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  Wednesday, April 16, 2003

 Top Stories

FirstEnergy eyes June restart of Davis-Besse

Staff writer

CAMP PERRY -- Projections from the current work rates predict the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station could be ready for start up in mid-June.

Federal regulators, however, aren't saying exactly when they'll be done with massive amounts of inspections that need to be completed as the work is finished.

"We can't inspect the work until it's done," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission Oversight Panel Chairman Jack Grobe during a nearly four-hour monthly meeting Tuesday at Camp Perry. "As things are completed, we're inspecting them, and we'll continue to do that."

The panel is watching over the plant's progress as it works toward restart after being off-line for more than a year. During a routine refueling outage, workers found large amounts of corrosion on the reactor head and have since overhauled several systems and company policies.

Grobe said there are three areas of great importance: The bulk work, which is much of the larger projects still ongoing; resolution of some design issues that require intense calculations and evaluation of the safety culture.

One of the peripheral causes pinpointed in the corrosion problem was that workers weren't willing to come for1ward and point out safety concerns for fear of retribution.

"Those are the three areas I see as challenge areas, and we'll get to restart when we get there," Grobe added.

Having said that, though, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Corp. officials are predicting completion of the last portions of its restart checklist items by mid-June. Those predictions are based on the best work-off rates of the last month, as the amount of work to be done continues to decline.

Company officials, too, were armed with some good news at the meeting, announcing a positive result to its Integrated Leak Rate Test, finished April 9.

That test required the containment vessel to be pressurized to search for leaks -- none of which were found, said Jim Powers, director of FENOC's nuclear engineering.

"The organization needs to work well to communicate to reach this milestone and execute (the test)," Powers explained of the work that goes into the ILRT. He added that employees worked well together to position hundreds of components, open the right valves, coordinate 10 compressors the size of trailers and pull off the test successfully.

FENOC management also came prepared with results from an internal survey that showed for the most part, workers are more informed and happier with the safety attitude at the plant than previously.

About 1,138 employees and contractors participated in the survey, out of a possible population of 1,448. They answered 36 questions, and almost all the answers were more positive than results from a similar August 2002 survey.

"It's still not as good as we'd like to get it, but it's an improvement," Vice President of FENOC Oversight Bill Pearce noted.

One puzzling result of the survey, however, concerned Grobe and other oversight panel members. In one question, 77 percent of those surveyed said they felt free of retaliation or harassment. On another question, though, 15 percent said they were aware of instances in the last six months where a worker was harassed or retaliated against for reporting safety concerns.

In another question, 8 percent said they have been subjected to problems because of raising a safety concern. Both those results are a slight increase over the August 2002 results, despite months of effort to combat such perceptions.

Grobe said later that out of the 15 percent statistic, 22 percent of those were contract workers who appear to be saying they have concerns.

"That's a concern we share and something to look at," he said to an area resident who questioned the figure.

Meanwhile, company officials "whetted" the appetite of audience members with a few results from an independent assessment done by Dr. Sonja Haber.

It showed work still needed to be done to ingrain a safety culture into workers at Davis-Besse, but Myers said he saw a definite improvement.

Grobe responded that he was not aware of any other plant in the United States with a methodology like Haber's for gauging safety culture. A public meeting is expected to be scheduled in the coming weeks to talk in detail about Haber's assessment.

"I feel it's particularly noteworthy that you folks have taken this on with a certain amount of vigor," Grobe said. "You've earned the right to take this on."

Originally published Wednesday, April 16, 2003

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