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6/17/03 4:01:00 PM ET

FirstEnergy delays nuke test, still sees Aug restart
Reuters, 06.17.03, 5:17 PM ET


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SAN FRANCISCO, June 17 (Reuters) - FirstEnergy Corp. (nyse: FE - news - people) still aims to restart its troubled Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in August despite a delay for a critical performance test, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

A weeklong test of the operating pressure and temperature in the Ohio plant's atomic reactor and cooling system to ensure there are no leaks has been pushed back to mid-July, said Todd Schneider, a spokesman for Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy.

The test had been planned for the first half of June.

"We are still aiming for a restart of the plant in August," Schneider said.

Davis-Besse was forced to close in February 2002 when inspectors discovered 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.

FirstEnergy has replaced the lid, but repairs and other work, including an investigation of the plant's "safety culture," have caused the company to miss repeated targets for resumed operations.

The company had planned to replace two pumps before the reactor test but instead decided to modify the pumps before the procedure, said Jan Strasma, a spokesman for the NRC.

The NRC has the final say on when Davis-Besse can resume commercial operations.

In another development, the NRC said in a letter to FirstEnergy on Monday that an inspection at Davis-Besse completed May 17 identified three cases of "very low safety significance" that violated NRC procedures and technical rules.

Delays in putting Davis-Besse back in operation are likely to cost FirstEnergy more than $400 million, including the cost of buying electricity to replace the plant's 925 megawatts of generating capacity -- power for more than 900,000 homes.

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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