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5/15/03 3:18:00 PM ET

FirstEnergy urges quick NRC OK for Ohio nuke test
Reuters, 05.15.03, 3:36 PM ET


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By Leonard Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO, May 15 (Reuters) - FirstEnergy Corp (nyse: FE - news - people) said on Thursday it needs urgent regulatory approval to run a critical test at its downed Davis-Besse nuclear power plant to allow it to meet its August restart target.

The Akron, Ohio-based energy company sent a 97-page application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday for a one-time amendment to its plant license to test the operating pressure and temperature in the reactor and reactor cooling system to make sure there are no leaks.

The weeklong test, one of many steps FirstEnergy must take before restarting the Ohio plant, is planned for sometime in the first two weeks of June, said plant spokesman Todd Schneider Thursday, adding "August is still the timeline" for restart.

NRC spokesman Jan Strasma, however, said the application and test schedule is "tight."

"Normally it takes us several weeks to process an amendment to technical specifications or to the license, and that's on an expedited basis," said Strasma.

A license amendment not urgently needed takes the NRC several months to process, he said.

If the NRC had complete information from FirstEnergy, "we could decide on the application in perhaps two to three weeks," said Strasma.

Davis-Besse was forced to close in Feb. 2002 when inspectors found that boric acid leaking through cracks in the reactor vessel head had eaten a hole nearly all the way through the reactor's 6-inch thick steel lid.

FirstEnergy has replaced the lid, but repairs and other work, including an investigation of the plant's "safety culture," have caused the company to miss repeated targets for resumed operations.

The delays, including the cost of purchases of electricity supplies to replace Davis-Besse's 925 megawatt generating capacity, are likely to cost more than $400 million.

FirstEnergy's application to the NRC said its "restart test plan provides an opportunity to identify potential issues with safety-grade equipment as well as equipment important to plant reliability."

The company said delay in completing the test plan would cause "delay in the correction of these currently unidentified equipment issues, with a potential corresponding delay in other station equipment repairs and inspections."

The application for a license amendment, however, "involves no significant increases in plant risk," FirstEnergy said.

The NRC and FirstEnergy are scheduled to meet June 3 in Oak Harbor, Ohio, for a regular monthly review of Davis-Besse work.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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