NRC concludes area nuclear plants operated safely in 2020, in spite of the pandemic

·4 min read

Jun. 23—Even while coping with the world's worst pandemic in 102 years, Ohio's two nuclear plants — Davis-Besse east of Toledo and Perry east of Cleveland — fared well in their 2020 safety assessments, as did the Fermi 2 nuclear plant in northern Monroe County.

Both of the Ohio stations were told in letters signed this spring by Billy C. Dickson, Jr., an NRC reactor projects division chief, that "overall performance at your facility preserved public health and safety."

Nearly identical words were used in a letter sent this spring to Fermi 2 by Nestor J. Feliz Adorno, an NRC reactor projects division chief from another branch.

The operations of the two Ohio plants were discussed in a virtual-format meeting on Tuesday night.

Daniel Mills and Jakob Steffes, senior resident inspectors at Davis-Besse and Perry, respectively, talked about how the pandemic altered protocols at both of the plants, but added that daily safety walk-downs and many other routine inspections had to continue despite challenges.

"Some of the lessons learned from COVID-19 have enhanced our abilities onsite," Mr. Mills said.

The nuclear industry itself is not old enough to have experienced such a lethal pandemic, one that has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.

Still, Davis-Besse had 2,100 hours of inspections and Perry had 2,400 hours in 2020.

"This was unprecedented for all of our lifetimes," Mr. Steffes said. "While we remained cognizant of protocols, we needed to be aware of those impacts."

The NRC was not made aware of any major coronavirus spikes among the Davis-Besse and Perry workforces, Mr. Dickson, who supervises those two resident inspectors, said.

The situation was different at Fermi 2, where at least one coronavirus outbreak was blamed for causing an extensive — and costly — delay in the 2020 refueling outage of that plant, which is owned and operated by DTE Energy.

America's nuclear reactors are refueled every 18 to 24 months, depending on the isotope of uranium used.

Davis-Besse successfully completed its refueling in the spring of 2020 without any delays.

The opportunity to discuss Fermi 2's annual performance will be held in a virtual format at 6 p.m. Thursday.

To attend, call 1-888-677-1820 and use passcode 5601803# to hear the presentation and participate during the open portion of the meeting.

There is no sound for the online video, which will be via Microsoft Teams. To watch without sound, go to for instructions.

In addition to obstacles presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the two Ohio plants have been dealing with public allegations that their former owner, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., has been involved in what federal prosecutors described last summer as Ohio's largest political scandal.

That did not come up during the meeting, as it is beyond the NRC's authority.

Pending allegations against Republican lawmaker Larry Householder prompted a majority of state legislators this month to oust him from the Ohio General Assembly for what was described as "disorderly conduct."

Mr. Householder, who earlier had been ousted from his powerful role as Ohio House speaker, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of leading a $61 million scheme disguising cash from FirstEnergy Corp. with the end goal of enacting House Bill 6 in 2019, a $1 billion bailout of Davis-Besse and Perry, which at the time were owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary.

The two Ohio plants are now owned by a different company, Energy Harbor Nuclear Corp.

Federal prosecutors have said Mr. Householder and others were engaged in a bribery scheme in which money was believed to have been funneled through a nonprofit corporation to help get lawmakers loyal to Mr. Householder elected in 2018.

Then, according to the allegations, money from that nonprofit was used to help get Mr. Householder elected speaker in 2019 and get Ohio's bailout for its two nuclear plants passed. Prosecutors also believe the bribery scheme was then continued to snuff out an effort which followed that tried to get House Bill 6 subject to a voter referendum drive.

Two individuals and the nonprofit corporation have already pleaded guilty for their roles.

Mr. Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, now a lobbyist, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. A third defendant, powerful Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark, committed suicide in Florida earlier this year.

First Published June 23, 2021, 10:00am

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