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PIBIO “Swim East” by Peter Huston

Several years ago I was driving home on Route 2 from a meeting in Toledo, lost in thought listening to music. As I approached the gate area of the Davis-Bessie Nuclear Power plant suddenly I heard sirens and became aware of a flashing light at the gate. I was immediately gripped by the feeling that I was smack dab in the middle of a melt down. My palms got sweaty, my heart rate began to race, and I felt panicked. The headline “in the middle of a meltdown” rang loudly in my head for a few seconds. As the reality of the moment finally cleared my mind I suddenly understood that it was noon on the first Friday of the month. The siren and gate light were just part of the normal procedure we have in Ohio for testing our emergency alert system (EAS). Whew! I am so glad that it was just a test.

Davis-Besse first went on line in July of 1978, about 38 years ago. In March of this year it will go offline again for additional upgrades to extend its’ designed life cycle. Over the years it has had 11 “incidents” ranging from tornado damage to a Tritium leak, as well as various design issues and operator error events that have shut it down. According to two NRC reports in September of 2004, Davis–Besse has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979.

A couple of years ago when First Energy decided that the plant should be upgraded and refurbished after exceeding its original designed life they requested NRC approval for the refitting of the plant, including the installation of new fuel rods and steam generators. According to the PRNewswire 1/31/14 release “The new steam generators are expected to provide additional margins of safety and reliability for the long-term operation of Davis-Besse,” said Ray Lieb, site vice president, Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.  “The investment in these new components, along with the other work we will complete during the refueling outage, supports our commitment to remaining an integral part of northwest Ohio’s economy for many decades to come.”

At that time they did not ask Northwest Ohio residents approval to help pay for the upgrades, but they are now! So no matter how you feel about nuclear energy, Islanders need to know what our risks and liabilities are. We will need to plan ahead for an emergency response. This is especially important after we learned how radioactive plumes traveled over water when Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant reactors exploded when safety systems failed following an earthquake in 2011. If you look at the Ottawa County Emergency Management website (http://www.co.ottawa.oh.us/ottawacoema/davisbesse.html), the Lake Erie Islands are not listed in the evacuation plans. The Federal Government regulations require emergency management plans for up to 10 miles surrounding a nuclear plant.

Unfortunately, we are 10.4 miles from Davis Bessie and because of that fact are outside the evacuation zone for Ottawa County’s required emergency plan. According to the NRC rules neither First Energy nor Ottawa County need to specifically include Put-in-Bay, so that leaves us to devise our own plan. History has proven that bad things can happen so lets make an emergency response for the islands a top priority. Hence my title “Swim east”. (Just so you know, Sandusky High School is the main evacuation location for Port Clinton and the Catawba Island area.)

imgresBut seriously, there could be good news ahead! Perhaps you have seen the recent First Energy “Ohio Proud” ads running on local TV. These television ads were produced to remind us how much better off we are now thanks to First Energy investment in our energy grid and to support their request for a rate increase. An article in the Toledo Blade’s Sunday paper (2/14/16) quoted the PUCO proposal request called the “Electric Security Plan”. The Blade explained that the First Energy proposal would “guarantee profits over the next eight years at four of its Ohio power plants”.

According to a similar article in the Columbus Dispatch (12/2/15) they are asking the PUCO to provide them with a new rate structure that will cover costs of rebuilding and upgrading their existing plants like Davis-Bessie. They are looking for a guaranteed rate of return based on flexible rates that include the cost of “infrastructure re-investment” that we would pay. That’s when it hit me. Let’s suggest that they include a budget for us to have an “evacuation plan” too. The ramifications of a major malfunction at Davis-Besse is something no one wants to think about, but let’s take this opportunity to ask First Energy to voluntarily include our evacuation plans in their new PUCO (Public Utilities Commission) rate increase request, call it positive PR. Lets give them a call. First Energy lists Jennifer Young, (jyoung@firstenergycorp.com (330) 761-4362) as our liaison at the First Energy Communications office.

I figure if the PUCO is going to consider their “request” we should get on this bus and demand a “Security Plan” for our islands evacuation too. There is already a citizen group trying to stop the hike. Their slogan is “Fight the Hikes”. So If we’re going to get something out of this we need our own pro island ad slogan like “Vote the boat” that would advocate for high speed watercraft or helicopters that would provide us with a dedicated exit, stage right, to the eastern mainland. I figure it can’t hurt to ask, and not asking could hurt a lot. Time to have a plan.

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