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Great Lakes Article:

Two Great Lakes nuclear plants worry U.S. regulators

By H. Josef Hebert / Associated Press

Michigan plant makes list
   Here is a list of nuclear power reactors with the greatest vulnerability to cracking of their control rod nozzles:
Arkansas Nuclear Unit 1, Russellville, Ark.
Crystal River Unit 3, Crystal River, Fla.
Davis Besse, Oak Harbor, Ohio.
D.C. Cook Unit 2, Benton Harbor, Mich.
H.B. Robinson Unit 2, Florence, S.C.
Millstone Unit 2, New London, Conn.
North Anna Units 1 and 2, Richmond, Va.
Oconee Units 1, 2 and 3, Greenville, S.C.
Surry Units 1 and 2, Newport News, Va.
Three Mile Island, Harrisburg, Pa.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

   WASHINGTON -- A nuclear reactor in Ohio is found to have a large hole nobody thought possible, burned almost through its 6-inch protective steel cover. Cracks of a type never seen before are discovered at a reactor in South Carolina, triggering widespread inspections.
   Both events caught industry leaders and government regulators by surprise, and they are fueling new questions about aging nuclear power plants and plant inspection programs.
   The cracks found last year at the Oconee plant in South Carolina and the hole discovered in March in the steel reactor lid at the Davis Besse plant in Ohio were in areas thought largely impervious to such problems.
   "It was material degradation that wasn't expected," acknowledges Alex Marion of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade group.
   The 25-year-old Davis Besse reactor on the shore of Lake Erie is one of four nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Corp. It has been shut down since February, waiting for the hole in the reactor dome to be patched.
   An inspection of most of the 68 other plants with similar designs and conditions reported no corrosion. But the regulators ordered special inspections at 14 reactors thought to be vulnerable.
   Some senior officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are viewing the Davis Besse and Oconee discoveries as the most significant safety issue facing the nuclear industry since the Three Mile Island accident 23 years ago.
   The steel reactor vessel, which encloses the reactor's core, has always been viewed as "a sacred component" that will not be breached, said Brian Sheron, the commission's assistant director for licensing and technology assessment. "This really challenges that assumption."
   The problems at both reactors were discovered before they posed an immediate safety risk. A break through the reactor cover would have caused thousands of gallons of radioactive water to spew into the containment building, raising the risks of the core overheating and a potential meltdown and possible release of radiation into the environment.
   Only a thin noncorrosive stainless steel membrane kept the hole at the Ohio reactor from bursting open. The cracks at the Oconee plant, owned by Duke Power, were less urgent. But had the crack expanded it could have caused the nozzle to separate, also causing a loss of cooling water.
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