodge speaks at a press conference on August 9th at Oak Harbor High School, prior to an NRC public meeting, addressing Davis-Besse's severely cracked shield building.On Sept. 14th, environmental coalition attorney, Toledo-based Terry Lodge (photo, left), filed a rebuttal against FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) Motion for Summary Dismissal (MSD) of an intervention contention challenging the Davis-Besse atomic reactor's Severe Accident Mitigation Alernatives (SAMA) analyses.

FENOC applied for a 20 year license extension in August 2010, which the environmental coalition (Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and Green Party of Ohio) challenged in December 2010. One of the contentions the coalition successfully filed involved SAMA. On the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe (April 26, 2011), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board (ASLB) granted the environmental intervenors a hearing on the SAMA contention. 

The coalition is deeply indebted to Pilgrim Watch in Massachusetts, as well as the New England Coalition, for their groundbreaking SAMA challenges against the Pilgrim and Seabrook, NH license extensions, respectively. Their work laid the groundwork for ours.

FENOC appealed the ASLB's ruling to the five member NRC Commission, which earlier this year largely ruled in FENOC's favor, overruling the ASLB and dismissing several aspects of the SAMA hearing request. However, some aspects survived. Those are what FENOC would now like to nix entirely.

However, FENOC recently admitted that it had made five major errors in its original SAMA analyses, including getting wind directions 180 degrees wrong; undervaluing Ohio farmland and urban property values; and underestimating the amount of hazardous radioactivity that could escape into the environment during a meltdown at Davis-Besse, as well as the land area that could become contaminated.

The heart of the environmental coalition's defense of its contention involves the severe cracking of Davis-Besse's outer concrete, steel reinforced shield building, as well as significant corrosion of its inner steel containment vessel. The Intervenors charge that FENOC's SAMA analyses are fatally flawed, for they ignore the questionable structural integrity of Davis-Besse's containment structures, which could fail under even small loads, such as mild earthquakes, or meltdown conditions (high temperatures and pressures, which the shield building was never even designed to withstand when brand new, let alone severely cracked).

The ASLB has indicated it will hold oral argument pre-hearings in the vicinity of Davis-Besse in early November, at which the environmental coalition will defend not only its SAMA contention, but also its shield building cracking contention.