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Published: Monday, 1/16/2006

Davis-Besse court cases could loom over big step

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio FirstEnergy Corp. s pursuit of a 20-year extension for Davis-Besse s operating license may begin before the final court rulings are made about the Ottawa County nuclear plant s biggest embarrassment: its record two-year shutdown after the near-rupture of its old reactor head in 2002.

The utility has told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission it intends to submit its application for Davis-Besse s license extension in December, 2008.

The agency s review period for such requests has been averaging about two years and seven months, Jan Strasma, NRC spokesman, said.

That leaves open the possibility that NRC officials will be judging Davis-Besse s suitability for continued operation at the same time state or federal judges perhaps even other agency officials themselves are hearing appeals on the alleged roles the company or various individuals may have had in concealing information about the gaping cavity that almost burst open with radioactive steam. The event has been described by several NRC officials as the nuclear industry s biggest safety lapse since the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear plant in eastern Pennsylvania in 1979.

Tuesday, FirstEnergy gave the NRC an update on its timetable for requesting license extensions at Davis-Besse as well as its Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland and the twin-reactor Beaver Valley complex it owns in western Pennsylvania.

The utility also said it plans to seek power upgrades for Davis-Besse this year and for both Beaver Valley units in 2009.

Last year, the NRC rejected a proposed extension for Beaver Valley on the grounds that it was insufficient. It was the first such application for a license extension that the NRC had sent back to a utility. Extensions for 39 reactors have been approved so far, Mr. Strasma said.

Danny Pace, senior vice president for fleet engineering at FirstEnergy, and Greg Halnon, the utility s fleet director of regulatory affairs, told the NRC a revised application for Beaver Valley s license extension would be submitted in 2007.

The timetable calls for Perry s application for a license extension to be submitted in 2010, two years after Davis-Besse s, Mr. Pace s presentation said.

Davis-Besse went online in April, 1977. Its 40-year operating license expires in April, 2017.

With a 20-year extension, the norm sought for existing plants, it would be allowed to continue operating until April, 2037.

If the schedule holds, the NRC will decide Davis-Besse s future in 2011 a year before the largest capital investment is expected to be made in the plant. FirstEnergy has said it plans to replace Davis-Besse s massive steam generator in 2012.

At Beaver Valley s Unit 1 reactor, that project is about to be undertaken at a cost of $250 million. Todd Schneider, FirstEnergy spokesman, said the Beaver Valley Unit 1 plant will be shut down for 76 days starting Feb. 13 to install the new equipment.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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