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March 28, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Friday, March 28, 2003
Davis-Besse pump flaw was known since 1996
Utility wants to fix only 2 of 4 devices

By
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. has known since at least 1996 that Davis-Besse’s four reactor coolant pumps are prone to leaking highly corrosive borated water - the same acidic liquid that nearly burned a hole through the plant’s reactor head, according to a document released yesterday.

Yet even now, after more than a year of intense federal scrutiny, FirstEnergy hopes to gain Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to restart the plant by refurbishing only two of the four pumps.

The other two pumps have not even been inspected during the plant’s prolonged 13-month outage, according to a memo written in August by two plant employees.

Plans call for those two pumps to be inspected and refurbished later - probably during a monthlong outage that’s likely to occur a year after the plant resumes operation, said Richard Wilkins, a company spokesman.

"We aren’t reconsidering. All the consideration was done up front. The review was very thorough," he said, explaining that a team of engineers overruled the employee recommendations and those by Flowserve Corp., a Los Angeles contractor.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass., FirstEnergy workers have been trying to get utility management to fix the four pumps for years. "The NRC needs to address the issue," David Lochbaum, the group’s nuclear safety engineer, said.

A condition report filed by a worker Aug. 3, 2002, said the plant’s latent issues review team "has identified that a history of persistent leakage exists at the casing-to-cover joint for reactor coolant pumps." It cited a 1996 report in which leakage was seen beyond outer gaskets on two pumps.

Reactor coolant pumps are used to circulate cooling water through the reactor during normal operations. Each pump has inner and outer gaskets which are supposed to act as seals to prevent leakage. The inner gasket is supposed to be the primary seal, while the outer is to serve as a backup, officials have said.

The pumps have a 20-year life span. Davis-Besse’s have not been refurbished since 1986, records show.

Andrew Siemaszko, a former plant engineer, has claimed in a U.S. Department of Labor whistleblower complaint that he was fired from his job because, as head of the latent issues review team, he insisted on having all four pumps refurbished.

The documents obtained by Mr. Lochbaum’s group cite similar concerns raised by two other employees in an Aug. 9 memo. That memo said all four pumps should be refurbished because they "have had indications" of leakage. Previous efforts of adjusting the tension on cover bolts have not worked, the memo said.

The two cited Flowserve’s recommendation to avoid over-reliance on the outer seal.

FirstEnergy has estimated the cost to refurbish all four pumps at $10 million under a "best-case scenario" - $5 million for each pair, assuming parts can be found and work can be done within 20 days for each pair. A bigger issue is the time lag: The utility has lost $10 million to $25 million a month buying supplemental power, depending on seasonal usage.

The NRC is looking into the allegations, agency spokesman Viktoria Mitlyng said. "The fact there is gasket leakage does not mean the pumps are not working," she said.

Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, said the issue is not new, and the leakage did not exceed allowable limits. He said, however, there is little disputing that the company put profits ahead of safety in the latter part of the 1990s.



More articles on this subject »
Electric ‘rate shock’ predicted 03/27/2003
Besse working conditions get mixed grades in study 03/21/2003
FirstEnergy files notice of securities sale 03/18/2003
Deregulation called factor in Besse lapse 03/13/2003
Utility’s reactor head is replaced; plant could be shut till summer 03/12/2003

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