FirstEnergy project at Davis-Besse gains steam

New generators draw questions at meeting


OAK HARBOR, Ohio — FirstEnergy Corp. is moving forward with its plans to replace Davis-Besse nuclear power plant’s two steam generators in 2014, a project that utility officials would only say will cost “in the hundreds of millions of dollars” when asked how expensive it will be.

Vital to producing electricity, steam generators are among the largest and most expensive parts of a nuclear plant. They are usually only replaced once in the life of a plant.

The project drew much of the attention at an open house the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held inside the Carroll Township Service Complex to discuss Davis-Besse’s 2012 operating performance.

Agency records show the plant fared well that year, except for one security violation that occurred between July and September. The violation will result in about 40 more inspection hours next year, said Prema Chandrathil, NRC spokesman.

Nearly all who attended the open house were NRC or FirstEnergy employees.

Vicky Clemons of Port Clinton, who attended the hearing with her husband, Dan, asked officials what parallels might exist between FirstEnergy’s plans and a decision Friday by Southern California Edison to abandon plans to restart its twin reactors at its San Onofre nuclear power plant in California.

The utility cited issues with its replacement steam generators, including leakage.

“Don’t we want public hearings, the scrutiny?” Ms. Clemons asked Daniel Kimble, the NRC’s senior resident inspector at Davis-Besse.

Mr. Kimble said that the similarities between the generators being created for Davis-Besse and the ones at San Onofre stop at generating steam. He called the generators being built for Davis-Besse “the cadillac of steam generators” and that such replacements have been done successfully more than 60 times across the nation.

“You only hear about the ones that don’t go well,” he told her.

Davis-Besse’s generators are being manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox of Canada. They are to be shipped to this area by rail in October, with installation in the spring by San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp.

San Onofre’s generators were installed in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of $670 million. Southern California Edison abandoned restart after an investigation revealed that a radioactive steam leak had caused extensive damage to hundreds of tubes.

Jennifer Young, FirstEnergy spokesman, said Davis-Besse’s generators date back to when the plant first went online in April, 1977.

Ms. Chandrathil said ongoing inspections of the plant’s equipment are being done “in parallel” to the replacement project, and that the regulatory agency was deciding whether to hold a public hearing. However, she said the plant is moving forward within the parameters of its original license.

Anti-nuclear groups Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, Citizen Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and the Sierra Club have filed a petition with the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, asking that license amendment hearings be held so that outside experts can have input to the safety aspects of the project.

A panel of judges has been selected by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to review that petition, Mr. Kimble said.

“They went way out of their way to avoid a license amendment on this major organ transplant,” said Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog for Beyond Nuclear. “If they have made any mistakes, they have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars because we are going to challenge them at every turn.”

Contact Roberta Gedert at: or 419-724-6081.