Article published Wednesday, February 12, 2003|
Besse plans to restart with non-nuclear
By TOM HENRY
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.
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
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
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.
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.
demonstrate robust containment," Mr. Powers predicted.
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,
"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.
officials said they wondered if it would have worked.
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.
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.
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
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
The agency also cited the need to "increase the
frequency of inspections as the headís susceptibility to degradation
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
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