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FirstEnergy May Need License Change For Davis-Besse Test
Thursday April 24, 6:55 pm ET

CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--FirstEnergy Corp. may need to modify the operating license at its Davis-Besse nuclear plant in order to perform a key test, potentially adding more time to the generator's already long and expensive repair outage, a company spokesman said Thursday.

FirstEnergy needs to perform a reactor pressure test at the Toledo, Ohio-area nuclear plant before it resumes operations. But the utility may not be able to perform that test before it either replaces two Davis-Besse emergency pumps or receives a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license amendment allowing the pressure test with the old pumps.

FirstEnergy and the NRC still need to determine whether the old pumps will stand in the way of the planned pressure test. If so, changing them would affect when Davis-Besse, currently seen ready for operations in June, will restart, company spokesman Richard Wilkins said.

"Replacing the pumps would impact the schedule," he said.

Waiting for the NRC to approve a license amendment to allow use of the old pumps, on the other hand, could also affect when the pressure test is run. Currently, that test is planned for may.

The timing "would depend on how long it took to process that request," Wilkins said.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said the agency, which needs to issue final approval before Davis-Besse can go back on line, expects FirstEnergy to submit a license amendment request soon. The content of that request will help the NRC determine whether an amendment is actually needed to allow the pressure test without a pump replacement, Mitlyng said.

"FirstEnergy is still planning to submit an amendment request," Mitlyng said. "We haven't gotten it yet. Once we review what they present, we'll determine how necessary it might be."

The content of the amendment request will also dictate how long it takes the agency to review the matter, Mitlyng said.

If a license amendment is needed, it will only apply to the pressure test, and not future operations at Davis-Besse, Wilkins said.

Texas Leak

Davis-Besse has been off line since early 2002, when FirstEnergy workers discovered a severe and unprecedented corrosion problem at the plant. Leaking boric acid from the plant's cooling system nearly ate through the reactor's thick carbon steel vessel lid, causing an outage that is likely to cost First Energy at least $420 million once completed.

During the repair process, FirstEnergy determined that that the two emergency pumps, called "high pressure injection pumps," could pose potential clogging problems and may need some kind of repair. The pumps send water back into the reactor if a reactor breach causes a loss of coolant.

The pumps take water from a tank and also recirculate cooling water spilled onto the reactor containment building floor after an accident. Although FirstEnergy has made major repairs to prevent debris from clogging the sump system that collects that water, the company still determined that debris could pose problems for bearings in the injection pumps.

The status of those emergency pumps has become a potential hurdle as FirstEnergy eyes the important pressure test. That test will check for leaks in both the bottom of the reactor and Davis-Besse's four large reactor coolant pumps.

FirstEnergy doesn't believe it has a leak on the reactor bottom, but did find stains there that it believes were caused by material that washed down from the corroded reactor lid.

Until this month, no case of leaking on a reactor bottom had ever been seen in the industry. But on April 12, operators at CenterPoint Energy's South Texas Project plant informed the NRC that there was evidence of a leak on the reactor bottom on Unit 1 at the generator. As reported, the leak didn't cause any corrosion, but the company estimates the reactor could be down for repairs until late summer.

The leak at South Texas bolsters the NRC's requirement that FirstEnergy ensure through a pressure test that there are no such problems at Davis-Besse, Mitlyng said.

"We absolutely think that we need to make sure," she said. "We are looking at it very carefully."

While it waits to determine the requirements for the pressure test, FirstEnergy is sticking with its latest estimates, delivered during a recent meeting with the NRC, that Davis-Besse will be ready to restart in June.

"We're hoping to have things buttoned up by the end of spring," Wilkins said.

-By Jon Kamp; Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4129; jon.kamp@dowjones.com

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