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Friday, March 29, 2002

NRC to release corrosion problem report next week

Public invited to sessions scheduled in Oak Harbor April 5.

Staff writer

CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will release its findings next week from an independent study on reactor head corrosion at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.

"They left the site today and they will be working on their findings between now and next Friday," said NRC spokesman Jan Strasma Thursday of the team of investigators. "They'll have a written report two to four weeks after the meeting."

During the April 5 meeting, members of the NRC inspection team will meet with representatives of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., which operates Davis-Besse.

The meeting is open to the public, and before the meeting is concluded the floor will be open to questions from the public.

The inspection team will discuss its findings on the cause of the corrosion, as well as the finding of previous evidence that would have suggested a problem, Strasma said.

The presentation also will touch on the details of the damage itself, he added.

During its routine biennial refueling outage, Davis-Besse officials found two significant cracks in two out of 69 nozzles that hold control rods, which move in and out of the reactor core to control the reaction.

It also found smaller cracks in three other nozzles.

While repairing one of the significantly cracked nozzles, workers found an unprecedented amount of corrosion, thought to be caused by the boric acid contained in the cooling water in the reactor.

That crack, according to a report by Davis-Besse investigators, occurred at least nine years ago and went undetected for the most part by monitoring equipment.

Davis-Besse officials believe the boric acid leaked through the crack in the nozzle and ate away 6 inches worth of steel to the stainless steel liner on the reactor head.

Plant officials still believe the problem may be fixed by cutting out the damaged area and welding a large piece of stainless steel on top.

The plant is expected to remain down until at least June, and FirstEnergy projected spending between $10 million to $15 million per month in energy costs to buy electricity wholesale while the plant is off-line.

Repairs are estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million, but there is no guarantee the reactor head can be repaired.

Plant officials are being required to get approval from the NRC for any repair plan, and it is still possible the NRC could reject any repair offer and make FirstEnergy replace the reactor head.

FirstEnergy already has a reactor head on order from the French company that made the original equipment.

It is being constructed now, but could take many months to complete.

Davis-Besse officials had set the goal of installing the new reactor head at the next biennial refueling in 2004.