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Published: 4/9/2004

NRC lauds safety focus at Davis-Besse

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - A federal oversight panel yesterday praised FirstEnergy Corp. for how it has handled the recent restart of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant but expressed concern about lapses in communication by the facility's staff and management.

"The company is proceeding in a very methodical and safety-focused way," Jack Grobe, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission committee overseeing the restart, said after a meeting with the utility at Oak Harbor High School.

The two-hour meeting was the first between the oversight panel and FirstEnergy since the NRC approved restarting the plant March 8. Officials yesterday reviewed the restart process, which culminated Sunday with the plant at 100 percent of capacity for the first time since shutting down Feb. 16, 2002.

In a review of its actions at the plant the past two months, FirstEnergy acknowledged some maintenance issues in the nonnuclear part of the facility. They include an electrical supply breaker that malfunctioned Tuesday, said Mark Bezilla, a Davis-Besse vice president.

The breaker's failure removed power to one of four condenser circulation water pumps. Mr. Bezilla said the faulty breaker was replaced, and that an inspection showed all other breakers for the pumps were operating properly. Afterward, Mr. Grobe said he thought the plant's staff handled the situation properly.

"That's something the operators had to react to very quickly," he said. "They did very well."

However, during the meeting, Mr. Grobe said NRC inspectors had received information from plant employees that led them to believe the facility would proceed with a planned shutdown of a diesel generator before resolving the breaker issue. He said an NRC official called a plant manager and learned that wasn't the case.

"We did not receive that kind of clear safety focus from your staff," Mr. Grobe told Mr. Bezilla.

The plant vice president said he had informed employees that the generator shutdown was not to take place until the breaker problem was fixed.

"Our intent had always been to solve the problem before proceeding," Mr. Bezilla said.

The NRC panel also cited a lack of clear communication between shifts at the plant about a feedwater block valve that malfunctioned in mid-March. The valve is used to stop the flow of water through an 18-inch line that feeds steam generators.

When closed, the valve diverts water through a smaller startup line, which allows the plant to operate at no more than 20 percent capacity.

Employees noticed the valve wasn't working right but didn't make the extent of the problem clear to the next shift, Mr. Bezilla said.

He told the NRC panel that the employees were performing an exercise on the valve and noticed its stem move when the bolt was loosened. The employees immediately halted the exercise, he said.

"Management considered this a significant near-miss," Mr. Bezilla said.

"[The employees] should have known ahead of time that it didn't look right. It should have been a planned stop, not an emergency stop."

NRC officials said better communication is needed to prevent problems from turning into potential crises.

"I just want them to turn up the level of focus," Mr. Grobe said after the meeting.

The oversight panel chairman said during the meeting that the committee will monitor the plant for at least the first year after the restart.

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

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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