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Thursday, 
July 31, 2003

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, July 31, 2003
Plants replacing reactor heads
Davis-Besseís woes are a wake-up call for the nuclear power industry

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


Two more nuclear plants have joined a growing list of those taking the drastic - and highly expensive - measure of swapping out their reactor heads in the wake of unprecedented corrosion revealed on March 6, 2002, at FirstEnergy Corp.ís Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

American Electric Power yesterday confirmed plans to spend $44 million to replace both vessel heads at its dual-unit D.C. Cook complex in southwest Michigan.

One unit is to have a new lid installed in the fall of 2006; the other will be done a year later, spokesman Bill Schalk said.

Including Davis-Besse, that brings to 30 the number of nuclear plants that have either swapped out their reactor heads or announced plans to do so by the end of 2007, costing the nuclear industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

Steve Kerekes, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, the industryís trade association, said there will "unquestionably" be more plants following suit as they age. Davis-Besseís woes prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to adopt tougher inspection regulations for reactor heads.

"A lot are making the decision. Itís just in their best business interests [to replace their reactor heads]," he said.

The enormous task was once thought of as unnecessary in the United States, even though it has been done as a precautionary measure in France and Spain.

The NRC and the industry have said they never accounted for the possibility of a reactor head becoming so weakened by rust that it could burst open and allow radioactive steam to fill up the containment shell, the publicís last line of defense. But Davis-Besseís problems have drawn a global audience: The pineapple-sized cavity that was found on its reactor head last year had thinned out the six-inch-thick lid to a mere two-tenths of an inch in one spot, where the liner had started to buckle and crack.

The NRC has described that as the nationís closest brush with a nuclear accident since Three Mile Island in 1979.

FirstEnergy became the first U.S. nuclear plant to swap out a reactor head last year. The utility installed one that was built in 1975 for the Midland 2 plant in central Michigan, which was mothballed in 1985. FirstEnergy opted for the former Midland head, rather than wait until April of 2004 for one with state-of-the-art metal that it had ordered prior to its Feb. 16, 2002 shutdown.

D.C. Cook 2 joined Davis-Besse in 2001 on a list of 13 nuclear plants that an industry group called the Electric Power Research Institute had deemed as most susceptible to having cracks in their reactor head nozzles.

Those plants were singled out due to their age, operating temperatures, and operating pressures.

That drew heightened scrutiny from the NRC, contributing to the discovery of Davis-Besseís massive corrosion that had been shrouded beneath the insulation of its reactor head. D.C. Cook 1 and 2 did not have any such problem, although minor axial flaws had to be repaired in one of the second unitís nozzles, Mr. Schalk said.

Sixty-nine of the nationís 103 nuclear plants operate with pressurized reactors similar to Davis-Besse and D.C. Cook. The NRC has said they are the most likely to develop nozzle cracks in their reactor heads.

The other 34, including Detroit Edison Co.ís Fermi II nuclear plant in Monroe County, have boiling water reactors that do not operate under such high temperatures and pressures.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse



More articles on this subject Ľ
Davis-Besse outage costs almost $450M 07/25/2003
Test failure pushes back Davis-Besse restart effort 07/10/2003
NRC promotion provokes criticism 07/09/2003
Utility eyes September restart nod for reactor 07/04/2003
Besse faces new problem with pumps 06/26/2003

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