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Davis-Besse repairs hit another snag


John Funk and John Mangels
Plain Dealer Reporters

Engineers seeking a way to prevent a pair of emergency pumps at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant from seizing up in a crisis have run into problems that will delay a crucial test of the long-idled reactor by about two weeks.

The repair method that plant owner FirstEnergy Corp. and its contractor chose is not working as intended in mockup tests, company and Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesmen said yesterday. It is still possible that FirstEnergy will have to go with a backup plan to replace the emergency pumps, rather than modifying them.

The Toledo-area plant has been shut down more than 16 months after the discovery of a large rust hole in the reactor's lid. The company insists it still intends to have Davis-Besse ready for restart by the end of August, even though the latest pump setback will postpone a leak test of the reactor from mid-July until the end of the month.

NRC officials are noncommittal about the company's timetable. One of several agency inspections that must be passed before officials will consider allowing Davis-Besse to resume operation was scheduled for the last week in August before the latest pump problem, so September now appears to be the earliest possible date.

Every week the plant is inactive during the summer costs FirstEnergy $4 million to $6 million to buy replacement electricity for its customers, according to company estimates.

The emergency pumps' vulnerability came to light in March during an intensive review of Davis-Besse's design by FirstEnergy to satisfy NRC requirements.

In the event of a pipe rupture or other sudden leak, the two high-pressure, 600-horsepower pumps are supposed to keep the reactor's hot, radioactive core covered with water to prevent a meltdown.

The pumps initially draw water from a huge storage tank. After that supply is exhausted, they begin to suck up coolant that has spilled from the leaking reactor and has collected in the emergency sump.

It is likely, though, that this water runoff will have picked up bits of insulation, concrete shards and other debris blasted loose by the pipe rupture. Some particles may be fine enough to get inside the pumps, according to FirstEnergy's analysis, fouling the bearings or starving them of cooling and lubricating water, and causing the equipment to fail.

FirstEnergy's plan had been to have a contractor relocate the pumps' internal water ports farther from the bearings, and to install debris filters, at a cost of $3 million to $4 million. But tests in full-scale mockups of the pumps in Huntsville, Ala., have so far shown the repairs to be less effective at clearing debris than engineers had hoped, said NRC spokesman Jan Strasma.

FirstEnergy is considering variations of the fix, but it is simultaneously doing electrical and plumbing work to accommodate the installation of two bigger and entirely new pumps if necessary, said spokesman Todd Schneider. FirstEnergy bought the 1,000-horsepower pumps from a canceled Washington nuclear plant.

To reach these reporters:, 216-999-4138, 216-999-4842

2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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