| Article published Wednesday, February 26, 2003|
Repairs key to engineer’s case
Work sought by ex-employee would cost more, delay
By TOM HENRY
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - At the heart of a
whistleblower dispute between a fired engineer and FirstEnergy is
additional water pump work at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant that
would have cost the utility millions more and further delayed
Andrew Siemaszko claims in his 24-page
document filed with the U.S. Department of Labor that he was
illegally fired from his job as lead systems engineer on Sept. 18
because he insisted on having all four of Davis-Besse’s reactor
coolant pumps refurbished now.
Those pumps, used primarily to
circulate cooling water through the reactor during normal
operations, have not been refurbished since 1986, according to
Mr. Siemaszko thought it was important to have
the work done on all four pumps now because they have been in
operation 17 years and are nearing the end of their typical 20-year
life span, according to his attorney, Billie Garde.
suspected leak in the inner gasket of one pump led to FirstEnergy’s
decision to start out by refurbishing a pair during this outage, the
The pumps operate in pairs on a loop system,
meaning it’s more practical to do work on at least two at a
FirstEnergy estimates the cost of refurbishing all four
pumps at $10 million - roughly $5 million for each pair.
greater concern could be the potential time lag, given that no work
beyond the first pair of pumps has been scheduled yet and parts can
be hard to obtain.
The company estimates that even under a
"best-case scenario" each set of pumps will require 20 days of work
- in other words, a minimum 40 days to do all four pumps at
Nuclear plants can lose as much as $1 million a day in
energy production. Even with its longstanding deals for supplemental
power, FirstEnergy loses $10 million to $15 million a month buying
electricity from other suppliers during non-peak months. During peak
summer usage, the losses range between $20 million and $25 million a
month, Richard Wilkins, company spokesman, said.
hopes to mitigate the cost of refurbishing the first pair by doing
the work during Davis-Besse’s extended outage, now in its 13th
Mr. Siemaszko argued that it would be more prudent -
and safer for the public - to upgrade all four at once, because of
their age and their tendency for similar problems to arise with each
The company disagreed. In a prepared statement, it told
The Blade it will refurbish the other two pumps later, possibly
during a mid-cycle outage it expects to have a year after
The company’s latest timetable calls for it to apply
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for restart authorization in
April. But NRC officials said yesterday the plant may not resume
operation that month, because the agency has its own inspections
scheduled into early May.
FirstEnergy also still has to
convince the agency it has overcome other issues, such as creating a
work atmosphere more conducive for employees to come forward with
problems, officials said.
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