FirstEnergy Corp. has started testing to make sure its
Davis-Besse nuclear plant is airtight.
The pressure test, which started Monday and should be over by the
end of the week, is a crucial step in the Akron utility's efforts to
The company said Davis-Besse may be ready to restart in May,
pending approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The company
has pushed back the restart date numerous times since the plant in
Oak Harbor, about 25 miles east of Toledo, first closed down in
The procedure that started Monday, called an integrated leak rate
test, is designed to make sure that the steel vessel that surrounds
the nuclear reactor isn't leaking air into the outside environment.
The steel vessel is made of 1 ½-inch-thick steel and is surrounded
by a massive concrete containment chamber.
FirstEnergy had to cut out part of the containment vessel last
summer to replace the corroded vessel head that sat on top of the
reactor. The NRC requires that all nuclear plants undergo the same
type of test every 10 years. Davis-Besse last did the test in 2000,
but will repeat the process because of the repairs.
The plant has to pass more tests before being allowed to restart,
including checking for coolant leaks at the bottom of the reactor.
The company found large rust stains on the bottom of the vessel, but
could not determine if the rust was caused by coolant leaks at the
top of the vessel or from nozzles underneath.
The coolant leak test probably won't take place before May.
FirstEnergy said it wants to use a camera-equipped robot to examine
the highly radioactive vessel bottom, but NRC officials have
questioned whether that alone will detect any small leaks.
The robotic camera has better than 20/20 vision, FirstEnergy
spokesman Todd Schneider said.
``We really don't need NRC approval for this test. But we'll work
with them,'' he said. ``We will satisfy the NRC's concerns before
The company also is looking at how to resolve a possible clogging
problem involving two pumps that would recirculate reactor coolant
in an emergency. FirstEnergy engineers found that it's possible
small debris could clog the devices, called high- pressure injection
The company may not have to make any pump modifications,
Schneider said. But it may install filters that would prevent debris
from entering the pumps, or put in new pumps not susceptible to
clogging, he said. The issue is not expected to significantly delay
getting the plant ready to restart, he said.
The NRC will hold three meetings April 15 in Ohio involving
Davis-Besse. The first meeting, 9 a.m. at Davis-Besse, will involve
the plant's radiation protection program. Afterward, there will be
two meetings at the Camp Perry Clubhouse in Port Clinton. The
meeting at 2 p.m. will give NRC officials an update on where
FirstEnergy is in the restart process. The last meeting, which
starts at 7 p.m., is aimed at updating the public on Davis-Besse