Companies | Article published May 24, 2002|
Davis-Besse will replace reactor head
Plan to use Midland part goes to NRC for
Is expected to cost $55 million to
$75 million to purchase and install the unused
head before the end of the year, according to a
Involves a part built 20 years ago
for the Midland 2 nuclear plant that was never
Means FirstEnergy formally
notified the NRC to stop reviewing proposed
repairs to the existing
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OAK HARBOR, Ohio -
FirstEnergy Corp. yesterday announced it has abandoned plans to
repair the damaged reactor head at its Davis-Besse nuclear plant
here and instead has purchased an unused reactor head from a
Michigan plant to replace it.
The replacement head, built 20
years ago for Consumer Energy's Midland 2 nuclear plant that was
never finished, will represent about half of the $105 million to
$145 million investment FirstEnergy plans to make at Davis-Besse by
the end of the year in an attempt to get the Ottawa County plant
The Akron-based utility expects to lose $20
million a month buying supplemental power this summer to replace
that which would have been generated by Davis-Besse, which has been
idle since a normal refueling shutdown Feb. 16.
On March 6,
the company revealed to federal officials that it had found
extensive damage to the reactor head, one of the most important
safety devices of a nuclear plant.
Lew W. Myers,
FirstEnergy's new chief operating officer, confirmed the utility has
set off on a new path. In a prepared statement, Mr. Myers said the
replacement option "is our primary focus now."
formally notified Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials yesterday
that they can stop reviewing the company's proposal to repair
Davis-Besse's original reactor head.
The decision to focus on
the Midland head was made after NRC officials expressed doubts about
FirstEnergy's proposal to weld plates over deep cavities in the
reactor head, a repair effort in which estimated costs had spiraled
to about $25 million.
Neither FirstEnergy nor Consumers would
divulge the sale price for the reactor head, one of two which
Consumers' predecessor, Consumers Power, had at its unfinished
complex in Midland, Mich. The reactor head from the Midland 1 plant
was sacrificed years ago for testing.
But FirstEnergy issued
a statement saying that it expects to spend $55 million to $75
million to acquire the Midland 2 reactor head and get it installed
at Davis-Besse by the end of the year.
That enormous project
will include tearing open the Midland 2 nuclear plant's containment
building to get that reactor head out, then transporting the 150-ton
steel device to Davis-Besse by rail, barge, or truck. The exact mode
of transportation has not been determined, Richard Wilkins, a
FirstEnergy spokesman, said.
Additional engineering studies
are included in the cost estimate, as are labor and modifications
that will be made to Davis-Besse to protect the public from
radiation exposure. Among other things, Davis-Besse's radioactive
containment building will have to be cut open in order to get the
reactor head inside it, officials have said.
said it plans to spend another $50 million to $70 million to catch
up and get ahead on other maintenance issues while the plant
continues to remain idle for an extended period. Those projects
include replacement of components in the feed-water heater and other
plant system equipment, installing leak-prevention systems in high
and low-pressure condenser equipment, and revising various
maintenance and inspection programs, officials said.
work will be budgeted as capital improvements, which will give the
company the ability to spread costs over a number of years -
possibly a decade or longer, Mr. Wilkins said.
about 150 miles north of Toledo, in the cradle of Michigan's Thumb
region. Consumers Power stopped construction of a twin-reactor
nuclear complex there in 1984 - just short of completion - due to
numerous cost overruns and technical issues.
along the Lake Erie shoreline, 25 miles east of Toledo.
FirstEnergy's plan is approved by the NRC, the utility would become
the first in the nation to swap out reactor heads at an in-service
nuclear plant - a scenario that some industry officials, as of only
a few weeks ago, thought could be looming around the corner for many
of the nation's other 102 nuclear plants as they get older and face
similar wear-and-tear issues.
FirstEnergy officials and
federal regulators have had two extensive meetings in recent weeks
at the NRC's headquarters in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md.
about the company's repair effort.
At the conclusion of the
last one, Bill Bateman, chief of the materials and chemical
engineering branch of the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor
Regulation, tipped off the company by saying he believed it would
have a "clearer path to success" if it chose to replace the head
instead of repair it.
"We told them the review process would
be simpler," Jan Strasma, a NRC spokesman, said.
He said the
NRC review could be a "fairly straightforward process" if ultrasonic
tests, measurements, and other calculations prove FirstEnergy would
be swapping out similar reactor heads.
That's too early to
know until more studies are done, Mr. Strasma said. And even though
both Davis-Besse and Midland 2 were designed by the former Babcock
& Wilcox company, now part of France-based Framatome ANP, subtle
differences can be found from plant to plant.
will have to determine if the aging process has in any way affected
the steel, he said.
"One of the factors that will have to be
considered is the storage condition and what effect, if any, that
would have," Mr. Strasma said.
He declined to say whether he
believed the NRC could accommodate the utility's timetable.
"Basically, we don't comment on schedules," he said.
high-profile figures have expressed displeasure about using the
Midland reactor head.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.,
Cleveland) has said nothing short of a new reactor head should be
authorized. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has gone even
farther by saying Davis-Besse should not be allowed to resume
operation, given the lack of oversight since a near-accident in
But yesterday, a former nuclear engineer in Washington
who has been a thorn in the side to the nuclear industry for years
said the Midland reactor head could be a technically viable
"It's a better fix than the patch," David Lochbaum,
of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. He said he would prefer
seeing FirstEnergy wait until 2004 to receive the new reactor head
it ordered from Framatome, but can understand the utility's desire
to do the next best thing.
He said he believes FirstEnergy
has learned an expensive lesson and that he would "be shocked" if it
ever allowed such inspection lapses to occur
Davis-Besse has 15 years left on its original 40-year
operating license and plans to apply for an extension of up to 20
years later this decade.
The utility wants to get at least 10
years of service out of the Midland reactor head, then possibly
replace it with the one that's in the process of being made by
Framatome, Mr. Wilkins said.
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