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May 21, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Wednesday, May 21, 2003
DAVIS-BESSE
Cause of corrosion stumps regulators Report cites degree of uncertainty

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp.’s explanation for the unprecedented corrosion of Davis-Besse’s reactor head is "plausible" at best, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Agency officials said they accept the utility’s theory for what happened, but believe there are "some uncertainties and inconsistencies" in the sequence of events from a technical standpoint. The comments are contained in an attachment to an inspection report that covered a recent seven-week period.

During a refueling outage, workers discovered boric acid had burned through 6 inches of steel, leaving two-tenths of an inch of stainless steel to hold back the reactor’s enormous pressure.

FirstEnergy had told the NRC that it underestimated the volume of acid that had collected under the reactor’s insulation and the ensuing magnitude of the corrosion.

NRC officials said they are befuddled why similar corrosion has not occurred at other nuclear plants that had similar control rod nozzles that leak corrosive boric acid from their reactors.

"In short, the degree of uncertainty and the number of unknowns regarding the progression of events that led to the development of the cavity at Davis-Besse limits the ability to qualify the technical root cause report beyond "plausible" at this time," the NRC said.

Davis-Besse has been shut down since Feb. 16, 2002. Its original reactor head was declared the most corroded in U.S. nuclear history

That head has since been replaced by one from a never-used nuclear plant in Midland, Mich., a move supported by the NRC.

Beginning in 1988, the agency has warned nuclear plants to be on guard for reactor-coolant leakage and to clean popcorn-like acid crystals off reactor heads. FirstEnergy had a "persistent layer of boron" on top of its reactor head since at least 1996. Corrosion may have spread faster than expected if a sheen of acid had been allowed to form and mix with oxygen inside the containment building, the NRC said.

Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy spokesman, said the nuclear industry also wants to know what accelerated the corrosion rate at Davis-Besse.

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety engineer, said the questions surrounding Davis-Besse should have a lasting impact as the NRC revamps its inspection requirements.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse




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