OAK HARBOR -- A Nuclear Regulatory Commission
panel grilled FirstEnergy officials Wednesday on proposed reforms at
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.
For more than two and a half hours, the federal oversight team
subjected details of a seven-part plan submitted by the energy
company to "a plethora of intrusive questions," as NRC official Jack
Grobe described. A crowd at the Oak Harbor High School auditorium
heard sometimes-frank discussions on what went wrong at the plant,
and what must be done before it can reopen.
Boric acid devoured a half-foot-deep hole in the Davis-Besse
reactor head -- to a degree, in fact, unseen at any other United
States nuclear power plant. FirstEnergy is in the early stages of an
internal personnel study on the "root cause" of why the corrosion
"This event does not point to a single individual," FirstEnergy
official David Eshelman said. "This event does not point to a single
department, individual or team."
The root cause report should be finished by month's end, Eshelman
said. In a prepared statement, the energy firm told the NRC and the
audience that the corrosion resulted from human performance lapses:
"Management ineffectively implemented processes, and thus failed
to detect and address plant problems as opportunities arose."
FirstEnergy chief operating officer Lew Myers said Davis-Besse's
successful track record might have led managers to become
complacent. "That's a major problem you always have to be on guard
against," he said.
Grobe said the NRC remains in "the very early stages" of gaining
confidence in FirstEnergy's plans to improve operations and re-open
"Hardware is easy. Hardware is easy to fix," Grobe said. "(Labor)
is the hard part."
Another key area of NRC concern was the "boric acid atmosphere"
present inside the reactor containment building. Plant Manager Randy
Fast said boric acid also corroded electrical panels and metal duct
panels near the personnel airlock, plus three air coolers.
"It's certainly not acceptable to me or my team, and I have
personally taken managers into containment to see those areas," Fast
said of the acid damage.
Grobe and others asked FirstEnergy officials if boric acid had
also damaged gaskets, coatings and other surfaces inside the
Fast said two dozen engineers are now inspecting the building's
interior. NRC panel members questioned the engineers' experience
levels and FirstEnergy's inspection requirements.
FirstEnergy's strategy to re-open Davis-Besse includes seven
sub-plans. Each is headed by a high-ranking administrator, and
topics include reactor head replacement, management evaluation,
equipment assessment, and inspection and operational reviews.
Ottawa County Administrator Jere Witt is part of an independent
review panel that will also watch FirstEnergy's start-up efforts.
"Obviously, there are some problems that need to be addressed.
But they're doable," Witt said. "I think they've got a tough road
ahead of them, but that's OK because we need to find out what
Contact staff writer Rick Neale at 419-734-7506 or email@example.com.