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July 10, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, July 10, 2003
Test failure pushes back Davis-Besse restart effort

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


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.

The company’s solution: Make the tests easier to pass.

FirstEnergy 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 study.

They did that because they believe their original tests were "overly conservative," according to Bob Schrauder, support services director for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co.

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 NRC officials.

"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 the company.

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 said.

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 pumps.

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 Co.

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.

"All we know is we have strainers that tend to plug with the fiber," Mr. Coward said.

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 circuitry.

"Our preferred path and expected success path remains a modification of our existing pumps," Mr. Schrauder said.

Questions about the reliability of strainers probably have pushed the normal operating pressure test for Davis-Besse back until early August, Mr. Myers said.

That much-anticipated 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 mode.

The company now says it is not likely to apply for restart until at least early September.

Amy Ryder, 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 recently.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.comdavisbesse




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