|Local Companies | Article
published August 14, 2002|
Workers start to
slice into Davis-Besse’s shell
By TOM HENRY
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp.
contractors have begun cutting open Davis-Besse’s containment
building in preparation for replacing the nuclear plant’s damaged
reactor head - a big step in the utility’s quest to get the plant
operating again before the end of the year.
A massive 20-foot
by 20-foot hole is necessary to slide out the bad part and move in
the replacement cover that was delivered to Davis-Besse from a
complex in Midland, Mich., Richard Wilkins, a company spokesman,
The cutting, which began Monday night, will take about
10 days. It is the first phase of a month-long project to swap out
and seal up the concrete-and-steel containment building, he
While FirstEnergy is anxious to get Davis-Besse
producing electricity again, the utility also is dealing with
another major setback: Eleven serious violations that the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission apparently plans to file against the company
for letting the plant’s corrosion problem get so bad in the first
Mr. Wilkins declined to comment about the violations.
But Jan Strasma, a NRC spokesman, confirmed that FirstEnergy was
briefed about possible violations at a meeting with NRC officials
Friday afternoon, and that the proposed infractions are being
reviewed by the agency’s regional office in Lisle,
Details will be made public at Tuesday’s 2 p.m. and 7
p.m. oversight panel meetings at Oak Harbor High School, Mr. Strasma
The deep rust problem with Davis-Besse’s reactor head
was revealed in early March. The corrosion weakened the steel lid so
much that NRC officials have since described the situation as the
nation’s closest brush with nuclear disaster since the Three Mile
Island accident in 1979.
FirstEnergy has anticipated since
March that the NRC would come down hard on the utility in terms of
fines and penalties associated with the problem, Mr. Wilkins
He would not elaborate, but a spokesman for a
high-profile nuclear watchdog group in Washington went so far
yesterday as to say he anticipates a fine that will surpass the
record $2.1 million penalty the NRC issued against the operators of
the Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut in 1997 for various
problems identified there.
"Frankly, though, anything short
of revoking [Davis-Besse’s] license isn’t enough," said Paul Gunter,
spokesman for the Nuclear Information and Resource
Davis-Besse’s containment building is being cut open
with a water-spray method similar to the technology people use to
give their patio decks a power wash, though much more powerful
equipment is being used at the nuclear plant.
It will melt
away the concrete, leaving only steel-reinforced bars to be cut
The water-spray technique was chosen by FirstEnergy to
minimize the impact on Davis-Besse’s containment building, the
public’s last line of defense in the event of a nuclear accident at
The technique never has been used to cut open a
nuclear containment building in this country. The prime contractor
is Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco. It used the method to cut open
nuclear containment buildings at the Almaraz nuclear plant in Spain
in 1996 and 1997.
A half-dozen containment buildings have
been cut open in U.S. history, all for nuclear plants that were
replacing their huge steam generators. Davis-Besse plans to be the
first U.S. plant that swaps out reactor heads.
claims to have decontaminated Davis-Besse’s containment building,
but several pieces of major equipment there must be shielded to
contain radiation so exposure levels remain below NRC thresholds,
officials have said.
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