On the eve of making its big pitch about safety
culture, FirstEnergy Corp. encountered another setback at
The Blade learned yesterday that operators who
were trying to cool down Davis-Besse’s nuclear reactor system on
Tuesday night erred by moving too quickly, causing a sudden increase
in pressure in the plant.
Sensing there was a problem, the
reactor protection system activated at 9:34 p.m., automatically
inserting all control rods into the reactor. The plant had been in a
nonnuclear mode, but some of the control rods had been withdrawn
from the core for Davis-Besse’s week-long pressure
Results of that test are crucial for regaining the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s confidence, officials have
"The long and short of it is, the equipment worked, so
there was human error," Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman,
The company is investigating what went wrong and has
ordered remedial training for the crew on duty - the second crew
ordered to receive extra training for problems related to the
"The point is the operators didn’t exercise
enough control over the system," he said. "It was
Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC panel
overseeing FirstEnergy’s restart efforts, said the agency is
disappointed by the latest human-performance issues.
up and cooling down a nuclear plant is a complex process, yet it is
"the kind that operators should be able to handle without any
problems," he said.
The crew on duty should have made
adjustments for the fact that Davis-Besse’s reactor coolant system
would cool faster than normal because the plant has been idle for
nearly 20 months, Mr. Grobe said.
"Those kind of things in a
well-run nuclear power plant don’t happen," he said. "The bottom
line is they [control room operators] weren’t paying close enough
attention to their indicators."
He declined to say how such
performance issues could affect the company’s restart plans. "We
will talk in quite a bit of detail about this on Tuesday," he said,
referring to his oversight panel’s monthly meeting. That meeting,
open to public observation, will begin at 2 p.m. at the Camp Perry
clubhouse, near Port Clinton. It is to be followed by a 7 p.m.
public question-and-answer session.
The performance errors
occurred the night before a team of FirstEnergy officials delivered
its most extensive presentation ever about Davis-Besse’s safety
culture to the NRC.
The company spent nearly five hours at
the agency’s Midwest regional office in Lisle, Ill., telling
officials about efforts the company has undertaken to improve morale
and encourage employees to be more forthcoming about safety
The NRC has said it will not authorize restart until
it sees proof of an improved workplace atmosphere.
references were made to the Tuesday night episode during the safety
culture meeting near Chicago, including one about how Scott Thomas,
the NRC’s senior resident inspector at Davis-Besse, was late for the
Wednesday meeting because he had been called out to the plant
Tuesday night. No details were provided until
James Caldwell, the NRC’s Midwest regional
administrator, told FirstEnergy at the conclusion of that meeting
that fundamentals need to be stressed and that good operators are at
the heart of all good nuclear plants.
Todd Schneider, another
company spokesman, said the focus on human performance issues will
be renewed now that many of the plant’s hardware issues have been
Davis-Besse had just finished its week-long
pressure test Tuesday morning, a test company officials have
described as a dress rehearsal for restart. The plant was in its
early stages of cooldown when the problems arose that
Mr. Wilkins said company officials ordered a temporary
halt to the cool-down process. Last night, the plant was at 490
degrees and 2,000 pounds per square inch of pressure - slightly less
than its test level of 532 degrees and 2,155 psi. Its normal
operating levels are in excess of 600 degrees and at about 2,200
The company has not wavered from its intent to have
Davis-Besse restarted this fall, though even under a best-case
scenario it did not expect that to happen for four to six weeks
after the pressure test was completed, Mr. Wilkins
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