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February 12, 2003


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Other | Article published Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Besse plans to restart with non-nuclear test


PORT CLINTON - FirstEnergy Corp. expects to have its Davis-Besse nuclear plant operating a month from now - just not off nuclear fuel.

Barring more delays, Davis-Besse will be restarted in early March for a week-long pressure test to see whether the plantís reactor and the containment building encapsulating it are sound.

The announcement was made by company officials yesterday at Camp Perry during a monthly update to the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionís oversight panel.

Jack Grobe, NRC panel chairman, told The Blade he doesnít know of any agency inspections that would hold up that test. Most are tied to the nuclear-powered restart, which NRC officials have said could be weeks or months away.

All could depend on how a number of federal investigations unfold, including possible hearings on Capitol Hill.

The non-nuclear test is a "major milestone" for the company as it hopes to overcome obstacles and return Davis-Besse to service, said Jim Powers, FirstEnergy nuclear engineering director.

The plant has been idle for a year because of numerous safety issues related to the unprecedented corrosion of its old reactor head, the most dangerous problem of its kind at a U.S. nuclear plant.

The test is being performed to check the integrity of the replacement head and for leaks at the bottom of the reactor itself, where company officials have said some unexplained rust stains have been found on the outer shell.

"Itíll demonstrate robust containment," Mr. Powers predicted.

The NRC has agreed the company needs to load nuclear fuel into the reactor to perform the test, but not use it. Control rods will be inserted to absorb neutrons and keep nuclear fission from occurring, officials said.

"Fuel movement is imminent," said Lew Myers, chief operating officer of the utilityís nuclear subsidiary. He told The Blade last night the 10-day operation would begin as soon as remaining bits of debris are removed from the inner part of the reactorís bottom. The debris is salt-like residue that formed and fell off fuel rods during heating-and-cooling cycles throughout the plantís 25-year history, Mr. Powers said.

Both have important roles: In the event of a nuclear accident, the sump would be used to recirculate coolant water. The coolers would be used to stabilize pressure inside the containment area and provide some climate control, an NRC official said.

Mr. Powers said the original sump was replaced because the company did not believe it would be sufficient for the restart, given improvements in technology that have made the device and its filters more efficient.

NRC officials said they wondered if it would have worked.

The company found bits of debris in the old sump filters, such as metallic and fiber insulation, plus paint chips and pieces of coatings - but not reactor-head rust. But coils in the air coolers "were fouled somewhat by the boron," Mr. Powers said, a reference to the reactor-head rust. That corrosion, officials have said, was likely caused by boric acid that leaked from the vessel. Boric acid and boron are used to keep the reactor under control.

In a related matter, the NRCís headquarters in Rockville, Md., yesterday issued an "immediately effective order" for better inspections at 69 of the nationís 103 operating nuclear plants - those with pressurized water reactors such as Davis-Besse.

The order, which regulators have talked about issuing for months, requires companies operating those plants to perform bare metal visual examinations of reactor heads and more thorough examinations of nozzle penetrations during outages, both of which could drive up costs.

But the NRC said the problems at Davis-Besse, as well as lower-profile ones at a couple of other plants, have "made clear the need for more effective inspections" of those heads and nozzles.

The agency also cited the need to "increase the frequency of inspections as the headís susceptibility to degradation increases."

The other 34 plants have boiling water reactors. Detroit Edison Co.ís Fermi II plant in northern Monroe County is one of them. Boiling water plants are similar to those with pressurized reactors, but the latter operate under extreme pressure and at much higher temperatures.

More articles on this subject Ľ
Ottawa County criticizes Kucinich 02/08/2003
NRC may have missed Davis-Besse warning 02/06/2003
Regulators question FirstEnergy staffing 02/05/2003
Revoke license of Davis-Besse, lawmaker says 02/04/2003
Psychologist to evaluate work force 01/31/2003

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