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September 11, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, September 11, 2003
Davis-Besse gearing up for 1st trial run

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Davis-Besseís "dress rehearsal" for restart has begun.

The Ottawa County nuclear plant is slowly having its systems put back into operation for a nonnuclear test run over 10 or 11 days, FirstEnergy Corp. said yesterday during the monthly meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionís oversight panel at Oak Harbor High School.

Though it is the biggest test in the beleaguered plantís 26-year history, the NRC said it does not signal an imminent return to service.

FirstEnergy and the NRC both said they expect to find several small leaks and other maintenance issues to address in the coming weeks because the plant has been sitting idle for almost 19 months.

Two of the most important questions are whether the bottom of Davis-Besseís reactor leaks and if the plantís emergency coolant system would work in the event of a nuclear accident. Major problems with either could keep the plant idle indefinitely.

Lew Myers, chief operating officer of FirstEnergyís nuclear subsidiary, was upbeat, yet cautious. "This is a very exciting time and a major milestone for us," he said.

Davis-Besse has been idle since a refueling outage began Feb. 16, 2002. The following month, a near-hole was found in its reactor head. The steel lid was rusted so badly that it became the first in U.S. nuclear history to be replaced. It recently was sent to a radioactive waste landfill in Utah for disposal.

Several other flaws have been identified, including design problems dating to when the plant went online in 1977. The NRC has blamed the overall plant condition on poor management and a lack of a questioning attitude among workers.

Davis-Besseís reactor was running last night, albeit at only about 200 degrees. Thatís a third of its normal 605-degree operating temperature. It also was running at a fraction of its normal operating pressure of 2,200 pounds per square inch.

By tomorrow morning, as power ascends, the reactor should reach 532 degrees and a near-normal operating pressure of 2,155 psi. It is to stay at that level for seven days to replicate normal operating conditions. Then, a couple of days will be spent taking it slowly offline, Mark Bezilla, vice president/plant manager, said.

"Itíll give us a chance to see how we respond in a normal mode of operation," Mr. Bezilla said.

"This is the dress rehearsal for normal restart."

Performances of employees running the plant also will be scrutinized, officials said.

Regardless of how well the test goes, FirstEnergy recognizes it faces an uphill battle trying to get the plant back online and producing electricity before the end of the year.

Results arenít expected to be discussed before the next NRC oversight panel meeting Oct. 7 at Camp Perry.

Several other meetings are being scheduled before restart in the Oak Harbor area, at the NRCís Midwest regional office near Chicago, and at the agencyís headquarters near Washington. Many vital inspections have not been scheduled yet.

On Oct. 1, the company is to spend hours trying to convince the NRC that Davis-Besseís work force no longer fears retribution from management for reporting problems.

In addition to the reactor test run, an Alabama laboratory is in the early stages of a 21-day test that has huge ramifications for Davis-Besse.

The lab is trying to determine whether a plan to modify Davis-Besseís high-pressure injection pumps will work.

The modification, never done before in the United States, was devised by a FirstEnergy contractor in Virginia. The pumps are an essential fallback in the event of an accident because they would be used to inject coolant water over the reactor to help avoid a meltdown.

The NRC yesterday also learned one of Davis-Besseís three climate-control devices, known as containment air coolers, failed when the nationís worst power outage occurred Aug. 14. Davis-Besse was one of several U.S. and Canadian nuclear plants that lost off-site power.

Containment air coolers act like air conditioners to help keep the equipment in Davis-Besseís radioactive containment area from overheating. FirstEnergyís license normally allows it to run Davis-Besse with two of the three containment air coolers operational; it can go down to just one for up to three days. The utility hasnít determined how it will address the problem, Jim Powers, engineering director, said.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.comdavisbesse.




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