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  Friday, October 10, 2003

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Pump problem has NRC worried
Davis-Besse safety

Staff writer

CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station likely would have been at greater risk during an accident because of a faulty design dating back to its creation, said federal regulators Thursday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still considering the safety impact of faulty high pressure injection pumps, a safety system that would help cool the nuclear reactor in the event of an emergency.

Commission officials on Wednesday asked Davis-Besse parent company FirstEnergy for more information before making a final determination. The NRC rates problems with safety in terms of colors, green for very low significance, then white to yellow before reaching red as the highest level of significance.

The NRC chairman of an oversight panel watching Davis-Besse's progress, Jack Grobe, wrote in a letter to FirstEnergy that "the preliminary safety significance of the inspection ... is Greater than Green." An enclosure with the letter stated, however, that the assessment could be as high as red.

Grobe asked for further analysis, including the failure prob-

ability of the HPI pumps when recirculating coolant water and the possibility for increased risk because of fires.

Plant spokesman Richard Wilkins said the preliminary assessment was neither a surprise nor anticipated by the company.

"I think a lot of people have looked at the HPI pumps and the modifications, and there's a lot of different conclusions on whether or not they would have operated had they gotten some kind of debris in them, and how much debris it would have taken for them to fail," he said.

Wilkins added the assessment won't affect the company's timeline for finishing up repairs to the plant, which is now set for the end of November.

The problem with the HPI pumps became apparent about a year ago at the off-line plant, when workers determined bearings in the pump were much smaller than any debris that could be flowing through in the coolant water.

Plant workers estimated there would be some debris in the event of an accident in recirculated water. That debris could include fibrous insulation, paint, concrete and containment floor dirt, among other things.

That debris could clog up the bearings, causing the pumps to fail from "excessive vibration, overheating or both," Grobe wrote.

It was determined the design flaw dated back to when the plant was built.

Wilkins said one of the HPI pumps has been sent to a facility in Pittsburgh for modification -- something that has been planned for several months now -- and another one is expected to go by early next week.

NRC officials have said the HPI pumps are one of several issues that need to be resolved before the plant can restart.

It has been shut down since February 2002, when workers found corrosion on the reactor head. Since then, FirstEnergy officials have found more problems that needed to be corrected prior to restart. They are maintaining a late November completion date, but NRC officials continue to say the plant will only restart when they are satisfied with the safety margin.

Originally published Friday, October 10, 2003

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