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4/15/03 4:01:00 PM ET

FirstEnergy Ohio nuke plant restart slips again
Reuters, 04.15.03, 5:08 PM ET


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SAN FRANCISCO, April 15 (Reuters) - FirstEnergy Corp.'s (nyse: FE - news - people) timetable to restart its idled Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio will likely be pushed back to June, the company said on Tuesday.

The Akron, Ohio-based company still must complete "one of the last big tests" before the plant can restart, involving a pressure test of Davis-Besse's reactor coolant system and reactor vessel, said Richard Wilkins, a company spokesman.

The test is slated for mid- to late May, which means "there's a good possibility" the restart schedule will slip into June, Wilkins said.

The test, which involves increasing pressure in the coolant system to an operating level of 2,150 pounds per square inch, may take three to seven days or slightly longer, the spokesman said.

On April 8, FirstEnergy said a restart was not likely until May, a setback from its earlier goal of restarting Davis-Besse by March 31.

Davis-Besse was forced to close 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.

The company has replaced the damaged lid.

FirstEnergy met with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday to review projects completed at the plant and remaining work needed for a restart, which must be authorized by the NRC.

At the meeting, FirstEnergy reported preliminary results from an employee survey at the plant in March that found "marked improvement in many areas" compared with survey results from last August.

FirstEnergy said the surveys were designed to "measure the willingness" of plant workers to report safety issues without worries about reprisals.

The NRC has said weaknesses in the "safety culture" at Davis-Besse were "key contributors in the corrosion of the reactor vessel head."

The bill for Davis-Besse repairs, including purchases of replacement power, is likely to top $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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