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July 17, 2002

 



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Local Companies | Article published July 17, 2002
Managers were lax at Davis-Besse facility, exec says
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Grobe: He heads the NRC panel.
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 View pictures of the day

By KELLY LECKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Management at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant "lacked rigor’’ and "leaped to the easy conclusion’’ when it encountered problems like the boric acid piling up on the reactor vessel head, the plant’s chief operating officer told a federal oversight panel yesterday.

"It’s hard to sit up on the stage and call your baby ugly,’’ Lew Myers said. "We were not in the field looking at what we were doing.’’

The boric acid buildup came from a leak in a nozzle near the reactor vessel head, and it was corroding the carbon steel head to the point where it had eaten a milk jug-sized hole in the head by the time the corrosion was found early this year. All that was left was a 3/8 inch-thick stainless steel liner that was bulging from the pressure.

The plant has been shut down since February while officials try to find out how the problem was missed and put a replacement head on the reactor vessel. Yesterday’s meetings involved one of two NRC oversight panels set up to look into the problems at Davis-Besse.

Officials from Davis-Besse and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have said engineers assumed the leaks were coming from flanges above the head, which was not as serious a problem because the boric acid was dry and not as corrosive. The investigation has shown the utility did not recognize warning signs that the problem was with the reactor head. For example, the plant was changing air filters every other day because they were cluttered with rust from the corrosion.

Yesterday, FirstEnergy - Davis-Besse’s parent company - announced the six newest management changes and told the NRC oversight panel that managers at a plant that once set industry standards had reached a point where management was not strongly involved in daily operations at the plant.

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Myers: He blames inattention.
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"The errors in the decision-making occurred over a long period,’’ said Steve Loehlein of FirstEnergy.

There are new people in 17 of 23 senior management positions at Davis-Besse since the beginning of this year. Some of the positions, including three top jobs, are newly created.

Mr. Myers said the former management team wasn’t involved in the boric acid control program, which called for engineers to find, evaluate, and fix boric acid leaks. He said an ombudsman program that allows employees to report problems or concerns without being identified to managers failed, probably because workers don’t trust it. Managers and engineers simply didn’t think to look for the root of the boric acid leak to make sure it wasn’t something serious.

Jack Grobe, who heads the NRC’s oversight panel, said senior management changes are not enough to ensure proper operations at Davis-Besse. He said some of the problems deal with management; others deal with the staff. He said the first line of oversight comes from the lowest level supervisor.

"I have to say I’m still frustrated in this area,’’ he said. "These preliminary insights we could have probably sat down a week after discovery of the cavity and come up with these issues.’’

Davis-Besse officials said they are still testing different components at the plant to determine if there is boric acid damage in places other than the reactor head. They did not go into detail about the possible extent of corrosion. Boric acid is put into water in the reactor to slow down the nuclear process and control the heat.

The replacement reactor head, which the plant is getting from a nonoperating plant in Midland, Mich., has been cut out of the containment vessel there. Workers cut through 3.5 feet of concrete and three layers of reinforcing steel bars in the containment vessel to get to the reactor head, said Bob Schrauder, director of support services at Davis-Besse.

The two lower parts of the service structure, a stovepipe-like area that allows engineers to look down onto the head, will come with the reactor head. Ten large openings were cut in the structure to allow engineers to better look at the head and clean it.

The NRC has inspected the reactor head at Midland and the head has been prepared to be shipped on a 180-foot truck sometime before Aug. 1. Davis-Besse officials have not said exactly when the reactor head will be transported.

At Davis-Besse, officials will cut a 20-by-20-foot opening in the containment vessel using a water-wash system that washes concrete from rebar. The rebar will be cut and returned in the same position.

Mr. Grobe said there is no danger in moving the reactor head because it has never been used. Mr. Schrauder said officials are still determining the travel path for the shipment and are assessing underground piping and utilities along the way to make sure there are no problems.

Also yesterday, plant officials said engineers are testing the vessel liner that, like the glass in a Thermos bottle, goes around the reactor vessel area as a layer of protection. There is a narrow gap at the base of the reactor; Davis-Besse said preliminary studies show there was no water leaking in the gap. There is evidence that groundwater seeped through the concrete because of a gap on the outside of the liner, and director of nuclear engineering Jim Powers said the company is evaluating that.

Beatrice Miringu, Toledo-area program director for Ohio Citizen Action, questioned the NRC about whether Davis-Besse was ready to move from planning the restart of the plant to implementing it, as it told the oversight panel yesterday.

"They still have many tests, many investigations and planning. They are not ready to move to implementation,’’ she said.

Christine Lipa of the NRC said, "I’m not sure I’m convinced they’re at implementation either.’’

The NRC also held a meeting to update the public last night on Davis-Besse’s progress. Fewer than 50 people attended.

Howard Whitcomb, a Toledo attorney, said he was upset that the public couldn’t question Davis-Besse officials.

"It appears you’re running interference for FirstEnergy,’’ he told the NRC.

John Wood, the company’s former vice president of engineering for nuclear operations, has been the only executive to leave FirstEnergy, spokesman Richard Wilkins said.

The six management changes announced yesterday were:

John Messina, director of work management, is moving to the Perry nuclear power plant in Perry, Ohio. Maintenance manager Michael Stevens will replace him. The maintenance manager job will be filled by Peter Roberts, who was hired from the Salem-Hope Creek Generating Station in New Jersey. David Eshelman, director of Support Services, and Robert Schrauder, director of Life Cycle Management, have switched jobs. Michael Ross has been hired for the new position of Operations Effectiveness.

Mr. Ross was in the U.S. Navy nuclear power program for eight years.


More articles on this subject »
Watchdog claims NRC downplayed nuke plant’s risk 07/10/2002
Davis-Besse officials work to regain trust of public, regulators 07/09/2002
Experts assail NRC study on Davis-Besse woes 07/09/2002
Researcher to discuss Davis-Besse evacuation 06/27/2002
FirstEnergy’s sale of its Bay Shore plant gets OK 06/27/2002

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