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FirstEnergy tells federal regulators how it'll replace reactor head

The Associated Press
6/4/02 6:20 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An unused reactor head from Michigan would replace a corroded reactor head at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio for up to a decade, the plant's owner told federal regulators on Tuesday.

The plant near Toledo, Ohio, has been shut down since February. During routine maintenance and refueling, inspectors found leaks allowed boric acid to eat a hole in the 6-inch steel cap that covers the reactor vessel.

It's the most extensive corrosion ever found on a U.S. nuclear plant reactor and prompted federal inspectors to order an industrywide review of U.S. plants with similar designs. No other plants found corrosion.

Last month, Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. said it had abandoned an earlier proposal for a complicated repair to the damaged head.

Instead, it's seeking approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to replace the cap with one from Dearborn, Mich.-based Consumers Energy's Midland Nuclear Plant, which was never completed. FirstEnergy hopes to have the plant restarted by the end of December.

Buying, refurbishing and moving the massive part will cost $55 million to $75 million, but the company won't say how much of that is the price of the head itself.

The unused head, completed in 1975, will be power-washed to remove a thin layer of surface rust that developed in storage, said Bob Schrauder, a FirstEnergy official.

"The rust can easily be cleaned off and will be," he said. "There are no other contaminants on the reactor head."

Before the corrosion was found, FirstEnergy planned to replace the Davis-Besse reactor head in 2004. The company still has the new head on order, but it now says it won't install the new head until 2010 or 2012, at the same time it replaces steam generators.

Delaying installation until then will save money, said Jim Powers, director of engineering at Davis Besse.

FirstEnergy initially said it wanted to fix the reactor head by cutting out the corrosion on the reactor head and patching the damage with a 300-pound, 13-inch-wide stainless steel plate. That option would have allowed the 25-year-old plant to reopen by September.

"The patch involves a lot of technical issues and processes that have never been done before," NRC official Tony Mendiola said. "Truly we'll all go forward from here with a much easier load to carry."

Babcock & Wilcox, the company that engineered and built Davis-Besse's reactor head, also made the Midland head with similar specifications. Both heads use 69 control rod nozzles and can withstand the same amount of pressure and heat, the company said.

"We just have to do a few minor adjustments to make sure that it'll fit," said Todd Schneider, a spokesman for the company.

FirstEnergy had considered buying the reactor head from the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in Sacramento, Calif., which was shut down in 1989 after voters passed a referendum calling for its closure.

The Midland reactor head was chosen because it's closer and since it has never been used, it's not contaminated, which will make transporting and modifying it easier, Powers said.

The head is so large -- 17 feet wide and 80 tons -- that it will require some highway closures while it's transported by truck, the company said.

The corroded reactor head will either be stored at Davis Besse or disposed, depending on its toxicity. The nuclear fuel used in the reactor will be drained and stored in a pool for used nuclear fuel.

While the plant is shut down, the utility is paying $10 million to $15 million a month for replacement power. That cost will increase to $20 million during July and August when energy costs are higher.

Davis-Besse is one of three nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy and accounts for 7 percent of its generating capacity.


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