Companies | Article published July 17, 2002|
Managers were lax at Davis-Besse facility, exec
Grobe: He heads the NRC panel.
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.’’
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
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
errors in the decision-making occurred over a long period,’’ said
Steve Loehlein of FirstEnergy.
Myers: He blames inattention.
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
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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
The NRC also held a meeting to update the public
last night on Davis-Besse’s progress. Fewer than 50 people
Howard Whitcomb, a Toledo attorney, said he was
upset that the public couldn’t question Davis-Besse
"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
The six management changes announced yesterday
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.
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