Thursday, November 28, 2002

Nuclear plant to undergo testing

The Associated Press

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The operator of a nuclear plant damaged by an acid leak wants to begin tests by February to determine when the plant can begin supplying power again.

FirstEnergy Corp. told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday that it will conduct tests for leaks in late January or early February. If tests show that more repairs are necessary, the restart of the Davis-Besse plant would have to wait.

Initially, the company had hoped to restart plant by the end of this year and then pushed that back to January.

"We don't believe that we have leakage, but we've got to be sure," said Gary Leidich, executive vice president of FirstEnergy Nuclear Corp.

The plant, along Lake Erie near Toledo, has been shut down since February. The NRC began investigating after leaks allowed boric acid to eat a hole almost through the 6-inch thick steel cap that covers the plant's reactor vessel. The leaks were discovered in March during a maintenance shutdown.

It was the most extensive corrosion ever at a U.S. nuclear reactor and led to a nationwide review of all 69 similar plants. A second, smaller hole was found later at Davis-Besse.

Concerns have come up recently about possible leaks in nozzles and corrosion near the bottom of the plant's reactor vessel. Davis-Besse operators think the corrosion was caused by residue coming from the original leak and not by new leaks.

"If you find a new leaking penetration, to me that opens up a whole new can of worms," said Brian Sheron, the NRC's associate director for licensing and technical analysis.

Leaks could lead to a dangerous loss of the cooling water that prevents the reactor from a meltdown.

Bob Schrauder, director of support services at Davis-Besse, said attempts to resolve concern about the nozzles have produced inconclusive results.

FirstEnergy's only option is to heat and pressurize the reactor vessel to mirror conditions during routine operation, he said.

Technicians will use cameras to inspect the nozzles for leaks.

The plant would be at normal operating conditions for seven days during the test.

NRC officials said the testing plan had no unusual risks.

"This is a key element in their being able to restart the plant," said Anthony Mendiola, an official in the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.

FirstEnergy is paying about $200 million to repair the plant, install a new lid and buy replacement power until Davis-Besse is restarted. A new reactor should be installed by early December.

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