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June 04, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Wednesday, June 4, 2003
Nuke plant plans test for start-up next month
Davis-Besse hopes to operate in August

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


PORT CLINTON - The most crucial start-up test in Davis-Besse’s 26-year history is now expected in mid to late July.

The beleaguered plant, idled the past 16 months by equipment problems and workplace issues, will be operated at normal pressure and 85 percent of normal temperature for a week. The test is to designed to show the Nuclear Regulatory Commission how well the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station can operate following its extensive repairs, as well as whether the bottom of the nuclear plant’s reactor is leaking.

FirstEnergy Corp. officials said yesterday their latest best-case scenario for restarting the plant is now early August, assuming the start-up test goes smoothly and nothing else bars the company from receiving NRC authorization.

The plan was outlined yesterday at the NRC’s monthly oversight meeting at Camp Perry. The NRC, which does not comment on company timetables, would only say that it will not rush its review process.

An August restart could salvage the final portion of this year’s peak usage season for the utility, which has said it loses $20 million to $25 million each month the plant sits idle during the summer. It loses about $10 million to $15 million during other months.

Lew Myers, chief operating officer of FirstEnergy’s nuclear subsidiary, said an early August restart is viable - but noted the company will have to stick to an ambitious schedule to make it happen.

The plant has been shut down since February, 2002, because of a leak of corrosive water that rusted a 4-by-5-inch hole through the vessel, which holds nuclear fuel. The revelation of the rust hole has led to a tightening of safety procedures at nuclear plants nationwide.

Before Davis-Besse restarts, the next big project will be to dismantle two high-pressure injection pumps and send them off to be redesigned. It’ll be a modification no U.S. nuclear plant has ever tried. The pumps weigh more than 6,000 pounds each and are built specific to each plant.

Bob Schrauder, FirstEnergy support services director, said he hopes those pumps can be redesigned and put back into service at Davis-Besse in one month. "We’ve never had this done, so we really don’t know how long it will take," he said.

High-pressure injection pumps are among the most important safety features of a nuclear plant: In the event of a loss-of-coolant accident, they would be called upon to forcibly inject coolant water over the reactor to prevent a meltdown.

FirstEnergy discovered in the fall that Davis-Besse’s pumps have a design flaw that could allow them to stop working while in use. The theory is that debris picked off the floor and passed along by the containment sump may clog the pump bearings.

A consulting firm, MPR Associates, has designed a special strainer for each of those pumps to help filter out any such debris, while also proposing that ports be relocated. The devices are to be tested for the NRC in a lab where the modifications are made.

Months ago, FirstEnergy bought a pair of unused pumps that were designed for a nuclear plant in eastern Washington. That plant was never completed. Its pumps are now being held in reserve as a contingency for Davis-Besse. FirstEnergy said it would rather try modifying its pumps first, to avoid possible complications.

Despite lingering questions, FirstEnergy officials said they are narrowing the scope of issues moving closer to a restart. Their hopes were buoyed by the completion of two small demonstrations last month of Davis-Besse’s reactor coolant system, precursors for the normal operating pressure test.

In the first test, completed May 6, the system was operated at 50 pounds per square inch of pressure. In the second, completed May 25, the pressure was increased to 250 psi. Both showed some minor valve leakage. But NRC officials said none of it was out of the ordinary for what could be expected at any plant undergoing such tests. The utility said it has made repairs.

The two low-pressure tests were both done at a fraction of Davis-Besse’s normal operating pressure of 2,200 psi. They ranged in duration from 30 minutes to a few hours. The upcoming test will last a week.

Davis-Besse is one of the nation’s hottest nuclear plants. It normally operates in excess of 600 degrees. During the upcoming pressure test, it will be operated at about 85 percent of that, or 500 to 525 degrees, NRC officials said. Control rods remain inserted for all tests to keep the plant in its non-nuclear mode.



More articles on this subject »
FirstEnergy may get record fine 05/31/2003
Edison chooses repair for reactor emergency pumps 05/22/2003
NRC’s handling of Besse examined 05/14/2003
NRC curious about ‘unique’ cracks at Davis-Besse 05/09/2003
2 pumps at Besse no good, firm says 05/08/2003

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