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Published: Thursday, 2/10/2005

Nuclear plant restarts after 3-week shutdown

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Davis-Besse is in the early stages of restart. The nuclear plant had been shut down three weeks for scheduled maintenance.

It should be back at full power by the end of the week, Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy Corp. spokesman, said yesterday.

The utility began heating up the Ottawa County nuclear plant's reactor Monday night. It is performing a slow, conservative restart to avoid straining pump seals and other pieces of equipment that underwent maintenance during the outage, Mr. Wilkins said.

"We're going at it methodically," he said.

The scheduled outage began Jan. 17. Few surprises were revealed beyond some unexpected ice damage to the interior of the plant's cooling tower, the hourglass-shaped structure used to help circulate nonradioactive cooling water to and from the plant's steam condenser.

The extent of ice damage has not been calculated. But several days of mild weather that preceded yesterday's snow melted enough ice for workers to get inside the cooling tower and repair many of the damaged baffles.

That will keep plant efficiency from being affected during peak usage this summer, Mr. Wilkins said.

The latest outage was the first time FirstEnergy employees and Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors were able to see how the reactor fared since the massive unit's current head was brought in from a mothballed facility in Midland, Mich., in 2002 and retrofitted for Davis-Besse.

There were no signs of significant reactor acid leakage, either on the device's lid or from its bottom, according to Victoria Mitlyng, an NRC spokesman.

"They're fine for restart," she said.

The NRC inspection team's preliminary findings likely will be discussed at the agency's next oversight panel meeting, scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Davis-Besse administration building.

Davis-Besse was the nation's first nuclear plant to have a reactor head become so dangerously thinned by corrosion that it nearly ruptured. The plant was allowed back into operation 11 months ago, ending a two-year outage prompted by what senior NRC officials have described as the industry's greatest safety lapse since the Three Mile Island Unit 2 partial meltdown in 1979.

Davis-Besse and another area nuclear plant, Fermi II, are both along the Lake Erie shoreline, each about 30 miles from Toledo.

A report filed with Michigan's Public Services Commission said Detroit Edison lost $15.4 million as a result of Fermi II's unexpected Jan. 24 shutdown. That outage was prompted by a nonradioactive leak of water used to cool equipment other than the reactor.

Fermi II, located in northern Monroe County, encountered an $800,000 repair bill. Detroit Edison, the plant's owner-operator, had to buy $14.6 million in replacement power to meet customer energy needs while the nuclear plant was idle, the report said.

The leak eventually was attributed to a gasket on one of the plant's 14 air cooling units. All 14 units have been inspected.

A sealant common to the faulty unit and four others has been replaced. The plant encountered a couple of minor complications during restart but has been at full power since 9 a.m. Tuesday, Detroit Edison has said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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