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
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
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
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
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.
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
"This is the dress rehearsal for normal
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
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.
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,
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to