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Posted on Wed, Jan. 15, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Reactor will be refueled for test
Nuclear reactions are still months away at Davis-Besse, however

Beacon Journal business writer

Davis-Besse will get fueled again, perhaps as early as Friday.

The refurbished nuclear power plant is scheduled to be refueled at the end of this week in preparation for coolant-leak tests, owner FirstEnergy said Tuesday.

But although the fuel rods will be in place, no nuclear reactions will take place inside the reactor, the Akron utility said.

Instead, the fuel rods must be in place to help with a weeklong test that is to begin March 1 to see if nozzles at the bottom of the reactor are leaking coolant, FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said. The refueling could be delayed by a couple of days to allow additional work to take place near the reactor, he said.

FirstEnergy remains on schedule to have the nuclear plant in Oak Harbor east of Toledo along Lake Erie ready to be restarted by April 1, Schneider said.

In related news, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday it is on the way to adopting about 50 staff recommendations on how to improve oversight of the nuclear power industry. Those recommendations are intended to head off the kind of failures that led to unprecedented reactor damage at Davis-Besse that was discovered less than a year ago.

NRC staff members at the agency's headquarters in Rockville, Md., presented their recommendations on improving industry oversight to the five commissioners who oversee the regulatory agency.

NRC Chairman Richard Meserve said the commission needs to act only as a formality for the staff recommendations to be adopted. Many of the recommendations are already being acted on, he said.

Like FirstEnergy, the NRC had its failures involving Davis-Besse, Meserve said. ``We're confronting them.''

Last week, Meserve blasted a report by the NRC's inspector general that severely criticized the NRC for mistakes that allowed boric acid to leak for years on top of the Davis-Besse reactor head, eating a football-size hole nearly all the way through the 6-inch-thick steel top. Among the inspector general's findings were that NRC officials were too concerned about hurting FirstEnergy's profits when they allowed Davis-Besse to postpone a shutdown for a safety inspection in late 2001. That inspection could have caught the corrosion problem sooner.

Two vessel head cavities were found in March after the plant was shut down in February for refueling and the safety inspection. FirstEnergy may spend more than $375 million to repair the damage and buy replacement power.

The recommendations of the NRC staff include:

 Increasing and improving inspections of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants and rethinking how the agency attempts to spot problem trends.

 Revising inspections to assess safety implications of long-term unresolved problems at plants.

 Reviewing the effectiveness of actions taken in previous ``lessons learned'' reviews involving the agency.

 Looking into requiring systems sensitive enough to detect leakage rates of less than one gallon a minute inside nuclear plants.

 Coming up with a course of action to deal with the kind of steel alloys used in nuclear plants that have proved to be susceptible to cracking and leaking.

 Developing regular inspections of programs to controlboric acid corrosion.

``We're trying to set tripwires out there so when someone sees a problem, they can bring it to the attention of management,'' said Carl Paperiello, chairman of the senior management review team that reviewed the staff recommendations.

The NRC said some recommendations could be adopted in six months, while others may take as long as two years.

The NRC is investigating the structural integrity of reactor vessel heads at 68 pressurized-water reactors that are similar in design to Davis-Besse.

NRC Executive Director William Travers has ordered his staff to come up with an ``action plan'' by Feb. 28 to implement oversight changes.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com
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