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Published: Saturday, 2/7/2004

NRC team debriefs utility officials

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FirstEnergy Corp. was encouraged yesterday by what it heard during a closed-door debriefing by a special group of federal inspectors charged with assessing whether Davis-Besse is ready to go back online after a two-year layoff, a company official said.

But the seven-member group, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls its Restart Readiness Assessment Team, also left FirstEnergy officials unsure whether it s actually supporting the company s restart application at this time.

“They re ambiguous on that,” Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said.

The assessment team consists of NRC inspectors from across the country. Its leader, Rick Skowkowski, senior resident inspector at the Byron nuclear complex near Rockford, Ill., could not be reached for comment.

Jack Rutkowski, one of three resident inspectors permanently assigned to Davis-Besse, is one of the seven inspectors on the assessment team. He said the team “didn t render an opinion” about a restart at the debriefing.

Unlike a public meeting on Dec. 19 when it cited numerous deficiencies and stated flatly that FirstEnergy wasn t ready, it may remain neutral when the agency s oversight panel convenes Thursday to discuss results with the public, Mr. Rutkowski said.

“The gist of what I got out of it [yesterday] was that they did say there was marked improvement,” Mr. Wilkins said.

He said the team noted some issues that still need to be addressed, but made it clear to the company that it had observed better performance among operators, maintenance workers, and the company s corrective action program.

Jan Strasma, a NRC spokesman, declined to reveal what was discussed or characterize the context of the debriefing. But he said there are no plans for another follow-up inspection.

The findings will be among the highlights of a pair of exit meetings scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Camp Perry clubhouse west of Port Clinton.

The NRC s Management and Human Performance Assessment Team, which has analyzed the plant s workplace atmosphere, also is to have its exit meeting during that afternoon session.

The two meetings will be followed by one at 6 p.m. that is scheduled to last four hours and give the public a final chance to comment about the company s restart application.

Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman, was not at Davis-Besse for the debriefing. Mr. Grobe, who was at the agency s headquarters in Rockville, Md., declined to specify what he may have heard or speculate on his panel s next step.

But he conceded the following: “I see no reason why those exit meetings won t occur on the 12th, and I see no reason why the restart meeting won t be held on the evening of the 12th.”

The NRC announced yesterday it has made plans to have a number of telephone lines open for people who would rather monitor the Thursday meetings via conference call. Callers are instructed to dial 1-888-642-8528 and give the password “Davis-Besse” to the operator.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse



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