ROCKVILLE, Md. -- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials
said Thursday they found no major flaws in a $7 million plan to
improve the coolant pump system at the troubled Davis-Besse nuclear
The installation of a new coolant pump system is just one step
toward reopening the plant, possibly by the end of the summer.
FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, which runs Davis-Besse, must also
improve employee safety performance, NRC officials said.
"We didn't hear anything that caused us concern," Jon Hopkins,
NRC's Davis-Besse project manager, said after FirstEnergy officials
briefed NRC staff on the improved pump system.
The plant shut down last year after investigators discovered that
boric acid had corroded a 6-inch-deep hole near the reactor's top.
Anti-nuclear activists claim corrosion would have eventually eaten
through the reactor shielding, releasing radioactive steam.
FirstEnergy is modifying Davis-Besse's high-pressure injection
pump system so it can continue circulating coolants even if the
reactor ruptures. This would prevent the reactor from overheating
and going into a dangerous meltdown.
FirstEnergy is testing a 600-horsepower pump system that has new
filters to trap rust, dust and other debris that could clog it. They
are also moving a coolant intake hose so it cannot be clogged with
"We feel pretty good we're on the right track," said Bob Coward
of MPR Associates Inc., an Alexandria, Va.-based nuclear engineering
company that is working with FirstEnergy on the pump improvements.
Hopkins and other NRC officials asked FirstEnergy representatives
whether they had tested the new pump system at reactor operating
temperatures above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. They also wanted to know
if FirstEnergy had figured out how much debris would clog the pumps
enough to shut the system down.
Coward said the pumps are being tested at Wyle Laboratories in
Huntsville, Ala., at cooler temperatures and FirstEnergy had not
pushed the pump system to the breaking point during tests.
These points did not raise concern, but NRC officials will
continue to closely monitor FirstEnergy's plans, Hopkins said. NRC
may also send investigators to Huntsville, Ala., to monitor testing,
FirstEnergy expects to finish testing and installation of the
improved pump system by mid-July, said Gary Leidich, executive vice
president of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. The system would have
been installed sooner but FirstEnergy wanted officials at NRC
headquarters to review the plan first.
Usually, regional NRC officials approve pump modifications,
Leidich said. "This model is very straightforward," Leidich said of
the pump plan.
Originally published Friday, June 20, 2003