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Published: Tuesday, 3/12/2013

DTE Energy, FirstEnergy plans getting extra visit from Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors

NRC last year described plants as having issues of 'low safety significance'

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo area's two nuclear power plants each will get an extra visit from Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors this year to review recent plant issues cited in the federal agency's annual performance letters.

DTE Energy's Fermi 2 plant near Newport, Mich., and FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse plant northeast of Oak Harbor, Ohio, both fell in the second of four "performance categories" last year because of what an NRC statement described as issues of "low safety significance."

At Fermi, the problem was three unplanned plant shutdowns that occurred last year within 7,000 operating hours of each other, while at Davis-Besse, an undisclosed security issue was identified during an NRC inspection in August.

In both cases, the follow-up inspections are intended "to make sure the plant understands the causes of the problem and are taking the proper steps to correct," said Viktoria Mitlyng, an NRC regional spokesman in Chicago.

Of the nation's 103 active nuclear power plants, 81 "fully met all safety and security performance objectives" during 2012, while Fermi 2 and Davis-Besse were among 18 in the next category, "needing to resolve one or two items of low safety significance."

Another FirstEnergy plant, Perry 1 in Lake County, was among three listed in the third category, "degraded level of performance," because of "a lot of issues with occupational radiation safety," Ms. Mitlyng said.

The other two in that group are in Kansas and Washington state; a plant in Alabama was the only reactor listed in the lowest category "because of a safety finding of high significance," according to the NRC statement.

Guy Cerullo, a DTE spokesman, said the three unplanned plant shutdowns at Fermi 2 occurred for three different reasons and all involved the plant's generating equipment, not "safety-related equipment" in the reactor area. While unplanned, the shutdowns were orderly, with all equipment functioning as intended, he said.

NRC will "conduct a supplementary inspection as a result of that performance indicator," Mr. Cerullo said. "They will do a review of our root-cause evaluations and the corrective measures we're implementing."

The shutdowns occurred as results of a pump failure in a water circulation system, a bird strike at an electrical substation that shut down power to the plant, and a hydrogen gas leak in the main generator's cooling system. Mr. Cerullo said Fermi 2 now is running at about 68 percent power because of the pump failure, with installation of a replacement expected to require a brief -- but planned -- plant shutdown by late June.

Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Corp. spokesman, said "a potential vulnerability was identified" during an Aug. 12 NRC inspection of Davis-Besse's security measures.

"Prompt and immediate action was taken to address the issue and make our safe facility even more secure," she wrote in a statement. "The issue did not have any adverse safety consequences, and plant security was not breached. ... The supplemental inspection, which has not yet been scheduled, will ensure we fully understand and have addressed the security issue."

Both Ms. Young and Ms. Mitlyng said security considerations precluded explaining the Davis-Besse matter further.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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