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Posted on Wed, May. 22, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Davis-Besse plan up in air
FirstEnergy may replace reactor vessel head instead of repairing it, delaying restart until end of year

Beacon Journal business writer

First it was June. Then September. Now FirstEnergy Corp. says it may not make electricity at its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant until the end of the year.

Even though it would take longer, the company now says it may prefer to replace the acid-damaged reactor vessel head, rather than repair it as previously proposed, the Akron utility's chairman and chief executive officer, H. Peter Burg, said yesterday.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to sign off on whatever plan is ultimately pursued.

If the NRC lets FirstEnergy fix the damage, the plant could still be repaired and restarted by the end of September, Burg said at the company's annual shareholder's meeting in the John S. Knight Center.

However, NRC staff earlier this month told FirstEnergy they would prefer the company install a replacement vessel head.

``We want to keep all of our options open at this point in time,'' Burg said afterward. ``We want to make sure it (replacing the vessel head) is the appropriate route. We're not there yet.''

The company initially had hoped to have the Lake Erie shore-front plant, about 25 miles east of Toledo, repaired and restarted by the end of June, then pushed that back to the end of September.

The new timetable likely would increase FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse-related expenses. The company previously estimated it would spend as much as $120 million to repair the vessel head and buy replacement power -- about $25 million for the repairs, with the balance for electricity purchases. The 883-megawatt plant represents about 7 percent of FirstEnergy's generating capacity.

But buying a new 150-ton domed steel vessel head would be much more costly than doing the repairs, according to a Davis-Besse executive. In addition, the subsequent delay will increase the number of months that FirstEnergy may have to buy replacement power at a cost of $10 million to $15 million per month.

FirstEnergy staff are now examining a possible replacement vessel head at the never-completed Midland Nuclear Power Plant in Midland, Mich., a company spokesman said. FirstEnergy has not yet bought the part, the spokesman said, but does have a nonbinding purchase order for it.

While Burg addressed Davis-Besse in his speech to shareholders, only one person in an audience of several hundred brought up the plant in the hourlong morning meeting.

Amy Ryder of Ohio Citizen Action asked Burg if the company will pay for an independent panel of experts to oversee operations at the plant. Her organization and others, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, petitioned the NRC in April to create the four-person oversight group, which would be funded by FirstEnergy.

``We are paying every person under the sun to get us out of the mess we're in,'' Burg said.

The company, in a letter to the NRC last Thursday, asked the commission to deny the groups' request, saying it is already providing for independent oversight at the plant. The NRC has not yet acted on the request for an independent panel.

In other action yesterday, shareholders re-elected five directors to three-year terms and approved a new executive and director compensation plan. Two shareholder proposals submitted by corporate activist John Chevedden failed. Chevedden wanted FirstEnergy directors to be elected annually and have the company adopt simple majority rule at its shareholder meetings.

FirstEnergy stock yesterday closed up 75 cents to $33.82.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or
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