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Posted on Wed, Jun. 04, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Nuclear reactor on track to restart
Davis-Besse will have another inspector, still has major test in July

Beacon Journal business writer

The Davis-Besse nuclear plant is inching closer to restarting, owner FirstEnergy Corp. said Tuesday.

And by the end of the summer, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have increased staff watching over the plant in Oak Harbor, about 25 miles east of Toledo.

The NRC announced that it will have three, instead of a typical complement of two, resident inspectors for the foreseeable future. The NRC inspectors, who are stationed at power plants and live in the surrounding community, are responsible for checking the nuclear plant's safety equipment and making sure the plant is being run properly.

FirstEnergy executives told an NRC oversight panel on Tuesday that they are nearing completion of most items on a massive restart checklist.

FirstEnergy now hopes to have the plant ready for restart sometime in August, though the NRC has final say. The company has continually pushed back restart dates since the plant was shut down after unprecedented boric acid damage was discovered in March 2002 on top of the reactor vessel head that covers the fuel core.

The most significant hurdle remaining is a test, seven days long and scheduled for mid-July, to check for leaks in the reactor vessel, which holds the uranium fuel. FirstEnergy found rust around an inspection tube at the bottom of the vessel and has been trying to determine if coolant leaked from the tube or if coolant washed down the side of the massive steel structure.

``Shortly after that (test), from a plant standpoint, we will be ready for restart of the unit,'' Lew Myers, chief operating officer for FirstEnergy's nuclear operating company, told the NRC oversight panel at a public meeting held on the Camp Perry grounds.

The seven-day test will involve most of the plant's systems, and, if no problems are found, should allow FirstEnergy to sign off on a lot of work that has been completed but hasn't been given final clearance by the NRC, a FirstEnergy spokesman said.

The plant successfully completed preliminary reactor coolant system pressure tests that were designed to see if any valves needed to be repaired. The tests showed new coolant leaks around some valves, but Bill Ruland, vice chairman of the NRC's Davis-Besse oversight panel, called those minor issues.

Small leaks were expected, FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins said. The valves will be repacked to stop the leaks, he said.

Monica Salter-Williams will be the third resident inspector starting in September, the NRC said. She joined the NRC in 2002, and prior to that was an engineer at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa.

Salter-Williams will join Christopher Thomas and John Rutkowski. Thomas, the plant's senior resident inspector, came to Davis-Besse in January 2002. Rutkowski recently became a resident inspector at Davis-Besse, the NRC said. He succeeds Doug Simpkins, who was a resident inspector at the plant since 1999, and who is now senior resident inspector at the Hatch nuclear plant in Georgia.

FirstEnergy has decided to modify, not replace, two 6,000-pound high-pressure injection pumps. In case of an accident, the devices are designed to pump coolant from a sump system into the reactor vessel to keep the reactor from overheating. The utility found the pumps could clog under some accident scenarios. Strainers are being added to make those problems less likely. Modifying the pumps instead of replacing them means the company does not have to go through a lengthy NRC oversight process.

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