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4/8/03 4:03:00 PM ET

FirstEnergy tests Ohio nuke, work may run into May
Reuters, 04.08.03, 4:28 PM ET


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SAN FRANCISCO, April 8 (Reuters) - FirstEnergy Corp. (nyse: FE - news - people) said on Tuesday it began a critical test needed before it can restart its shut Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio, a target now likely to slip into May.

The test, required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will weigh the soundness of a 1 1/2-inch thick steel vessel that houses the plant's reactor and safety gear.

The test is expected to be completed by the end of this week, the company said in a statement.

A spokesman for Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy said the test is part of a checklist of work to be completed before the company can ask the NRC for permission to restart the plant.

The spokesman said "late April, early May" is the target to wrap up work before the company will be ready to seek NRC approval.

"It's possible the work could slip into May before completion," said spokesman Richard Wilkins.

The Davis-Besse plant was shut in February 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's goal was to have repair work, including a new head for the reactor vessel, completed and the plant restarted by March 31, but that timetable was pushed into April.

Wilkins said among other jobs, the company is working on engineering for "high-pressure injection pumps" that are part of a safety cooling system for the reactor.

The pumps may need filters or modifications to use unfiltered water to cool the reactor if a tank of filtered water is used up, he said.

Also, the NRC has sent a team of inspectors to Davis-Besse this week to assess FirstEnergy's work to improve what the commission calls the plant's "safety culture."

The NRC said weaknesses in the safety culture were "key contributors in the corrosion of the reactor vessel head."

The NRC said results of the inspection will be presented at a public meeting and an inspection report is expected about a month after the meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

The bill for Davis-Besse repairs, including purchases of replacement power, is likely to exceed $400 million.

The plant has a generating capacity of 925 megawatts, or power for more than 900,000 homes.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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