Davis-Besse leak no hazard, officials say

OAK HARBOR Deanna Brown watched the gray vapor billowing from the cooling tower at FirstEnergy's Dav
jasonsinger
May 24, 2010

OAK HARBOR

Deanna Brown watched the gray vapor billowing from the cooling tower at FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

Even as orange rays from the setting sun poked through dark rain clouds for the first time all afternoon, Brown said the plant "was uglying the neighborhood. Poisoning it."

The mother of two, who lives less than two miles from the plant in Carroll Township, had just learned a leak was discovered at the facility for the second time in six years.

"It just looks ominous," she said. "It's hard to know -- even if they say (the leak) isn't dangerous -- if they're telling truth. How do we know? No one knows how dangerous nuclear material is."

On Wednesday, FirstEnergy personnel discovered a leak in a drainage pipe at 4 p.m.

The leak contained tritium, a normal byproduct of nuclear reactors, though it can cause cancer with significant exposure.

WHAT IS TRITIUM?

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and company officials both said the leak hadn't migrated off the site, and neither the public nor the public's drinking water were threatened.

Jim Greer, director of Ottawa County's Emergency Management Agency, said FirstEnergy ran extensive tests and confirmed no one was in harm's way.

"They have a number of monitoring wells on site to measure the contamination," Greer said. "It was a reportable level, but not an alarming level, and it hadn't migrated off the property."

The Davis-Besse nuclear plant was the site of the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor when inspectors in 2001 discovered an acid leak. The plant closed for two years and underwent $600 million in repairs.

Two company employees were convicted of concealing the leak from the government.

But James Sass, an Ottawa County commissioner, said this leak "wasn't an issue."

"We were told there's a natural amount of tritium actually found in soil," he said. "(First Energy) is always good and prompt and informs us quickly whenever there's a problem. I don't think there's any reason to fear."

Many of the residents in the area weren't even aware of the leak. Sass said commissioners "didn't see any point in sounding the alarm."

But those who did know were not comforted by officials' reassurances.

"It's just wrong," said Julia Mitts, who lives about a mile from the plant. "Kids play around here all the time. In my opinion, it's more dangerous than (officials) even know."

Officials didn't know how long the 3-inch pipe had been leaking or how much got into the ground, FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said.

According to Schneider, the pipeline leads to a retention pond where water is stored and does not go outside the plant property.

FirstEnergy, an Akron-based company, paid a record $28 million in fines a year ago.

Brown said she didn't trust anyone associated with the plant.

"They've had problems before," she said. "When you're dealing with something as dangerous as nuclear energy, you should only get one strike."

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.