Officials at the Davis-Besse nuclear power
plant intend to start testing its reactor cooling system this week -
a test a company spokesman calls the last major hurdle before
"This is a significant milestone," said Richard
Wilkins, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, the utility based in Akron
that owns the plant. "Once this test is over, we’ll be able to close
a lot of outstanding items on the [federal government] check
A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
which oversees U.S. nuclear plants and will monitor the cooling
system test, was more cautious.
"The normal operation
pressure test is definitely significant, but they definitely still
have more work to do," Viktoria Mitlyng, NRC spokesman,
Plant officials still must present their plans for
long-term monitoring of safety culture at the plant; that
presentation is set for Oct. 1, she said. In addition, after the
pressure test Davis-Besse officials need to remove two high-pressure
injection pumps and have them modified. That modification will also
need to be approved by the NRC.
Mr. Wilkins said if the
upcoming pressure test doesn’t turn up any major problems, the plant
should be operational sometime this fall, although he said he
couldn’t predict an exact date. The plant’s shutdown so far has cost
Davis-Besse an estimated $500 million in lost revenue, Mr. Wilkins
The nuclear plant has been shut down since last year
when corrosion was detected in the reactor head. The corrosion has
been considered the worst of its kind in U.S. nuclear history. It
could have caused a meltdown if left unchecked, federal authorities
said. A stainless steel liner less than three-eighths of an inch
thick was all that prevented a rupture and the formation of
radioactive steam. In the last 18 months, while the plant has
endured its record-setting outage, other design flaws have been
During the upcoming pressure test, which could
take seven to 10 days to complete, the reactor will not be started.
Instead, the plant’s cooling system pumps will heat up water to 530
degrees [near normal operating temperature] and raise the pressure
to 2,155 pounds per square inch.
Workers then will monitor
the cooling system and reactor to ensure there are no
NRC and FirstEnergy officials will also be checking
whether there’s any leakage at the bottom of the
Previous tests showed boric acid leakage at the top
of the reactor, which has been repaired.
However, there was
staining at the bottom of the reactor, which could either be from
acid leaking from the reactor top down to the bottom, or - more
seriously - from leaks at the bottom. So far, there’s no indication
of leaks at the bottom.