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Utility says Davis-Besse repairs will allow better inspections

By JOHN SEEWER
The Associated Press
6/12/02 7:07 PM

OAK HARBOR, Ohio (AP) -- The new reactor head at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant will not crack and corrode like the one at the plant now, even though they are nearly identical, the plant's owners said Wednesday.

Repairs planned for the plant will give inspectors a closer look at the new reactor head, said Bob Schrauder, a FirstEnergy official in charge of replacing the head. Changes in plant maintenance and more thorough inspections should ensure cracks will not develop, he said.

Inspectors in March discovered an acid leak that nearly ate through a steel cap that covers the reactor vessel while the plant was shut down for maintenance. The plant has stay closed and isn't expected to open until the end of the year.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said plant operators missed signs of corrosion that could have alerted the company to the leaking acid.

It was the most extensive corrosion ever found on a U.S. nuclear reactor and led to a nationwide review of all other similar plants.

Reviews found no damage in other plants but did reveal a need for more in-depth inspections.

Obstructions that made seeing the reactor head difficult have been removed at Davis-Besse and will allow closer video inspections, Schrauder said.

The company will use new robotic equipment in its own evaluations, which only can be done during refueling outages, he said.

Akron-based FirstEnergy is spending about $55 million to buy an unused reactor head from Consumer Energy's never-completed nuclear plant in Midland, Mich.

It will take as many as four days to drive the 80-ton reactor to Ohio, FirstEnergy said.

The replacement head should last about 10 years until a new reactor head being built for the utility is installed.

NRC officials said they don't think there will be any problems with bringing in a similar reactor head because they expect plant operators to be more diligent in their inspections.

"They're now painfully aware of it," said Edwin Hackett, an NRC official on one of the agency's review teams. "Hopefully, it would be an area of more intense focus."

NRC officials reviewing the repairs spent more than two hours Wednesday asking FirstEnergy officials about the condition of the replacement head, how it will be installed and training for employees doing the work.

It's imperative that the NRC have confidence in the repair plans before the agency will sign off on the plans, said Jack Grobe, who is heading the NRC review team.

A layer of rust has formed on the head since it was put in storage in 1975, Schrauder said. The rust will be removed and hasn't created any damage, he said.

Davis-Besse plant manager Randy Fast said boric acid corrosion has been found in the building that houses the reactor and must be cleaned.

The acid was found on electrical panels, ventilation ducts and containment air coolers, he said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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