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Posted on Fri, Jul. 18, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Nuclear division's president to retire
FirstEnergy Corp.'s Robert Saunders plans to step down Sept. 1

Beacon Journal business writer

The head of FirstEnergy Corp.'s nuclear operating subsidiary that oversees the Davis-Besse, Perry and Beaver Valley nuclear plants will step down as of Sept. 1 and retire early next year, the Akron utility announced Thursday.

Robert Saunders, 60, who joined FirstEnergy in 2000 as president and chief nuclear officer of the subsidiary, will be succeeded by Gary R. Leidich, 53, the subsidiary's executive vice president, the company said.

Saunders will continue to work with Leidich to ensure a smooth transition until Saunders' official retirement on Feb. 1, FirstEnergy said in a news release.

The ongoing woes at Davis-Besse, which has been shut down since mid-February 2002, did not play a role in Saunders' decision to retire, spokesman Todd Schneider said. Saunders took responsibility for what happened at Davis-Besse and came up with a plan to bring the plant back to safe and reliable service, Schneider said.``Bob has demonstrated great leadership,'' Schneider said.

Saunders plans to retire to a farm in Virginia that he owns, he said.

Leidich said one of his top short-term priorities will be to get Davis-Besse online, something that likely won't happen until September at the earliest.

``We're coming down to the home stretch at Davis-Besse,'' he said. Final approval rests with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Davis-Besse workers in March 2002 found a large corrosion hole on top of the reactor vessel head that covers the nuclear fuel. Since that discovery, FirstEnergy has had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and to buy replacement power while getting the plant ready to restart. The vessel head corrosion likely started at least four years before it was discovered, according to subsequent investigations.

Leidich said his long-term goals include improving safety and performance at FirstEnergy's three nuclear facilities, and getting the plants to work more closely together and to better share resources and expertise.

``Over the past few years we operated our plants fairly independently,'' he said.

Leidich said he did not see a need to make significant management changes within the nuclear operating company.

Leidich was hired back atFirstEnergy in June 2002 as part of a management shakeout caused by the Davis-Besse woes.

He previously had worked five years at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. He began his career in 1974 at the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, and worked at the Perry nuclear plant from 1975 to 1986. He subsequently worked at Centerior Energy from 1987 until Centerior and Ohio Edison merged in 1997 to form FirstEnergy.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com
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