| Article published Friday, March 28, 2003|
Davis-Besse pump flaw was known since
Utility wants to fix only 2 of 4
By TOM HENRY
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.
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.
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
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
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
The pumps have a 20-year life span. Davis-Besse’s have
not been refurbished since 1986, records show.
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
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
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.
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.
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