CARROLL TOWNSHIP -- Instead of repairing a
damaged reactor head at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station,
FirstEnergy officials opted Thursday to replace it.
The company bought a never-used reactor head from Consumer's
Energy, which was designed to go into a nuclear plant in Midland,
Mich., that never saw the light of day.
FirstEnergy officials had been weighing the option, along with
repairing corrosion to the Davis-Besse reactor head, since the
problem was found in early March.
The plant has been shut down since its routine February refueling
outage because of the damage, which consists of a football-sized
hole in the reactor head that had been corroded away.
"We've been discussing it with (the NRC) for some time as the
contingency plan," said FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins this
morning. "In fact, one NRC guy gave it a recommendation as a better
way to do it."
The company estimated Thursday it will spend between $55 to $75
to replace the reactor head with the 17-year-old abandoned one from
The Midland plant was abandoned in the mid-1980s as it neared
completion because of cost overruns and major changes in the nuclear
The price tag cited by FirstEnergy includes all maintenance to
the new reactor head, such as removing surface rust on it, as well
as dismantling the surrounding equipment at Midland and putting
Davis-Besse's equipment on it when it gets to the Carroll Township
Wilkins said the company could restart the plant sometime in the
fourth quarter, which is the last three months of the year. But it
still has to have the OK from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, the
federal oversight agency for the nuclear industry.
And the NRC, which hasn't even received a plan yet from
FirstEnergy about the replacement option, isn't commenting on that
Spokesman Jan Strasma did say, though, that the review process
would likely be much smoother than with the repair plan.
"If the reactor vessel head is identical or very similar to the
existing head, the review process is pretty straightforward," he
said. "We have not seen any formal presentation or documentation,
but on the surface it appears to be a feasible project."
The Midland head is a product of Babcock & Wilcox, the same
company that designed Davis-Besse's reactor head, and they were both
engineered with similar specifications, FirstEnergy officials said
in a press release.
Strasma said the NRC's first concern is safety, though, not
FirstEnergy's start-up schedule.
Officials from the nuclear operating portion of FirstEnergy have
been wearing out the path from Ottawa County to Midland recently,
traveling north to run tests on the reactor head.
They had been considering the replacement as an option all along,
but a May 7 meeting at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md. on May 7
seemed to turn the tide.
It was during that meeting -- about a repair plan submitted by
the Akron-based energy company -- that NRC officials hinted a
replacement would have a "clearer path to success" than repair.
Then, on May 9, officials announced at a public meeting in Oak
Harbor it had signed a letter of intent to purchase the Midland
For the first time, the replacement became a more viable option
than the repair.
But there are still a host of issues that have yet to be
detailed, such as how to get the new head out of the Midland plant
and into Davis-Besse's containment building.
"We know what we have to do, we know what the steps are and we've
hired the right people to do those things," Wilkins said.
Those steps include cutting open the containment building at
Midland and removing the head, then transporting it -- by rail,
barge, truck or some combination -- to the Davis-Besse plant.
Then, a 20-foot by 20-foot hole must be cut into Davis-Besse's
containment building to install the head before it is closed up.
The containment structure was decontaminated, too, in early
February so workers could go in during the refueling outage, so with
some preparation it is ready for the plan.
When an unused reactor head is installed into the Davis-Besse
containment building, estimated to be some time in late summer, the
old head will be removed and stored on site, Wilkins said.
Then, it will be cut up into pieces and shipped to a low-level
waste repository, he said.