CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- FirstEnergy Nuclear
Operating Co. has laid out a bevy of plans to fix "substandard
operations" that officials say caused the reactor head corrosion
issues at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.
FirstEnergy officials presented the plan Wednesday morning in a
four-hour meeting with Nuclear Regulatory Commission members in the
Many of the plan's points will have to be in place before the
plant returns to service, which company officials are looking at by
Dec. 7. Davis-Besse has been off-line since a routine refueling
outage in the spring when workers found boric acid corrosion on the
And while NRC officials continually questioned the company's
methods and practices, pressing for answers as to how the problem
could have existed, FirstEnergy received some praise at the end.
"It was comprehensive ... and I want to thank you for your
candor," said Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC's oversight panel,
which was formed to watch over the plant as it worked toward
restart. "Our goal is not to endorse, accept or approve any of the
areas, just to listen as you gain understanding in those areas. ...
I think this is a good focus."
The Akron-based energy company created the slew of oversight
boards, employee forums and independent reviews to turn around a
plant culture more focused on production than safety.
Because of that culture, as well as lax upper management, the
company is now expected to spend $55 million to $75 million on the
head replacement project.
And NRC officials want to know, too, how inaccurate reporting in
recent years affected the decisions of managers.
A special team chartered by the NRC found that many of the
inspection reports showed inaccurate statements about how clean the
reactor head was from boric acid.
Some reports showed the head was clean, despite there still being
deposits of boric acid on it, Grobe pressed.
Plant quality assessment manager Steve Loehlein responded: "The
standard had gotten to the point where cleaning the head meant
cleaning as best could be done -- that was really the standard, and
after each outage boric acid had been left on the head."
Grobe suggested those inaccurate reports misled higher-ups to
believe there was minimal boric acid leakage onto the head.
FirstEnergy vice president of oversight Bill Pearce added there
were multiple other "fairly obvious" indications that the boric acid
was not being cleaned off.
"There was some misinformation but there was plenty of other
evidence that should have led us to the right conclusion," he said.
Currently, the NRC's Office of Investigation is looking at those
documents to see if the inaccurate information was willful or the
result of errors or misinformation.
If it was willful, there could be fines levied against the
They key to the entire restart process, company officials said,
is improvement to the corrective action process.
Both FirstEnergy and NRC officials agree managers and workers did
not go through the process to fix problems adequately when trying to
determine what was causing the boric acid.
Company officials feel the program was fine, but elements of
corrective action were not used properly by workers. For example,
managers did not categorize the boric acid on the head as a major
Instead, they were confident the acid was coming from a known
flange leak, rather than from a nozzle -- the real culprit, and
indicator of a much more serious problem.
Among the Akron-based energy company's goals are to:
*create a business plan to align performance incentives based on
*create several panels, committees and boards to ensure oversight
and quality work,
augment the staff to have "bench strength" so when a supervisor
leaves there are support staff to take over,
*create management monitors to watch over managers,
*bring in independent investigators to review conditions reported
by employees to ensure they are taken seriously,
*ensuring that the highest managers all the way down to workers
are on the same page, and all adhere to the same values and
principals through "vertical alignment."
"That's the most important thing from a people perspective that
we have going right now," said Pearce of the vertical alignment.