OAK HARBOR - FirstEnergy officials say
they are well under way in fixing the damaged Davis-Besse nuclear
power plant, but Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials say the
utility will have to pass a thorough review before the reactor is
allowed to power up.
In a lengthy meeting Tuesday afternoon with NRC officials before
about 130 people at Oak Harbor High School, First-Energy executives
outlined the steps they are taking to upgrade and repair the plant,
shut down since mid-February. They also suggested changes in how the
plant is managed to ensure its safe operation. The utility says it
is on track to have the plant ready to restart sometime before the
end of the year, providing it passes an NRC checklist.
The NRC outlined that checklist for the first time Tuesday,
specifying exactly what FirstEnergy has to do to prove to the
regulatory agency that the plant is ready and will be operated
Davis-Besse was shut down after a safety inspection found a
boric-acid created cavity on top of the steel reactor vessel head, a
crucial safety device that covers the radioactive fuel. Critics have
said the cavity, if it had not been discovered, could have caused a
loss-of-coolant accident that might have released radiation into the
environment. No radiation was released.
FirstEnergy bought a replacement vessel head from a
never-operated reactor in Michigan. The replacement part will arrive
at Davis-Besse, likely by truck, by Aug. 1, executives said. The
radioactive fuel rods have been removed from the Davis-Besse reactor
and stored elsewhere on the property, which overlooks Lake Erie in
Oak Harbor, about 25 miles east of Toledo. Replacing the vessel head
will mean a hole 20-feet-by 20-feet will have to be cut into the
massive containment chamber composed of concrete and steel that
surrounds the reactor.
In addition, FirstEnergy will do inspections to make sure
microbial-induced corrosion isn't present inside the containment
chamber, officials said.
The Washington, D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, which
has taken a skeptical look at how the NRC and FirstEnergy are
investigating the Davis-Besse damage, on Monday sent a scathing
letter to the NRC, criticizing both parties and calling for
independent verification of inspections and repairs. Among other
things, the organization said FirstEnergy and the NRC hadn't
adequately addressed whether untreated water containing bacteria had
seeped into the containment chamber, which could create extensive
corrosion. In addition, the organization charged that FirstEnergy
staff and management missed obvious signs over the years that
something was amiss with the reactor.
``Our reviews continue to suggest that FirstEnergy failed to
fully evaluate the safety significance of non-conforming conditions
at Davis-Besse and that NRC inspectors repeatedly accepted
incomplete evaluations,'' wrote David Lochbaum, nuclear expert for
the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Lew Myers, the newly hired chief operating officer for
First-Energy Nuclear Operating Co., said the company has created an
independent ``Restart Overview Panel'' made up of FirstEnergy
executives, retired NRC and Davis-Besse personnel, the Ottawa County
administrator and others to look over the shoulder of the repair
``Until we get them satisfied, we won't start up,'' Myers
Because of that, Myers said he doesn't think the panel requested
by the Union of Concerned Scientists and other anti-nuclear groups
Myers called Lochbaum an honorable man, but said ``maybe he
doesn't fully trust what we're doing.''
Myers also said the company understands that its mismanagement
caused the problems that led to the creation of the cavity.
``It's hard to sit up on a stage and call your baby ugly,'' Myers
said. But FirstEnergy is taking steps to make sure that all
employees adopt questioning attitudes and not look for easy answers
to problems, he said.
``You will regain our confidence based on the quality of the work
you do,'' said Jack Grobe, the NRC official who is the chairman of
the panel overseeing the Davis-Besse investigation.
The key issue to the NRC approving the restart of the power plant
is assurance that Davis-Besse will be run safely afterward, Grobe
The NRC sponsored a second meeting Tuesday night at the high
school for the public to ask questions about what's happening at