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Tuesday, 
September 09, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Tuesday, September 9, 2003
Davis-Besse faces test on cooling systems

By LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER


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 restarting.

"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 list."

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, said.

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 said.

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 addressed.

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 leaks.

NRC and FirstEnergy officials will also be checking whether there’s any leakage at the bottom of the reactor.

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.




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