Concrete cracks in the containment structure aren't the reason for anti-nuclear fervor by Rep. Dennis Kucinich

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH

The ongoing saga of anti-nuclear opposition to the continued operation of FirstEnergy's (NYSE:FEDavis-Besse nuclear reactor located on the shores of Lake Erie is linked to a gift to voters from the Ohio state legislature.  In a redistricting plan that is driven by gerrymandering at its finest, the congressional district of liberal Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich is mashed into that of Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

In the process it strips Kuncinch of parts of his west side Cleveland political base. However, it gives him a big fat target to raise voter ire and that is the Davis-Besse plant.

Kucinich has long been a critic of the plant, but since it wasn't in his district, he had to contend with the fact that his anti-nuclear rants didn't matter that much.  Rep. Kaptur has taken a more balanced approach calling for a focus on safety and keeping the plant open with its 800 jobs and stable electricity supply for industry in her district which includes Toledo, OH.

Concrete cracks energize criticism

The saga of Davis-Besse this Fall has given Kucinich ample opportunity to ramp up his criticism of the plant now that it is in a district where he has to compete in primary election March 6.  The plant discovered small cracks in the containment structure when it replaced the reactor pressure vessel lid, its third, during a scheduled fuel outage.

FirstEnergy notified the NRC about the cracks which launched its own inspections.  After extensive reviews including test core drilling conducted by FirstEnergy, the NRC said the plant was safe and it restarted the first week of December.

A public meeting to explain the decision held in western Ohio Jan 5 drew 300 people including some national and regional anti-nuclear groups.  These groups make no bones about their objective which is to shut the plant down.  They are opposed to the application to relicense it for another 20 years.

These groups point to safety issues ,which emerged in 2002, involving serve corrosion of the reactor head and admissions by employees of FirstEnergy that they misled the NRC about the extent of the problem. The firm paid a fine of $28 million and initiated $600 million in repairs which kept the reactor out of revenue service for two years.

However, in the current era FirstEnergy notified the NRC as soon as the cracks were found during the outage. The utility fully cooperated with the agency in the investigation of the problem.

NRC Regional Administrator Cynthia Peterson explained to those at the meeting last Thursday that the agency "rigorously examined the cracks, how big they were, and what may have caused them."

She added that the agency consulted with structural experts and came to the conclusion the plant is safe to operate.  Readers interested in more technical detail are referred to the NRC's Fact Sheet on the cracks.

Scare tactics

Anti-nuclear groups were not persuaded that this was the case.  In a blatant effort to scare people, Michale Keegan of Don't Waste Michigan, referred to a 4.0 earthquake  that took place in Youngstown, OH, 170 miles away on the other side of the state, and said it was a threat to the reactor.  On its face this statement is ridiculous.   To put it in perspective, that's like saying a a car crash across town is going to shake the spice rack in your kitchen.

In another leap of exaggerated rhetoric, Kucinich, who has no engineering expertise, said that as far as he is concerned, the cracks are structural and the plant should be shut down.  The NRC and FirstEnergy have pointed out that based on their testing and inspections the cracks are not safety related, but this distinction seemed to get buried in the rhetoric flying around the packed meeting room.  Instead, Kucinich accused the NRC and FirstEnergy of not being forthright.

This allegation is a dishonest political tactic. Kucinich raises a red flag about safety and then he seeks to undermine the credibility of the regulatory agency charged with making sure the plant is safe.

The objective here is to sow enough fear, uncertainty, and doubt with the public that it becomes "self-evident" the only way to address the issue is to shut the plant down.  It is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophetic which Kucinich pushes hard at every opportunity.

In short, the fact that Kucinich is now in the same congressional district as the Davis-Besse plant gives him a gorilla in the closet to wave at the voters and a reason to challenge Rep. Kaptur on the issue of keeping the reactor open.

Why are we not surprised?

Kucinich isn't the first elected official to run against a nuclear reactor as way to get votes and raise cash for his election.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a career out of attacking Entergy's Indian Point reactors. In an alliance with environmental groups like Riverkeeper, Cuomo rakes in election-related cash from the green community by bashing the reactor complex any way he can.

U.S. Rep. Mary Kaptur, D-OH

In Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin won his election based in part on making Entergy's Vermont Yankee plant out to be a threat of millennial proportions.  It didn't help Entegy's case that it's management stumbled badly in communications with the state legislature over the issue of underground pipes and tritium leaks.

Getting back to Ohio, Kucinich knows he is in a primary battle with a popular incumbent who doesn't have his track record of left-wing liberalism, off-the-wall statements about foreign policy, and high velocity hand waving over Davis-Besse.

Keeping the lights on with good paying jobs, at a safe plant, may actually make sense as a campaign position. It is one that Kaptur has promoted for the past decade.  Kucinich's fear agenda may, or may not, make much headway against it, but he is trying just the same.