Davis-Besse's $600 million project progressing

Work seen boosting nuclear industry

3/10/2014
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ray Lieb, site vice president of Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, says the work is about halfway over for replacing of steam generators and refueling the nuclear reactor near Oak Harbor, Ohio.
Ray Lieb, site vice president of Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, says the work is about halfway over for replacing of steam generators and refueling the nuclear reactor near Oak Harbor, Ohio.

OAK HARBOR, Ohio — Raymond A. Lieb, site vice president for the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, said Monday he is pleased by how the plant’s landmark steam generator replacement project is moving along.

The $600 million investment by FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron provides job security for Davis-Besse’s 700-member work force at a time when the nuclear industry is feeling the effects of stiff competition from natural gas.

PHOTO GALLERY: New steam generators installed at Davis-Besse

VIDEO:This video depicts removal of the old steam generators from containment through the opening created in the shield building. The steam generators were coated in a protective white paint to provide radiation shielding before they were removed. Each of the two old steam generators were then transported to an on-site, long-term concrete building, where they will be stored.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s chief lobbying arm on Capitol Hill, says at least two plants — Vermont Yankee and the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin — are being closed because of changing market preferences, driven by a hydraulic-fracturing boom that has made natural gas cheaper and more plentiful.

Exelon, the Chicago utility that owns the most nuclear plants in America, reportedly is considering closing some facilities early because of natural gas competition.

FirstEnergy’s investment is seen by industry observers as a sign that the utility is standing firm behind its plan to keep Davis-Besse operating through April 22, 2037. FirstEnergy is replacing the worn units as part of its plan to extend the life of the plant.

The plant is licensed through April 22, 2017, but FirstEnergy is asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 20- year extension.

Public meetings are scheduled March 25 to discuss the environmental impact statement that FirstEnergy is using to bolster its case for continued operation.

The two sessions will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Camp Perry clubhouse off State Rt. 2, Port Clinton, said Jennifer Young, a utility spokesman.

Mr. Lieb, formerly assigned to FirstEnergy’s twin-reactor Beaver Valley complex west of Pittsburgh, joined Davis-Besse about 18 months ago.

On Monday, he gave The Blade an update of the steam-generator project, starting in the plant’s protected area.

The newspaper was not allowed into the containment area, where the reactor and steam generators are housed; that area generally has been off-limits to visitors at any U.S. nuclear plant since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But Mr. Lieb described the 467-ton parts while standing next to the shield building, where the back of one of the steam generators was visible.

The new steam generators are lighter than the originals that were removed about 10 days ago.

They weigh about 500 tons and are being stored indefinitely, along with the old reactor head, in a newly constructed building.

The parts are radioactive and will likely be there for years, Mr. Lieb said.

A steam generator, which  creates steam from heat generated by the nuclear reactor,  is ready for installation in the shield building at Davis-Besse.
A steam generator, which creates steam from heat generated by the nuclear reactor, is ready for installation in the shield building at Davis-Besse.

“It’s really been a big effort,” Mr. Lieb said, noting how the site has become a center of bustling activity with 3,000 outside contractors augmenting plant employees. Up to 2,400 contract workers have been on site at one time, Mr. Lieb said. Hundreds of tasks remain to be completed, including a biennial refueling of the reactor core.

Steam generators are massive pieces of equipment that act like heat exchangers, producing high-pressure steam used to spin the turbine generator to produce electricity.

The project marks what is hoped will be the last time FirstEnergy needs to cut a hole through the reactor’s shield building and its containment vessel.

The building, the second-tallest next to the cooling tower, encapsulates the containment vessel, designed with a four-foot space in between.

The utility discovered a large gap in concrete near the top of the 2011 cut a few weeks ago when it re-entered the shield building for the first time since 2011. The opening was created to replace the defective reactor head.

Company scientists are working on a formal report on the problem, which Mr. Lieb said is likely to be completed by mid-April.

The preliminary indication, he said, was that the shield building had improper venting in 2011.

“We need to do a better job of venting,” Mr. Lieb said. “They would have poured enough concrete. But if they didn’t have proper venting, they would have had some air pocket.”

Mr. Lieb declined to say when restart is expected, saying that’s considered proprietary information.

But with the steam generators about to be anchored into place, he said the outage should be halfway over now.

Bechtel Power Co. of San Francisco, which is overseeing most of the contractors, recently filed a notice with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, as required by the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act, that it expected to send home 155 contract workers between April 1 and April 24 as the project winds down.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.