| Article published Thursday, April 4, 2002|
FirstEnergy looks at 3rd Davis-Besse
Utility studies buying reactor
head at unused Michigan nuclear facility
BLADE STAFF WRITER
HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. yesterday confirmed it is exploring
a third option to restart its Davis-Besse nuclear plant: buying one
of the reactor heads that were installed about 20 years ago, but
never used, at a scuttled nuclear complex in Midland,
Vapor rises from
the heat-recovery steam generators in the portion of the
scuttled nuclear power facility at Midland, Mich., that the
utility company converted to a natural gas-fired plant.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS/THE SAGINAW NEWS)
Known as Midland 1 and Midland 2, the dual-reactor
complex was abandoned as a nuclear facility July 16, 1984, before it
was completed because of a variety of construction and financing
issues. Part of it later was converted to a natural gas
The reactor heads were installed several years before
Consumers Power, now known as Consumers Energy, scrapped the
The utility, in Jackson, Mich., has its purchasing
department involved in negotiations with FirstEnergy and is
interested in working out a deal, Charles MacInnis, Consumers public
relations director, said.
Davis-Besse’s corroded reactor head
has been described as the worst degradation of its kind ever at a
U.S. nuclear plant.
Boric acid from the reactor is believed
to have dribbled out for years from at least two cracked
In one spot, the acid burned through six inches of
steel and left only three-eighths of an inch of warped
On Wednesday, FirstEnergy is to make a formal pitch -
subject to NRC approval - for repairing the original reactor head.
That meeting is to be at the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville,
Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said an
immediate repair continues to be the utility’s
"We’re still pretty much focused on that," he
said. "We still don’t see anything that says this is not a feasible
thing to do."
Its only other option - other than buying from
a dormant plant such as Midland - is to keep Davis-Besse shut down
until 2004, when a new reactor head now under construction is due to
Mr. MacInnis said there have "been discussions
about a possible price" for one of Consumer Energy’s reactor heads
but would not reveal a figure or dollar range. Neither would Mr.
But Mr. Wilkins confirmed for the first time that
FirstEnergy would spend about $20 million for a new reactor head if
it continues to wait for the one under construction. Prior estimates
came from the nuclear industry’s chief lobbying group, the
Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute.
has said it will spend up to $10 million to repair Davis-Besse’s
damaged reactor head. The costs cannot be passed along to
Nuclear plants have purchased spare parts from
each other numerous times over the years.
But those parts are
normally smaller items, such as transformers, pumps, and valves. No
utility has ever had a reactor head - a huge, 17-foot-wide structure
made of steel - brought in from another plant and installed at
theirs, Jan Strasma, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman,
He didn’t rule out the possibility of that happening
between Davis-Besse and the Midland facility. "Basically,
[FirstEnergy] would have to give us a safety justification," he
FirstEnergy is interested enough that it sent an
employee up to Midland a couple of weeks ago to get measurements. It
was the first time in years that Consumers allowed anyone into that
plant’s containment structures, Mr. MacInnis
FirstEnergy believes either one of the Midland reactor
heads would fit - albeit with a few design
Davis-Besse and the Midland complex both have
pressurized water reactors built by Babcock & Wilcox, now
Framatome. That makes them "of a similar pedigree," but there would
have to be some modifications specific to Davis-Besse, Mr. MacInnis
Some of those engineering issues were circulated in a
recent Consumers memo, Mr. MacInnis said. He said they were
"characterized as formidable, but I did not see the word
‘impossible’ in there."
The task, if ever presented to and
approved by the NRC, would take months. Containment structures at
both Midland and Davis-Besse would have to be cut open to get a
reactor heads out, the Midland one shipped to Davis-Besse, then
installed, the two utility spokesmen said.
"It’s not a
tremendously simple thing to do," Mr. MacInnis said.
Sinclair, an anti-nuclear activist profiled on 60 Minutes for
spearheading opposition to the Midland nuclear project, said she
fears national ramifications for the public if FirstEnergy and other
nuclear plants are allowed to swap out damaged reactor
"That’s the blind spot of the utilities, that they’ve
always failed to understand the enormous corrosion effect," she said
from her house in Midland. "They don’t really want to believe it’s
as acute of a problem as it is."
The NRC is to announce its
inspection team’s findings regarding Davis-Besse at a public hearing
at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Oak Harbor High School.