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Workers Blow Whistle At Midland Nuke Plant

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Workers Blow Whistle At Midland Nuke Plant

By David Stoll

The Consumers Power nuclear plant at Midland, Michigan continues to be plagued by inadequate testing of the materials going into its construction, the SUN has learned from knowledgeable workers on the site.

Based on information the workers provided this paper, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) is launching an investigation into the alleged abuses which, if confirmed, could halt construction of the plant.

The workers charge AEC-required quality control tests have been omitted, negative results ignored and testing procedures not followed. They the abuses center on concrete being poured into the nuclear core containment and on landfill for cooling pond dikes.

"This could open up a complete reinspection of the concrete," commented James Keppler, director of the AEC's regional enforcement office in Chicago. The Midland plant is being built by the San Francisco-based, world-wide Bechtel Corporation, which also built Consumers' ill-fated Palisades nuclear plant at South Haven. The Palisades plant has been closed since August 1973 because of corroding steam tubes, a vibrating nuclear core and radiation leaks into Lake Michigan and the atmosphere.

Bechtel and Consumers have gotten into trouble at the Midland plant before over the painstaking quality control tests which the AEC required just to prevent the kind of problems which the Palisades plant is having.

Last December the AEC ordered construction halted because required procedures for cadweld splicing, a test of concrete, were not being followed.

Consumers has sued Bechtel and several other, smaller firms for $300 million in damages because of alleged faulty design and construction of the Palisades plant, but the utility has consistently defended its builder's record at Midland.

"I'm unaware of any problems in quality control," Consumers' vice president Russell Youngdahl said Wednesday, "but we're equally concerned if anything should be proven wrong."

According to the workers, concrete is routinely poured into the nuclear core containment before being subjected to air and slump tests which determine whether it meets specifications. While most of the concrete has met specs, says one of the workers, "a dozen or more times" it hasn't. To his knowledge, the non-spec concrete has never been taken out of the containment, which will house the plant's radioactive nuclear core.

The workers also say a four hundred foot section of holding pond dike was laid down in one afternoon without the systematic tests necessary to determine whether the soil is as compact as it should be. The holding pond will store water necessary to cool the plant's reactor.

According to the workers, testing of the aggregate material which goes into the concrete has also been abused. In one instance, a load of aggregate tested negatively for specified size ten times, but when it passed on the eleventh trial it was used.

Confirmation of the workers' charges would probably result in an AEC-ordered halt to construction, but possibly more drastic action. "If quality control problems present themselves," said Keppler, "we'll re-open the matter as soon as we can." He was referring to a show-cause hearing this summer, in which the right of Bechtel and Consumers to continue building the plant was challenged.

The utility won that round, but its investment in the $940 million plant is still tangled in litigation which could prevent the plant from ever being finished.

Nov. 25 the Saginaw Intervenors. a citizen's group, argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington that the original construction license should be revoked on the grounds the AEC licensing procedure excluded environmental issues. A decision is expected in a few months.

The Saginaw group is also contending to the AEC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that Consumer's Palisades suit against Bechtel is reason enough to halt construction at Midland. If quality control abuses are substantiated, they will also be brought to this body.

As of this week, the SUN was arranging for direct contact between the workers and the AEC's Keppler, who has promised to protect their identity.