Attend the Day of Action opposing the FirstEnergy bailout

Monday, June 15 at 11 am in front of PUCO offices, 180 East Broad Street in Columbus

Following the rally, the Sierra Club will host a lunch

with overview and opportunities to contact the PUCO and Governor John Kasich.

    Since December of 2010, FirstEnergy has been attempting to get a 20-year license extension for its Davis-Besse nuclear reactor (power plant) located on Lake Erie in Oak Harbor, OH, 20 miles east of Toledo.

    The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has stacked the deck in numerous ways to shut out citizen organizations seeking to prevent relicensing of the nation’s fleet of aging, embrittled reactors.  

    Originally, nuclear reactors were given licenses for 40 years, which was their engineered lifetime.  As the end of the 40-year time frame drew near, with the reality of closure looming, the NRC began recklessly giving the most dangerous technology on earth 20 more years of operating authority – declared safe with the stroke of a pen. The NRC has so far rubber-stamped 73 out of 73 license renewal requests for reactors across the nation.  

    Nonetheless, four citizen organizations joining together as intervenors have managed to delay the relicensing of Davis-Besse for over four years.

    Now, in an ironic double whammy, it seems that the Davis-Besse reactor is no longer turning a profit.  

    So FirstEnergy has gone before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in an attempt to get electric ratepayers to guarantee Davis-Besse a profit in the future.  

    Davis-Besse is no longer competitive with wind and solar, whose construction costs pale in comparison to the construction of a new nuclear reactor, and the latter would never be built without massive public subsidies.  

    The number of jobs created by wind and solar has been variously estimated to be up to seven times as many as for nuclear power. Jobs in renewables and efficiency are widely distributed, avoiding the plague of the centralized “company town.”  

    Elsewhere in this issue, Neil Waggoner has written an article with details of FirstEnergy’s ratepayer bailout attempt for Davis-Besse and the Sammis coal plant.

    Listed below is a portion of the operational difficulties that have and continue to occur at Davis-Besse.  



The reactor has been plagued with accidents and violations, starting even before it began operations.

  • In 1972 a strong wind caused lake water to flood the construction site for a month.

  • Davis-Besse has had six “significant accident sequence precursors” out of 34 total in the U.S.  

  • In Oct. 1977 a pilot operated relief valve stuck open in an incident almost identical to the cause of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI). Had the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asked all similar pressurized water reactors to correct this problem, the TMI incident could have been avoided.   

  • In June1985 a potentially catastrophic 12-minute loss-of-coolant event idled the plant for more than a year. The NRC referred to the accident as the worst since Three Mile Island.

  • A direct hit by a tornado in 1998 caused complete loss of outside electric power and destroyed the alert, communication and emergency systems and threatened a meltdown.   

  • In 2002 a delayed inspection found that boric acid had eaten through seven inches of the steel reactor lid, with only a bulging 3/16-inch steel liner preventing a radioactive catastrophe. A photo was found, taken earlier, that showed major corrosion on the outside of the vessel, but this was ignored. This “Hole-In-The-Head” fiasco resulted in the largest fine in NRC history – $33.5 million. The plant was idled for two years, costing ratepayers $600 million.

  • In 2003 FENOC’s failure to trim trees along transmission lines caused the second largest power outage in our history, the Northeast Blackout that impacted 55 million Americans and Canadians.

  • The reactor head was replaced twice due to cracking.  



  A coalition of environmental groups has been challenging FENOC’s bid for a license renewal for Davis-Besse since 2010.  Among the contentions were that renewables and efficiency could replace Davis-Besse’s power and that FENOC’s Severe Accident Mitigation Analysis was flawed. While those contentions were dismissed by the NRC (accident mitigation was not considered cost-beneficial), evidence in 2011 showed that the concrete shield building around the reactor is cracking.  

  • The shield building has been cut into four times to replace aging or seriously damaged parts. Each cut further weakened the building. The last two cuts were 25 x 39 feet. Cuts for replacing steam generators in 2011 and 2014 caused 26 sections of shield building rebar to be broken or cracked.

  • Cracking in the shield building concrete was first reported in 2011. FENOC maintained that the cracks were “architectural, not structural.” NRC allowed the reactor to restart without knowing the cause.  

  • In early 2012, FENOC concluded that the cracks occurred because a failure to paint the building allowed the blizzard of 1978 to force water into the concrete which then froze. They maintained that cracks were not spreading. Inquiries later found that FENOC had evidence of cracking over a year before the blizzard.

  • In a later report, FENOC noted that cracks are spreading. Causes? The new paint job had sealed in water, which was freezing and thawing. Use of the wrong type of cement and the plumb of the building being outside of tolerance are among numerous other speculated causes of instability and cracking.  

  • When the fourth cut was made into the building in 2014, a honeycomb void was found in the concrete, measuring 25 feet long and between six and 12 inches wide in a wall 2.5 feet thick.  Records were later found showing voids in the previous patch of 2002 which were never made public.

  Two NRC engineers calculated that during a minor earthquake or a minor to moderate accident causing heat to permeate the interior wall, up to 90 percent of the 2.5-foot thick wall of the shield building could collapse into rubble on top of the reactor. Intervenors’ Fifth Motion to Amend and/or Supplement Proposed Contention No. 5 (Shield Building Cracking), Aug. 16, 2012 pp. 37-41                                            

  • The coalition filed a challenge to the license renewal based on shield building instability.


  In 2013, the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear and Don’t Waste Michigan jointly legally challenged the engineering of two replacement steam generators. Although regulations require that replacement steam generators be “like-for-like” with the original, the new ones weighed 590 tons compared to 465 tons for the originals. A new alloy, Inconel 690, was used for the tubing. In San Onofre, CA, it was found that this new alloy could expand, which caused rubbing wear between tubes resulting in the escape of radioactive steam. After only two years of operation, these failed steam generators caused the permanent shutdown of San Onofre’s two reactors. Despite these findings (or because the steam generators were already constructed), the NRC approved their use at Davis-Besse. They were installed in March of 2014.   


  Davis-Besse is using “high burnup” nuclear fuel, which has been approved by the NRC for about 17 years. High burnup fuel is created when fuel is burned for a longer period of time. High burnup fuel has even more serious waste storage issues than traditional low burnup nuclear fuel.

  • Radioactive nuclear waste from Davis-Besse will need to be shielded from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.

  • High-burnup waste is over twice as radioactive and over twice as thermally hot as traditional low burnup fuel waste, requiring seven to 20 years of cooling in fuel pools, compared to five years for low burnup fuel.  

  • More space is required between high burnup fuel assemblies in the fuel pools, which already contain up to five times as many fuel assemblies as they were engineered to hold.

  • The NRC is considering approval of dry cask systems for high burnup radioactive waste – to be used after the assemblies are taken out of the pools. The requirements for these casks are being challenged as having specifications based on assumptions that are proving to be incorrect.