Group Suggests Nuclear Plant Should Be Checked For Bacteria

CLEVELAND (AP) - A group is raising a concern about a steel barrier at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio and whether bacteria might be attacking the liner from the outside.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is raising the bacteria issue and arguing that neither Davis-Besse's operator, FirstEnergy Corp., nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is examining the possible problem while the reactor is undergoing extensive repair.

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the group, said in a letter Monday to federal regulators that an independent review is needed before the government allows the plant to restart, The Plain Dealer reported Tuesday.

Davis-Besse is one of two Ohio nuclear plants and is near the Lake Erie shore between Toledo and Cleveland.

FirstEnergy's plan is to replace the reactor's damaged lid. It also is investigating how lid damage could have gone undetected.

NRC officials "haven't gotten down to some of the other issues," Lochbaum told the Cleveland newspaper.

"Obviously we'll take a look and respond," said NRC spokesman Jan Strasma.

The NRC planned Tuesday to review status of repair plans.

The NRC began investigating the plant in early March, after FirstEnergy workers performing a repair on the reactor's lid discovered that boric acid caused corrosion.

One of Lochbaum's concerns is the condition of that reactor liner and whether tiny organisms in soil and groundwater might be devouring the steel from the outside, in an area that's difficult to inspect.

Davis-Besse engineers two years ago reported to the NRC that water had seeped through the waterproof membrane that surrounds the foundation of a concrete containment and puddled in small areas next to the steel liner.

At the time of the inspection, the visible portion of the liner did not appear to have been damaged, the company's report said.

FirstEnergy last week ordered tests of the water found at the leak sites for the presence of bacteria, spokesman Todd Schneider said. The results will not be known for several weeks.

The company, at the suggestion of NRC officials, plans to test the entire containment liner for leaks later this summer.

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