OAK HARBOR, Ohio - FirstEnergy Corp. is trying to salvage major parts from another nuclear plant in hopes of getting Davis-Besse back online sooner.
The company said yesterday it has signed a purchase agreement with Framatome ANP of France to buy an unused pair of high-pressure injection pumps that were built for a never-completed nuclear plant in eastern Washington.
Those pumps are vital components of a nuclear plant's emergency backup system.
Barring any complications, the Washington pumps - transferred to a vendor's warehouse in Oklahoma - will be used to replace Davis-Besse's inadequately designed pair. A final decision has not been made, despite the purchase agreement, Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said.
“The reason we secured these pumps was to minimize any impact on the schedule if we decide to use these pumps. We're getting a lot of that front-end work out of the way to save time,” he said.
Buying newly made pumps could slow down restart efforts by weeks, officials have said.
Refurbishing the existing pumps is still a possibility, though Mr. Wilkins conceded the company is “putting most of our focus” on replacing them with the salvaged pumps.
The arrangement will be similar to one FirstEnergy used to replace Davis-Besse's heavily damaged reactor head with an unused one from the mothballed Midland 2 nuclear plant in central Michigan, Mr. Wilkins said.
The former Consumers Power Co., now Consumers Energy, gave up on Midland 2 in 1985 before finishing it. The availability of the Midland 2 head allowed FirstEnergy to buy that plant's 27-year-old hunk of steel to cover Davis-Besse's reactor.
FirstEnergy did that last year, through an arrangement with Framatome, instead of waiting until April, 2004, for construction to be completed on a reactor head it is having made out of state-of-the-art metal.
Framatome is one of the world's largest nuclear contractors and has its domestic headquarters in Lynchburg, Va. It owns the former Babcock & Wilcox Co., which designed Davis-Besse and six other U.S. nuclear plants.
Under the arrangement, Framatome bought the reactor head and transferred ownership to FirstEnergy after the lid passed inspection.
The Washington pumps were built for one of four nuclear plants at a complex near Richland, Wash., about 125 miles west of Idaho. Those plants were mothballed between 1982 and 1995 by the Washington Public Power Supply System.
They're called high-pressure injection pumps because they would inject coolant over the reactor core at high pressure if a nuclear accident occurs, in hopes of avoiding a meltdown.
A FirstEnergy engineering team recently told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Davis-Besse's high-pressure injection pumps might clog in such an emergency, rendering them useless. The theory is that bits of debris drawn off the floor by the containment sump might get into the pumps, causing their bearings to fail.
FirstEnergy said March 28 it would pursue one of three courses of action: replacing the pumps, rebuilding them, or installing a more efficient filter system.
The company is awaiting results of a feasibility study, expected in two weeks, before making a decision. It is leaning toward the replacement option, because it could result in greater confidence and be more practical if done with the Washington pumps, Mr. Wilkins said.
The pumps built for the Washington site operate on 1,000 horsepower. Davis-Besse's operated on 600 horsepower. Framatome will retrofit them so they can be used at Davis-Besse, Mr. Wilkins said.
The NRC considers the plan viable, provided the former Washington pumps can be retrofitted to work at Davis-Besse, Jan Strasma, an agency spokesman, said. “It's an issue they have to deal with before startup,” he said.
For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse.