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Posted on Thu, Sep. 19, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Safety first, FirstEnergy says
But Davis-Besse not there yet, says Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Beacon Journal business writer

FirstEnergy told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday that it is putting into place numerous programs and procedures designed to forestall the kind of neglect that created unprecedented boric acid damage at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.

But a top NRC official, Jack Grobe, said the company ``clearly is not there yet'' in meeting safety goals and expectations that will allow the federal agency to approve a restart once repairs are finished.

The NRC and FirstEnergy met at the nuclear plant complex in a nearly four-hour meeting Wednesday that the public could listen in on over telephone.

FirstEnergy on Tuesday said it hopes Davis-Besse can be refueled Oct. 30 and be back up to full power Dec. 7. The Oak Harbor plant has been closed since early March after two acid-created cavities were found on top of the reactor's former vessel head, a large steel dome that covers the radioactive fuel.

The company bought a replacement vessel head and has placed it inside the massive concrete and steel containment chamber building that protects the reactor. The company's repair schedule calls for bolting the new vessel head in place in early November.

The company said it is making safety, not profit, the plant's top priority. FirstEnergy's self-analysis of what went wrong at Davis-Besse reported that previous plant management had emphasized production over safety.

``We're at risk of forgetting that all of this is people,'' Grobe said. ``Your challenge is to get into the hearts and minds of all the people in your organization.... You're clearly not there yet.''

FirstEnergy's plan to revamp how Davis-Besse is managed and operated is aimed at bringing the plant up to NRC requirements, said NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng.

The utility was criticized in a meeting with the same NRC officials Tuesday after it acknowledged that a large crane that is a permanent fixture inside the containment chamber failed an inspection by a senior manager after a recent upgrade. While the crane is not a safety issue, the contractors doing the upgrade should have known they needed to maintain the highest standards especially in light of the plant's highly publicized problems, the officials said.

As part of its efforts to correct problems, FirstEnergy executives said Wednesday that they have replaced top managers at Davis-Besse and made other organizational changes within its nuclear operating company subsidiary.

Also, FirstEnergy has put into place safety training programs for employees and is creating an atmosphere in which employees will not be punished for pointing out problems, they said.

FirstEnergy's presentation included a survey of Davis-Besse employees that showed a sharp drop this year in their faith in company management.

``It's news that you need, but it's not good news,'' Grobe said. FirstEnergy's efforts to improve human performance are just now ``starting to have coherence,'' he said.

FirstEnergy has to demonstrate that all of the human performance problems have been fixed before the NRC can approve restarting the plant, Grobe said.

While FirstEnergy hopes to have Davis-Besse up to full power by Dec. 7, ``we're not driven by the licensee's (FirstEnergy's) schedule,'' said Christine Lipa, a supervisor in the NRC's Chicago regional office that oversees Davis-Besse.


Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com
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