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Friday, July 19, 2002

New reactor head arrives at D-B plant

Staff writer

CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- Amid media attention and motorist confusion, the new reactor head arrived Thursday -- albeit a bit late -- to the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.

The 187-foot long trailer, provided by DG Equipment of Brookville, got a late start because of a traffic accident in Toledo that blocked its route, said FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins.

"This is sort of a milestone and a turning point for FirstEnergy," he said Thursday afternoon, when the head was safely transferred onto a secondary flat-bed trailer. "It's a very tangible sign of progress and moving forward with the restoration of the reactor."

The trailer hauling the new head snaked its way through Toledo to I-280 and down eventually to Ohio 2, making progress at between 40 and 50 mph -- and catching the eye of motorists and law enforcement.

The head, measuring about 8 1/2 feet tall and 16 1/2 feet in diameter, was cloaked in a heavy, black tarp for protection.

The Ohio Department of Transportation warned of traffic delays Thursday because of the transport, and when it arrived at just after noon to the Carroll Township plant it snarled traffic in front for about 10 minutes.

Cars and trucks were blocked in both directions while the massive, 84-ton reactor head and its trailer were pulled into the plant.

Once the head was inside, though, it took more than three hours to prepare the head to be lifted onto a flat-bed truck. That truck is destined to take it into a protected area of the containment building, said Todd Schneider, another FirstEnergy spokesman.

The move was precarious, with between 25 and 30 workers decked out in blue, yellow and white hard-hats conversed continuously at various stages of the transfer.

About 1:20 p.m. workers removed the black tarp to reveal a green tarp, which had hooks to connect the crane's arms.

Workers then took another hour-and-a-half to secure the 500-ton hydraulic crane, which topped out at a 65-foot boom reach and a 56-ton counterbalance to hold the reactor head.

The fervor when it finally lifted in the air was rather anticlimactic, as the crane operator swung it ever so slowly to the awaiting flat-bed truck while media and FirstEnergy officials looked on.

And while the transport of the 25-year-old, unused reactor head from a Midland, Mich. plant was ahead of FirstEnergy's planned schedule, the rest of the work isn't.

The containment building will likely be opened up in the next month or two, Wilkins said, and the old reactor head will be taken out before the new one is placed inside.

Meanwhile, more work needs to be done before the new head can even go into that part of the containment facility, Schneider said.

"We're going to have to build a transport system to get it back into containment," he added.

The old head will be taken to a low level waste facility for disposal, although it is unclear where that will be.

Officials said, too, that work will go quickly to get the old and the new switched out and containment sealed again. Guards will be posted around the new head and around containment while it is opened up.

"It's not going to be open very long," Wilkins said.


A crane lifts the nuclear reactor head from the truck that carried it from Midland, Mich., to a flatbed that will transport it to the reactor containment building. The Davis-Besse cooling tower is in the background.


The nuclear reactor head originating in Midland, Mich. travels down Ohio 2 near Bono on its way to Davis-Besse.

The background ...

FirstEnergy is replacing the old reactor head because workers found a football-sized hole in the reactor head during a refueling outage.

The plant was taken off-line in February, and workers found the corrosion, caused by boric acid build-up on the reactor head, in March.

The reactor head is 6 inches deep, and only a 3/8 inch stainless steel lining that is impervious to boric acid stopped the corrosion from eating all the way through the cap.

Officials believe boric acid apparently deposited on the reactor vessel through a leaking crack in one of 61 working control rod nozzles on the top of the head.

The nozzles are vital to the reactor head because rods pass through them and control the reaction in the core.

The corrosion was found close to one of those nozzles as workers were repairing cracks in five of the nozzles.