| Article published Thursday, July 10, 2003|
Test failure pushes back Davis-Besse restart
By TOM HENRY
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. hit
another snag recently in its 17-month effort to get Davis-Besse
running again, when tests at an Alabama laboratory showed the
company’s original idea for redesigning the nuclear plant’s
emergency coolant system might not work.
solution: Make the tests easier to pass.
officials here said yesterday they’ve modified tests on massive
devices known as high-pressure injection pumps by removing the
possibility of free-flowing, hair-like bits of fiber from their
They did that because they believe their original
tests were "overly conservative," according to Bob Schrauder,
support services director for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating
Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials heard about the
initial test results during their monthly oversight panel meeting at
Oak Harbor High School.
They did not discount the fiber
theory but expressed some reservations about FirstEnergy removing
that type of insulation from their study without first contacting
"This is an area we’re going to have to focus
on. As you start taking margin out for the basis of a test, we need
to be more involved," Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, told
He said test results will be forwarded to the
NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Such strainers would be
the first of their kind installed in the nation. They would be used
to help keep Davis-Besse’s two high-pressure injection pumps from
clogging in the event of an accident that might put Davis-Besse on
the verge of a nuclear meltdown.
Lab tests showed fibers can
plug those pumps in as few as 15 minutes, Mr. Schrauder
High-pressure injection pumps need to be operational
for a month or longer to cool down a glowing reactor after an
accident by continuously spraying coolant water over it, according
to Bob Coward, of MPR Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria,
Va. that FirstEnergy has hired to redesign Davis-Besse’s
Another week of tests is planned. But FirstEnergy
believes its proposed redesign might just work if all remaining
fibrous insulation is replaced with a more sophisticated and durable
stainless steel insulation called mirror reflective insulation. It’s
a material akin to what is used to line some coffee containers, said
Lew Myers, chief operating officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating
Debris needs to be minimized because high-pressure
injection pumps eventually would be spraying water collected off the
containment floor by a sump, officials said.
The tests are
being done at Wyle Laboratories near Huntsville, Ala.
know is we have strainers that tend to plug with the fiber," Mr.
Mr. Myers said he was "not pleased" by the
setback, but said it would be an easy and inexpensive task to remove
all remaining fibrous insulation and replace it with the higher-tech
stainless steel type.
The company’s other option is to
replace the pumps with ones purchased from a never-completed plant
in eastern Washington for nearly $3 million.
It wants that
option to be a contingency only, though, because of the additional
time and expense of installing different pumps at Davis-Besse and
making them compatible with that plant’s electrical
"Our preferred path and expected success path
remains a modification of our existing pumps," Mr. Schrauder
Questions about the reliability of strainers probably
have pushed the normal operating pressure test for Davis-Besse back
until early August, Mr. Myers said.
test will last a week and will help determine how well the plant
operates after its extensive outage. It also is to show whether the
bottom of the reactor is leaking. It will be done in a non-nuclear
The company now says it is not likely to apply for
restart until at least early September.
Cleveland-area director of Ohio Citizen Action, submitted a petition
signed by 450 area residents opposed to restarting the plant. The
NRC also acknowledged it has received 100 such e-mail messages
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to