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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2003

Faulty monitor system reported at Davis-Besse

A system meant to monitor hydrogen in case of an accident at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor, Ohio, likely has not worked since the facility opened 26 years ago, FirstEnergy Corp. reported last month to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Based on a test in May of hydrogen monitoring equipment, “it appears that valves [in the system] have been in the closed position since startup in 1977,” FirstEnergy reported to the NRC on June 30.

The report by FirstEnergy was released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent group.

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the group, said this nonworking system “was at the low end” of problems found since the plant was closed in February, 2002, for refueling. Topping the list, he said, was the discovery that boric acid from the reactor had burned a hole nearly through the six-inch steel reactor head.

The discovery is “a good reflection on the depth of the reviews the company is doing now,” he said. “It is a subtle problem, and it was a good catch. It would have been nice to catch this a long time ago.”

Monthly, a maintenance person would turn handles on the valves to ensure they were opening and closing, FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins said. Recent testing showed “the handles turned but the valves were frozen shut,” he said. The valves will be removed and replaced by piping, he said.

FirstEnergy still plans to ask permission by late summer to restart the plant.

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