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Published: Friday, 7/25/2003

Davis-Besse outage costs almost $450M

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Just shy of $450 million and counting.

That's the latest cost estimate for what FirstEnergy Corp. has incurred from Davis-Besse's 17-month outage. And contrary to statements made to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission two weeks ago, restart does not appear imminent.

In a statement FirstEnergy's headquarters in Akron issued yesterday, the company backed off all timetables and said only that it expects to have Davis-Besse “available for restart in the fall.”

Two spokesmen, including public relations chief Ralph DiNicola, said they would not be anymore specific. They conceded the plant might not be ready until late fall, possibly December. “We're not going to characterize it as whether it's early fall, middle fall, or late fall. It's the fall,” Mr. DiNicola said.

The NRC, which has the final say, got a more upbeat picture on July 9, when Lew Myers told the agency's oversight panel the scope of work had been whittled down to a few items.

Mr. Myers, chief operating officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., told reporters he expected the plant to be ready by early September, if not the end of August.

On Wednesday, a wire service reported things had changed: It said a backlog of work would keep the plant from being ready until late September.

It quoted spokesman Richard Wilkins, who confirmed in an interview with The Blade yesterday that the plant's crucial week-long pressure test had been pushed back until at least late August and that about 30 days of work would ensue after it was completed, barring any complications.

But Mr. Wilkins declined in his interview with The Blade to say whether late September is even viable. “I'm not supposed to say,” he said.

His boss, Mr. DiNicola, said the corporate headquarters has decided to be more vague about the timetable because it has changed so often since the outage began Feb. 16, 2002. “We're providing the marketplace with the best available information we've had at the time,” he said, referring to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure rules.

That contention has been challenged by Ohio Citizen Action. It has petitioned the SEC to investigate FirstEnergy, alleging the company has intentionally misled stockholders about Davis-Besse's status to preserve the company's stock value.

Mr. DiNicola called the allegation “ludicrous.”

The SEC acknowledged receipt of the letter, but declined because of its confidentiality policy to say whether it will investigate.

In a related matter, the Union of Concerned Scientists has asked the NRC to withhold restart authorization until the agency decides whether any actions by FirstEnergy warrant criminal prosecution.

FirstEnergy yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to modifying rather than replacing Davis-Besse's pair of high-pressure injection pumps, the biggest-ticket items left, Mr. DiNicola said. One of the modifications may take weeks longer than the other, but replacing them could take months. The pumps, deemed inoperable, are vital for getting the emergency coolant system working in the event of an accident.

FirstEnergy now estimates its costs at $449 million since the outage began: $213 million for replacement power, $173 million for operating and maintenance expenses, and $63 million for capital improvements, such as a new reactor head. The company must absorb those costs, Mr. DiNicola said.

Replacement power costs FirstEnergy $20 million to $25 million a month during peak summer months, and $15 million a month the rest of the year, the company said.



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