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August 14, 2002

 



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Local Companies | Article published August 14, 2002
Workers start to slice into Davis-Besse’s shell

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


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, said.

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 said.

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 place.

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, Ill.

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 said.

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 said.

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 Service.

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 off.

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 plant.

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.

FirstEnergy 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.


More articles on this subject
NRC finds 11 violations at Davis-Besse 08/13/2002
FirstEnergy scrubs deal to sell Bay Shore plant 08/09/2002
Davis-Besse plant manager replaced without comment after 7 months on job 08/08/2002
NRC questions own decision on Davis-Besse shutdown 08/06/2002
Area utility could lose $1.3 billion plant sale 08/01/2002

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