Often referred to as a nuclear power plant, a power reactor is a facility that produces electricity by a nuclear reaction, which is the continuous splitting of uranium atoms. Ohio has two nuclear power plants, both located along the shores of Lake Erie in the northern part of the state. They are the Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor, near Sandusky, and the Perry Nuclear Plant, east of Cleveland. (A third plant, in Piqua, Ohio, closed in 1966.)
A company called FirstEnergy owns both plants as well as one in Pennsylvania. Due to financial struggles (i.e. competition from natural power sources), the company will decide by 2018 whether to close or sell the power stations. FirstEnergy has reached out to the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senates to change regulations, which would then make them more competitive.
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant
The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant is located on a 954-acre site 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and 21 miles east of Toledo. The plant opened in 1978, making it the first in Ohio and the 57th commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. It was originally co-owned by Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison and is named for the chairmen of both companies, John K. Davis and Ralph M. Besse.
Davis-Besse is a pressurized water reactor and produces 40 percent of the electricity used in northwestern Ohio. The plant contributes over $10 million a year in local and state taxes; its license expires in April 2037.
Two-thirds of the Davis-Besse land is used as protective wetlands called the Navarre Marsh, which is the home of several American Bald Eagle nesting sites as well as a major migratory pathway for birds.
History of problems at Davis-Besse
Davis-Besse has a long history of safety incidences, starting from before the plant even opened:
September 24, 1977—the plant shut down due to a problem with the feedwater system, causing the pressure relief valve to stick open. The NRC still considers this to be one of the top safety incidents in the U.S.
June 24, 1998—the plant was struck by an F-2 tornado, causing damage to the switchyard and the external power to shut off. The reactor automatically shut down until the plant's generators could restore power.
March 2002—damage from corrosion of the steel reactor pressure vessel was found by staff. The damage, about the size of a football, was caused by a leak of water containing borax. Repairs and corrections took two years and the plant was fined more than $5 million by the NRC, which called this incident one of the top five in nuclear incidents in U.S. history.
January 2003—the plant's private computer network was infected by a computer virus called the "slammer worm," causing the safety monitoring system to be down for five hours.
October 22, 2008—a tritium leak was discovered during an unrelated fire inspection. It was indicated that the groundwater outside the plant was not infiltrated by radioactive water.
March 12, 2010—two nozzles on a reactor head did not meet acceptance criteria during a scheduled refueling outage. After inspection, new cracks were discovered in about one-third of the nozzles, including one that could potentially leak boric acid.
October 2011—during routine maintenance, a 30-foot-long crack was found in the concrete shield building around the containment vessel.
June 6, 2012—while inspecting the reactor coolant pump, a pinhole spray leakage was discovered from a weld in the seal.
May 9, 2015—FirstEnergy operators declare an "unusual event" due to a steam leak in the turbine building.
Perry Nuclear Power Plant
The Perry Nuclear Power Plant sits on 1100 acres in North Perry, Ohio, about 40 miles northeast of Cleveland. The plant, which opened in 1987 was the 100th power reactor to be built in the US.
Perry is a boiling water reactor, one of the largest such units in the U.S. It was originally built as a two-unit plant, but, although you see two cooling towers, there is only one reactor. The plant's license runs until 2026.
In 1993, 1,100 acres were designated as an urban wildlife sanctuary, which is home to the heron as well as an orchid rare to the state of Ohio. There are also wetlands, the habitat for the spotted turtle and endangered species. There have been no major safety issues in the history of the Perry plant.