FirstEnergy Corp. faces the likely prospect of going through much
of the summer -- prime time to sell electricity for air conditioning
-- without the use of its damaged Davis-Besse nuclear power
The initial hope was to finish the repairs by the end of June and
avoid having to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy electricity
And that assumed the damage could be repaired without completely
replacing the massive reactor vessel head.
Now, no one knows just when the job will get done.
FirstEnergy's original June timetable also depended upon federal
regulators giving the OK for unprecedented repairs on the vessel
head, a key safety device that has been damaged by boric acid.
That timetable, which was always tentative, depended upon
FirstEnergy having its repair plans before the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission by now.
Instead, it will be a couple more weeks before FirstEnergy
submits those plans to the NRC, a company spokesman said
``There will be some impact on the (restart) schedule,'' said
Davis-Besse spokesman Richard Wilkins. He said he didn't know how
long the delay could be, but that FirstEnergy staff were working to
come up with a detailed repair plan that will answer any NRC
It appears that restarting the Lake Erie shorefront plant in
Northwest Ohio will be pushed back at least into late July -- if the
NRC approves the repairs.
FirstEnergy has estimated that it will cost the company between
$10 million and $15 million a month in additional energy costs for
each month that Davis-Besse can't produce electricity. Hot, humid
summer weather drives up the demand for electricity as air
conditioning gets cranked up in homes and businesses.
NRC: Time not factor
FirstEnergy had estimated the NRC will finish its review of the
repair plans four weeks after receiving them, Wilkins said.
An NRC official yesterday said, however, that reviewing the
repair plan conceivably could take as long as eight weeks, and that
Davis-Besse will need to pass other inspections before being allowed
to restart. The plant in Oak Harbor powered down on Feb. 16 for
refueling and has stayed closed since the acid damage was found in
``It's hard to say how long it's going to take,'' said Brian
Sheron, associate director for project licensing and technical
assessment at the NRC. He said a rough guess is that the NRC staff
review of the Davis-Besse repair plan will take anywhere from four
to eight weeks once it's submitted.
``We're obviously not going to try to purposively hold the plant
up,'' Sheron said. ``But we don't feel compelled to meet the
Even if the NRC approves the repairs, the federal agency has to
convince itself that FirstEnergy has taken adequate steps to ensure
that problems that led to the vessel head damage aren't repeated, he
For one thing, FirstEnergy still has to demonstrate to the NRC
that it doesn't have other boric acid leaks elsewhere inside
Davis-Besse, he said. ``They've got more work to do,'' Sheron
No danger of shortage
Even without Davis-Besse's more than 880 megawatts of power,
which represents less than 8 percent of FirstEnergy's total
generating capacity, FirstEnergy customers won't go without
electricity. Instead, the utility will find alternate electricity
If the NRC doesn't approve the repairs, FirstEnergy may be able
to buy another vessel head and modify it to fit the Davis-Besse
reactor. That would push back restarting the plant at least 10
months, officials have said. FirstEnergy ordered a new reactor
vessel head last fall, but that will take about two years to be
The company has estimated that repairing two acid-created
cavities found on top of the vessel head could take as long as four
weeks. FirstEnergy is proposing plugging one cavity with a 300- to
400-pound stainless steel disk.
In a related matter, FirstEnergy yesterday submitted a 165-page
report to the NRC showing that boric acid leaks dating back at least
four years began damaging the top of the 150-ton steel vessel head
that covers the nuclear fuel. The acid is a component of the reactor
The report says, among other things, if plant operators had
properly implemented a boric acid corrosion program early on, damage
might have been avoided. FirstEnergy estimates repairs will cost at
least $16 million.
The so-called ``root cause'' report describes in much greater
detail than a preliminary report given weeks ago how the acid
damaged the vessel head and went undetected until this year.
The company said in a press release that it has been taking
numerous steps to prevent future problems at the plant.
No other nuclear power plants of similar design in the United
States has shown similar damage to date, the NRC said.
FirstEnergy stock yesterday rose 55 cents to $32.95.