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  Thursday, September 11, 2003

 Local News

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Davis-Besse Test key to restart

Staff writer

CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- Those passing the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station today may see tufts of steam coming from the cooling tower -- but the plant hasn't restarted.

It's entering the first day of a 10- to 12-day test that will evaluate the reactor coolant system by bringing it up to its natural pressure and temperature of 2,155 pounds per square inch and 532 degrees, respectively.

"I'll say this is the dress rehearsal for actual restart," said Mark Bezilla, plant manager, during a monthly meeting between FirstEnergy -- operator of the Davis-Besse plant -- and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The plant has been off-line since February 2002, when during a routine refueling outage workers found an unprecedented amount of corrosion on the reactor vessel head. Since then, the plant has been overhauled in all aspects, including management, equipment and safety procedures.

The pressure test is expected to take a couple of days to reach the pressure and temperature goals, then those will be held for seven days before the pressure and heat are reduced. And company officials are realistic about the expected results.

"We don't expect this to be clean," said Lew Myers, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. chief operating officer. "We expect to find more problems and go and fix them."

Nevertheless, plant officials say the test is a "major milestone" and will be followed in the coming months with a request for restart.

The heat-up for the test will occur via the reactor coolant pumps and not the reactor fuel, although the fuel will be in the reactor at the time. During the test, plant workers, independent assessors, NRC inspectors and FirstEnergy quality assurance personnel will evaluate every aspect of operations.

Plant workers will conduct "walkdowns" in which they will perform more than 1,000 visual inspections of the reactor coolant system and all its components. After three days, those walkdowns will be repeated.

Among those many inspections will be reviews of the control rod drive mechanisms, which is where initial corrosion problems were found in March 2002

during a routine refueling outage. Workers also will check nozzle penetrations on the bottom of the reactor head, which has evidence of boric acid leakage on it.

Bazilla said what will likely happen is workers will peel some insulation off the bottom while the test is occurring to check it, then after the cool-down period take off all the insulation for a better look.

Newcomer Rick Dame, who came to Davis-Besse from the Perry Nuclear Plant in Lake County, also introduced a chart that shows the amount of oversight during the test.

It included plant managers, external assessors and quality assurance personnel watching over the test procedures.

"I think this overall plan is well-conceived," said Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC's oversight panel that is watching FirstEnergy's progress. "You're putting experienced, qualified people in at the working level.

"It's a very solid plan, and I think it'll give you a lot of insight."

Originally published Thursday, September 11, 2003

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