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Posted on Thu, Jan. 09, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Plant makes radiation fixes
Davis-Besse pays for monitoring gear after worker contamination in March

Beacon Journal business writer

Radioactive particles on the clothing of five contract workers who left the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant last spring have cost owner FirstEnergy Corp. $400,000 for new monitoring equipment.

The Akron-based utility also created what it calls a radiation protection department under the supervision of Davis-Besse's former operations manager, and it recalibrated some existing monitors, said spokesman Todd Schneider.

The measures also move the company closer to restarting the plant, which has been shut down since March, when serious problems with leaking boric acid were found.

The new department and its manager are part of what Schneider described as a reorganization that ``basically was done to make sure we had the right talents at Davis-Besse to successfully return that plant to safe and reliable service.''

The company has acknowledged that its previous management team was more focused on production goals than safety.

``We have done much work with all of our employees to make sure they understood the problem, what caused it and what they could have done to prevent it,'' Schneider said.

He said six positions have been added to the plant's organization chart, which now includes a separate engineering structure.

All but four of the plant's 23 top positions have been changed, with many slots being filled by managers from FirstEnergy's plants in Perry, Ohio, and Beaver Valley, Pa. Davis-Besse is in Oak Harbor on the Lake Erie shore.

Schneider said 10 formerDavis-Besse managers have left the company. Others have been reassigned. Schneider said there has been little turnover among the rest of Davis-Besse's 800 employees, about half of whom are unionized.

FirstEnergy's new radiation protection measures remove one more item from a checklist of safety issues that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says must be addressed before the plant can be restarted.

Schneider said only seven or eight items remain, and the company is still predicting that the plant will be restarted by the end of March.

A routine maintenance inspection of Davis-Besse in March 2002 found that leaking boric acid had nearly corroded through the 6-inch-thick steel cap that covers the plant's reactor vessel.

The particles on the workers' clothing were brought to Davis-Besse's attention in March, Schneider said. The five workers left Davis-Besse on Feb. 20 after working inside the plant's steam generator.

They went on to work at a plant in South Carolina, where the particles were detected.

Subsequent inspections found particles in hotel rooms and homes in Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

There was no threat to the public, the NRC said in an earlier report.

The exposure violated three regulations, but NRC spokesman Jan Strasma said it is unlikely the agency would fine FirstEnergy. The agency's primary concern was to ensure the plant acted to correct the problems, he said.

Federal inspectors said plant operators should have checked the workers more thoroughly.

Schneider said this was the first such incident for FirstEnergy.

The NRC also is investigating the boric acid leaks. An NRC report issued last month said agency officials suspected there could be leaks at the plant, but they allowed it to stay open because they thought there was little risk.

It was the most extensive corrosion discovered at a U.S. nuclear reactor.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. Gloria Irwin can be reached at 330-996-3720 or at girwin@thebeaconjournal.com
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