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Davis-Besse price tag may be $500 million


John Funk
Plain Dealer Reporter

The cost of the extended shutdown of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant was nearly $450 million by the end of last month and will probably exceed $500 million before the plant is ready to restart this fall.

That's a far cry from plant owner FirstEnergy Corp.'s early time and cost estimates.

In a letter to investors a few days after major corrosion was found in the reactor's lid in March 2002, the company had estimated repairs would take up to 90 days and cost between $5 million and $10 million, plus energy replacement costs.

Two months later, FirstEnergy announced plans to replace the reactor head at a cost of between $50 million and $75 million and have the plant ready to restart by the last quarter of the year. The company also said it planned another $50 million to $70 million in repairs to safety and other systems.

This week, the company said the power plant could be ready to restart in September, 19 months after it shut down. Yesterday, that was changed to "in the fall." A spokesman declined to be more specific. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the final say on allowing the plant to resume making electricity.

The NRC also has many inspections to make on its restart checklist after the company thinks the plant is ready.

The Toledo-area plant was taken off line in February 2002 for refueling and a special leak inspection requested by the NRC. The reactor did have leaks, which had, over several years, corroded a hole nearly all the way through the 6.63-inch-thick steel lid.

Repairs to the reactor and several emergency systems - along with normal maintenance that would have been done during routine refueling shutdowns - had cost about $236 million at the end of June.

Yesterday,the company estimated an additional $22 million will be spent on plant repairs by year's end, taking the total bill to an estimated $258 million.

The cost of buying replacement power came to $213 million by June 30 and is expected to run between $20 million and $25 million this month and next before settling back down to $15 million per month during the fall.

In its most recent financial quarter, ended March 31, FirstEnergy earned $138.8 million on revenues of slightly more than $3.2 billion. The company plans to announce the second quarter earnings Aug. 5.

Yesterday's revised estimates on cost and time were tied to a new determination by Davis-Besse engineers that they will be able to successfully modify the plant's high-pressure emergency pumps.

A study had revealed that the twin 600-horsepower pumps, meant to inject water into a reactor after it lost coolant, could be jammed by debris in the water, which is also used to cool and lubricate the pumps' bearings.

Consulting engineers tried to add a "self-cleaning" debris screen and to move an internal port directing water to the bearings, but the screens themselves clogged in the testing of mock-ups.

Testing began more that a month ago and reached a point yesterday at which engineers are confident they have developed a working debris screen, plant spokesman Richard Wilkins said.

But testing will continue into next week on another modification, perfected about 20 years ago by French nuclear authorities on whose design the Davis-Besse pump is based, said Wilkins.

That technique is to replace the bearings and other internal parts with hardened parts that would grind up any debris that got into the pumps. This French fix did not need a debris screen.

"They are taking a suspenders-and-belt approach to the problem," Wilkins said, "to see what gives us the margin of safety we want."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4138

2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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