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Published: Tuesday, 12/7/2004

Davis-Besse official says changes are still needed

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR - Though FirstEnergy Corp. meets minimal performance standards to run Davis-Besse, the company acknowledged last night that it has a long way to go before it will dazzle federal regulators to the degree it did in the 1990s.

Bob Schrauder, the plant's performance improvement director, said the company's sub-average rating for its corrective-action program, received from industry peers, was somewhat of a letdown. That report, made public Thursday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said FirstEnergy is doing no better than a "marginal" job of self-diagnosing equipment and performance issues under that program. The company also got a failing mark for the way it has been tracking trends.

"That certainly is not where we want to be with this [corrective-action] program at Davis-Besse," Mr. Schrauder said.

FirstEnergy has hired industry peers to do four assessments of the plant as it tries to comply with a condition for restart outlined by the NRC in March. The most recent assessment was the second of the four.

The plant had been idle for more than two years because of equipment, design, performance, and management issues related to the discovery of its severely corroded reactor head, the worst in U.S. nuclear history.

For a decade preceding the plant's 2002 shutdown, Davis-Besse had outstanding evaluations from the NRC. A former administrator of the NRC's Midwest regional office said at a public meeting in the late 1990s that Davis-Besse may have been the best plant in his region.

NRC officials had little to say last night about either of the first two industry assessments that have been made since March.

The first, released in October but never before discussed by the NRC, acknowledged the utility had somewhat improved its operations at Davis-Besse. But it said overall performance was not consistently good enough.

Jack Grobe, the NRC's outgoing oversight panel chairman, and Steven Reynolds, who assumes that role next month, got into a friendly disagreement when asked during a break how the average person should view the first two assessments as they try to understand Davis-Besse's postrestart performance.

Mr. Grobe, who is leaving to head up the NRC's Homeland Security program, labeled Davis-Besse's efforts "minimally adequate." Mr. Reynolds matched each of his responses with just one word: "Adequate."

NRC inspectors will be on site doing the agency's own evaluation of FirstEnergy's diagnostic capabilities next week. The NRC report will likely be issued in late January, Jan Strasma, agency spokesman, said.

Company officials have said their inspections so far have closely mirrored what teams of industry experts have found.

Contact Tom Henry at

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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