PORT CLINTON - One by one, FirstEnergy Corp.
officials yesterday delivered carefully worded regrets about the
substandard performance of Davis-Besse control room operators during
the nuclear plantís crucial pressure test.
their best to shed a positive light on a situation that has the
potential to be a major setback, telling a Nuclear Regulatory
Commission oversight panel that the company had acted conservatively
by twice halting the test and ordering remedial
They said that workers learned from the mistakes
and that Davis-Besse will be a better plant in the long
But Jack Grobe, the NRC panelís chairman, told
FirstEnergy its problems run deeper than the control
"Itís really not the operators. Itís the organization,"
he said, explaining that operators rely on the support of others.
"It would be like blaming the offensive performance of a football
team on the quarterback."
He later told reporters the kind of
problems Davis-Besse had with its operators during the recently
concluded test would not happen twice a year at a "normal" nuclear
plant. At Davis-Besse, they happened twice in little more than a
"Itís important to state that, at this point, this is
not a normal operating plant," Mr. Grobe said.
He declined to
speculate about when the plant could resume operation, other than to
state repeatedly that FirstEnergyís goal for a late November startup
is probably unrealistic. Thatís because the utility still needs to
regain NRC confidence in nonhardware areas, such as operator
performance and workplace atmosphere, he said.
resident, Joseph Korff, told the NRC he wanted to have plenty of
advance notice because he wants to be in Florida when it happens.
Mr. Korff, an engineer who lives half the year in Vermilion, Ohio,
said he has been familiar with Davis-Besse since he started boating
on Lake Erie in 1968. But he said he has little faith in
FirstEnergy. "It doesnít matter what dates FirstEnergy puts up. This
plant wonít start up until this panelís ready," Mr. Grobe told him.
"The plant wonít restart until itís safe."
Also last night, a
letter was submitted on behalf of Kelleys Island residents who want
Davis-Besse shut permanently.
The letter was written to H.
Peter Burg, FirstEnergy chief operating officer, and James Caldwell,
the NRCís Midwest regional director, by an organization called the
Kelleys Island Citizens Group.
It claims to have a petition
with signatures from 150 Kelleys Island residents who are opposed to
the plantís restart. Its opposition stems, in part, from evacuation
fears in the event of a nuclear accident.
issues stood out during the test, the utilityís self-described
"dress rehearsal" for restart. First, a valve in the emergency core
flood tank opened unexpectedly during heat-up on Sept. 14. Second, a
set of four control rods were automatically inserted during
cool-down on Sept. 30.
Both stemmed from operator error and
resulted in having the exercise halted so crews on duty could be
removed for remedial training. In the case of the latter event,
plant systems responded as designed, but operators erred by cooling
down the plant too quickly. That caused a sudden increase in
"Iím deeply disappointed in these performance
issues," Mike Roder, manager of Davis-Besseís plant operations, told
the NRC. He said crews will be restructured to achieve a better
balance of strengths for each shift. The problems marred an
otherwise successful test, NRC and FirstEnergy officials
Davis-Besseís leakage was the smallest in the plantís
26-year history. According to Lew Myers, FirstEnergy Nuclear
Operating Co.ís chief operating officer, it equated to a mere 0.76
teaspoons a minute.
The containment roomís ultrasensitive
moisture sensors - made in France and never before used in the
United States - worked fine. They are to help FirstEnergy avoid
corrosion on Davis-Besseís reactor head by giving officials
up-to-the-minute conditions on the roomís moisture.
has been idle since Feb. 16, 2002, because of numerous equipment and
management issues. The initial focus was a football-shaped cavity in
the steel reactor head, the worst rust problem of its kind in U.S.
The pressure test showed the replacement
head works. Though the NRC is still testing for leakage along the
reactor bottom, FirstEnergy said it did not find any leakage. Issues
identified with containment spray pumps, thermal overloads, and an
auxiliary feed-water pump are being corrected.
At least one
of four reactor coolant pumps has an inner gasket seal leak and
experienced a pressure drop. Those pumps, which circulate coolant
water over the reactor during normal operations, were the focus of a
federal whistleblower complaint filed in February by Andrew
Siemaszko, a former Davis-Besse engineer.
alleged he was fired for insisting all four pumps be rebuilt,
something that had not occurred since 1986. The pumps have a 20-year
lifespan. FirstEnergy has rebuilt one pair and is planning to
rebuild the other pair during an outage.
NRC officials said
theyíre not sure whether the leak is enough to warrant repairs
Those in the audience included Sam Collins, the NRCís
deputy executive director of operations. Mr. Collins said he heard
nothing unusual yesterday "for a plant thatís been shut this
In his former role as the NRCís nuclear reactor
regulation director, Mr. Collins was in charge of licensing
decisions for the nationís 103 nuclear plants. He was the official
at the NRCís headquarters who let Davis-Besse continue operating six
weeks longer than some agency officials wanted, by failing to
enforce a shutdown order NRC attorneys had approved in the fall of
2001. He now reports to William Travers, the NRCís executive
director of operations.
For earlier stories on
Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse