Saturday, December 28, 2002

Community wants Davis-Besse running

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Bob Cook remembers watching the concrete cooling tower at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant rise above the farm fields. He remembers promises of cheap electricity.

And he remembers that before Davis-Besse, the high school had to close one winter in the mid-1970s because it couldn't afford to pay for heat.

Now there's a new school with a swimming pool and an auditorium with theater-style seats. All thanks to tax revenue generated by the nuclear plant.

"It's been a great asset to the economy and the school," Mr. Cook said.

Despite concern over the damage found inside the plant's reactor that has kept it closed much of the year, most folks living in the shadows of Davis-Besse want it to stay.

"I haven't talked to anybody who wants it shut down," said Paula Mackey, who lives about two miles from the nuclear plant. "It's a little bit scary, but it's something you can't think about too much."

Support for the plant also has come from public officials in recent weeks after FirstEnergy Corp. Chief Executive Officer Peter Burg suggested that one option for the plant includes closing it down.

Davis-Besse won't become "a black hole for FirstEnergy," he said during a conference call with industry analysts.

The Akron-based company already expects to spend more than $200 million to repair the plant. But further repairs already have pushed back the company's plans to open it this year.

Now the hope is to open early in 2003.

The plant near Toledo along Lake Erie has been shut down since February. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission began investigating after leaking acid nearly ate a hole through a 6-inch-thick steel cap covering the plant's reactor vessel. The leaks were discovered in March, during a maintenance shutdown.

It was the most extensive corrosion ever at a U.S. nuclear reactor and led to a nationwide review of all 69 similar plants.

"Most everybody is still in support of the plant, but they want the repairs done right," Mr. Cook said.

"If they were to close, it would be devastating to the economy."

Davis-Besse generates about $6 million a year in property tax and $3.5 in payroll tax. Most of its 870 employees are natives to the area.

The plant also paid for emergency warning sirens that blanket the county and are used to warn of threatening weather. Those sirens helped warn neighboring towns of an approaching tornado that hit Port Clinton on Nov. 10.

"Mistakes certainly were made, but a lot of good things have happened because of Davis-Besse," said Ottawa County Administrator Jere Witt.

He said the plant should be permitted to reopen as soon as possible.

"I would never suggest restart unless I thought safety was the first and only concern," Mr. Witt said.

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