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September 18, 2002

 



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Local Companies | Article published September 18, 2002
Utility aims for Davis-Besse restart this year

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Despite additional problems identified lately, FirstEnergy Corp. remains confident it will have its troubled Davis-Besse nuclear plant operating again before the end of the year.

But the head of a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel overseeing the utility’s replacement of the reactor head isn’t so sure.

The plant, which is 25 miles east of Toledo, has been idle since Feb. 16 when a six-inch cavity caused by acid corrosion was discovered in the steel reactor head during a normal refueling shutdown.

For complete coverage of Davis-Besse go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse

Company executives announced yesterday that they have chosen Dec. 4 as the target date for restarting the reactor after replacing the reactor head and making repairs.

The utility hopes to have the plant back at full power on Dec. 7.

FirstEnergy officials concede those dates are subject to change: Not only can the pace of remaining work be hard to predict, but the plant will have to pass numerous inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The company said it plans to formally seek commission approval for the restart on or about Nov. 18.

Jack Grobe, chairman of an NRC oversight panel, told FirstEnergy executives during yesterday’s monthly progress meeting at Oak Harbor High School that they should not count on receiving approval for such a quick turnaround.

When reporters later asked him to elaborate, Mr. Grobe shrugged and replied, "It’s their schedule, not ours."

"We are not driven by a schedule. We are driven by their performance," he said. "We are not committed to a restart. We are committed to safety."

During the meeting, Mr. Grobe questioned FirstEnergy’s use of a crane to remove its damaged reactor head. He said the work this summer jeopardized safety in a quest to meet the utility’s aggressive timetable.

The regulatory commission was told that the device, called a Polar Crane, was used even though some utility officials were not pleased by the quality of work the company received by some contractors hired to make minor improvements to it.

The crane will also be used to lift the replacement head, acquired from a plant in Midland, Mich., onto the reactor.

Mike Stevens, FirstEnergy director of work management, said he ordered a temporary work shutdown after discovering that some of the repairs did not meet the utility’s standards.

The repairs were described by Mr. Myers as non-safety items such as missing screws and unlabeled wires - yet Mr. Grobe said he was bothered that nobody from the plant had stepped in before the work was done. Mr. Grobe said he considers that an example in which FirstEnergy "sacrificed quality for schedule."

Lew Myers, FirstEnergy’s chief operating officer, acknowledged during the meeting that the company has set forth a "very, very aggressive" timetable, but added that he believes it is realistic, give or take a week or two.

Mr. Myers again promised improvements to avoid a repeat of the safety problems at Davis-Besse, claiming FirstEnergy "will earn the right to lead through our behaviors and actions."

"We have a lot of work to do to regain the public’s confidence," he said.

The refueling shutdown at Davis-Besse was only supposed to last about one month, until mid-March.

When workers were sent into the Davis-Besse reactor containment building in early March, however, they were amazed to find a footprint-shaped hole in the reactor head that nuclear safety experts say could have led to a major accident as serious as that at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979.

Only a thin liner of stainless steel was keeping part of Davis-Besse’s reactor head intact. Boric acid is believed to have leaked from the plant’s reactor throughout much of the 1990s, eating through six inches of carbon steel that protects the reactor head.

If cracks found in the stainless steel liner had burst and resulted in a hole, radioactive steam would have filled that building, which is the public’s last line of defense.

Recent lab tests show the cladding in that part of the reactor head was barely two-tenths of an inch. Until last week, it was thought to be a consistent three-eighths of an inch thick.

Company officials said a cluster of tiny, parallel cracks that the same lab found in that part of the liner were actually about two inches in length - slightly longer than announced last week.

In an interview yesterday with The Blade, Mr. Myers said he thinks the utility can still correct the problems at Davis-Besse and meet its timetable for restarting operation. "If everything goes extremely well, it’s doable," he said.

The company’s plan for revamping Davis-Besse’s management structure and operations is to be the focus of another regulatory commission meeting this morning.

For complete coverage of Davis-Besse go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse


More articles on this subject
Power plant to install new reactor heads as precaution 09/14/2002
Tests on Davis-Besse reactor reveal more cracks, corrosion 09/11/2002
NRC to update residents on efforts at power plant 09/10/2002
Next question: Why weren’t the slip-ups at Davis-Besse discovered earlier? 09/01/2002
Reactor head moved into nuclear plant 08/31/2002

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