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Published: Friday, 5/14/2004

Davis-Besse problems, gains noted by regulator

PORT CLINTON - The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station continues to make progress in correcting communication and training problems that led to a two-year shutdown, but more work needs to be done at the newly restarted plant, the head of a federal oversight panel said yesterday.

Jack Grobe, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission committee overseeing the restart, gave FirstEnergy Corp. officials that mixed assessment at the end of a 2 1/2-hour meeting in the basement of the Ottawa County Courthouse.

"I think you're aware of what's going on, and you respond to it in a methodical way," Mr. Grobe told the FirstEnergy representatives. "The operation of the plant is safe. I don't want to give the impression that Davis-Besse is a star performer. You've still got a number of problems."

Those problems include catching up on preventive and routine maintenance tasks that weren't done as the plant prepared to go back on line earlier this year. Davis-Besse has been operating at or near full power since April 4.

Plant Manager Barry Allen said he expects Davis-Besse's staff to clear a backlog of preventive maintenance jobs in the next three months. "I think in 12 weeks, we'll be in pretty good shape," Mr. Allen said.

Utility and federal officials said the plant's culture has changed as a result of the shutdown, which began Feb. 16, 2002. The next month, workers found a football-sized hole in the carbon steel reactor head, leaving only a thin layer of stainless steel to keep radioactive steam from escaping.

Mr. Grobe pointed to a minuscule leak from the reactor's coolant system earlier this month. Plant employees were alerted to the leak - 0.05 gallons per minute - by an "extremely sensitive" monitor FirstEnergy installed before the start-up.

Federal regulations allow a leak of up to a gallon per minute without corrective action. Davis-Besse often accepted leaks below that level in the six years before the shutdown, Mr. Grobe said. "The company has learned a very painful lesson: that unidentified leakage is not a good thing," he said.

This time, instead of simply noting the problem, plant staff "went into containment, found a small leak, and corrected it," he said. "They treated it as if it were extremely important and responded appropriately."

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



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