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Wednesday,
April 24, 2002

 



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Regional News | Article published Wednesday, April 24, 2002
68 nuclear plants found to have less corrosion

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The extent of corrosion uncovered at FirstEnergy Corp.ís Davis-Besse nuclear plant near here clearly is not rampant throughout the nuclear industry, federal officials said yesterday.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, following a much-anticipated technical review, said that none of the 68 other pressurized-water plants come close to having as much reactor-head corrosion as Davis-Besse and that none of them will be shut down for emergency repairs.

"We saw nothing that justified immediate regulatory action on our part," Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman, said. "We donít see anything that suggests the same problem exists anywhere else."

The report brought a sigh of relief from the nuclear industry, which had been left wondering what might be found elsewhere after the NRC initiated a nationwide review of other plants in response to the problems at Davis-Besse.

"Thatís obviously good news for the industry," Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman., said of the NRCís one-page report.

Sixty-nine of Americaís 103 operating nuclear plants have pressurized-water reactors, including Davis-Besse.

In early March, after extensive corrosion was found at Davis-Besse, the NRC gave the 68 other pressurized-water plants 15 days to submit inspection records and detail any similar corrosion problems they have had.

Several plants, including one of the reactors at FirstEnergyís Beaver Valley complex west of Pittsburgh, reported having some rust - but nothing the NRC considered out of the ordinary or a threat to public safety.

A minor flange leak is normal. In most cases, droplets of boric acid that might escape from the reactor are vaporized upon contact with the hot reactor head, a 17-foot-wide steel structure that heats up to about 550 degrees when reactors are operating at approximately 600 degrees, NRC officials have said.

The Davis-Besse corrosion is unusual because there was so much leakage that 35 pounds of steel melted away from the 150-ton reactor head, the NRC has said.

That presumably occurred over the course of at least four years, as boric acid from the reactor melted through the top six inches of metal and left only 3/8 of an inch of stainless steel to hold back the hot reactorís operating pressure of 2,200 pounds per square inch, the NRC has said.

The NRC has acknowledged in recent weeks that it was as surprised as anyone about the strength of that thin layer of steel, explaining that it was not designed to hold back that much pressure on its own.

Had a hole popped in the reactor head, the public would have lost one of its biggest lines of defense and would have had to rely solely on the thick concrete walls of the containment structure to hold back all radioactive steam that would have escaped from the reactor, officials have said.

Davis-Besse has been shut down since Feb. 16, when it was taken off line for normal refueling and maintenance. The worst of its corrosion problems were discovered March 7. Another deep rust spot was found days later.

Last week, FirstEnergy filed its own assessment of how the problem got so bad. The NRC is in the process of reviewing that and has instructed the utility to provide more information in advance of an upcoming meeting to discuss that report.

Steve Kerekes, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, agreed yesterday that the Davis-Besse situation has national implications for the industry.

"The issue is, are we monitoring and managing [nuclear plants] effectively?" Mr. Kerekes said.

He said the NRCís assessment of other plants suggests Davis-Besseís situation is atypical. He said he "canít predict how thatís going to play out" in terms of a precedent.

The NRC also would not speculate. "Itís too soon to offer any insight into what it will mean in the future. Our focus continues to be on Davis-Besse and its repair plan once itís submitted," Mr. Dricks said.


More articles on this subject Ľ
Radiation found on 4 workers 04/18/2002
Davis-Besse reactor head may stay 04/11/2002
Shareholders may get jolt 04/07/2002

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