Investigators Questioning FirstEnergy About Nuclear Plant

CLEVELAND (AP) - Criminal investigators want to know if operators of a nuclear power plant withheld information about serious problems that have kept it closed since February, The Plain Dealer reported.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of Investigations is looking into FirstEnergy Corp.'s handling of problems at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the newspaper said Wednesday.

Leaking acid and corrosion created a large hole in a steel protective cap in the reactor head. The corrosion was the most extensive ever found on top of a U.S. nuclear plant reactor.

Criminal investigators have contacted Akron-based FirstEnergy, spokesman Todd Schneider said Wednesday.

While NRC investigators have said FirstEnergy missed signs that there was a corrosion problem, the company maintains it did not withhold any information, spokesman Todd Schneider.

"We knew we made mistakes, but we made them by not putting the pieces of the puzzle together," he said. "We've had investigations like this before and they've never led to criminal charges."

NRC spokesman Jan Strasma would not comment on the criminal investigation. The agency also is looking into whether the plant violated any operational rules.

Meanwhile, investigators sent by a congressional committee arrived Wednesday at the plant about 20 miles east of Toledo. The investigators will gather information so lawmakers can get a firsthand account of the damage.

The plant had been shut down for refueling when the corrosion was discovered in March.

The company told shareholders Tuesday that it expects to have the plant operating by the end of the year, even if it has to replace the plant's damaged reactor head.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)