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  Friday, June 20, 2003

 Local News

NRC satisfied with D-B pump plan
Late summer restart possible

Gannett News Service

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 power plant.

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 debris.

"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, he said.

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

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