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March 29, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Saturday, March 29, 2003
DAVIS-BESSE
Design flaws slow plant restart
FirstEnergy needs to address NRC concerns with 2 pumps

By
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. has been dealt a major setback that could keep Davis-Besse idle weeks longer than anticipated, possibly well into the summer.

A senior Nuclear Regulatory Commission official yesterday told The Blade that design flaws have recently been discovered in two pumps that would be used to cool Davis-Besseís reactor core in the event of a nuclear accident.

Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, said the agency questions the operability of the plantís two high-pressure injection pumps. Those pumps would be called into action in a worst-case scenario to re-circulate water containing boric acid through the reactor in order to get the hot core under control in the event of an emergency.

The injection pumps are a separate and independent issue from the plantís four reactor coolant pumps, which have been the focus of a federal whistleblower complaint, NRC scrutiny, and several recent stories in The Blade. The reactor coolant pumps are in operation when the plant operates and are used to circulate coolant water through the reactor during normal operation, officials have said.

"Thereís a question regarding those [high-pressure injection] pumps," Mr. Grobe said. "Itís the design in the bearings in the high-pressure injection."

Officials have no doubt the high-pressure injection pumps would work in the first few minutes of a so-called "loss of coolant" emergency, when they would be moving purified coolant water from an emergency storage tank to cool the reactor core.

Itís what could happen next that has NRC officials concerned. The approximately 400,000 gallons of purified water from the emergency tank would eventually be expended in about 30 minutes or less. At that point, the plantís design calls for the high-pressure injection pumps to begin recirculating the used, unpurified water collected from sump pumps in the floor below the reactor.

The NRC is concerned that small pieces of debris that could settle in the water in the sumps may cause bearings to fail within the high-pressure injection pumps as they recirculate that unclean water to cool the reactor.

"Thereís a point in time in which you have to switch over and go to recirculation mode," Mr. Grobe said. "Water in the sump wouldnít be as clean."

"Itís a question: Are these adequate for sump water?" he said.

The problem was brought to the NRCís attention by FirstEnergy officials as part of the plantís overall system health review process that began in the late fall and ended in February, Mr. Grobe said.

Mr. Grobe said the review of the emergency coolant system occurred because of Davis-Besseís extended outage, which began Feb. 16, 2002, and has continued because of the discovery of a hole from extensive corrosion of the reactor head or lid.

In addition to replacing the reactor lid, the utility has been dealing with a number of other equipment problems at the aging plant.

FirstEnergy has narrowed its list of options for dealing with the high-pressure injection pumps to three possible courses of action: replace the pumps, rebuild them, or install a more efficient filter system to screen debris from getting into the pumps. A decision is expected late next week, said company spokesman Richard Wilkins.

Replacement is the most expensive option, with an estimated price tag of $2 million to $3 million. But it could end up being the most practical, depending on the company analysis, he said.

Mr. Wilkins declined to provide an estimate on how long any of the options would take, except to say the project is clearly one that cannot be accomplished in a day or two.

The matter is expected to come before FirstEnergyís board of directors at a meeting in April, he said.

NRC officials said projects such as these occur so infrequently that there is not an industry standard to gauge the potential time delays for each of the options specified.

"If they replace them, thatís going to be a matter of weeks," according to an NRC official who asked not to be identified.

Whatever option is chosen, the work will be done in parallel with other remaining projects under way to lessen the plantís down time as much as possible, Mr. Wilkins said.

He said the company now has pushed back plans for testing the strength of the reactorís steel containment shell, as well as the concrete containment building that encapsulates it, to mid- to late-April.

Both the containment shell and the containment building need to be tested because they were cut open so the company could replace the damaged lid with a never-used one acquired from a mothballed plant in Midland, Mich.

Mr. Wilkins said plans for a week-long pressure test of the reactor itself have been delayed indefinitely. The plant has to be running for that test, except all control rods will be inserted into the core so no nuclear fission occurs.

The pressure test is one of the biggest involved with the plantís restart and has been ordered, in part, to see if the bottom of the reactor has any leaks like those that ultimately corroded the reactor head.

For earlier Davis-Besse stories, go to



More articles on this subject Ľ
Davis-Besse pump flaw was known since 1996 03/28/2003
Electric Ďrate shockí predicted 03/27/2003
Besse working conditions get mixed grades in study 03/21/2003
FirstEnergy files notice of securities sale 03/18/2003
Deregulation called factor in Besse lapse 03/13/2003

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