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FirstEnergy Solutions takes next step toward shutting down Davis-Besse nuke plant

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OAK HARBOR, Ohio — The head of FirstEnergy Solutions, Inc., said Wednesday the company has taken “a necessary milestone but not a welcome one” toward the planned closure of its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant east of Toledo and three nuclear units in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor.

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FES submitted its certified fuel handler training and retraining program to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a document required under the NRC’s decommissioning process. It provides details about the training that will be provided to those supervising the removal and on-site storage of fuel from nuclear reactors.

The company said it is an important procedural step leading to the May, 2020 deactivation of Davis-Besse, which will be followed by the deactivation of the company’s Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland, and its twin-reactor Beaver Valley nuclear complexes west of Pittsburgh.

Perry and Beaver Valley Unit 1 are slated to close by May, 2021, while the Beaver Valley Unit 2 is slated for closure October, 2021.  

“Today’s NRC submission is a necessary milestone for us but not a welcome one,” Don Moul, FES president and chief nuclear officer, said. “Our nuclear plants provide important environmental, economic, and fuel-diversity benefits to our region, but we cannot continue to operate them without state-level policy relief in Ohio and Pennsylvania or immediate and significant market reforms that provide meaningful compensation for the unique attributes nuclear generation provides.”

The two Ohio plants are currently generating 14 percent of Ohio’s electric generation capacity.

FES will continue to seek a way to keep the plants operating while moving forward with deactivation steps. A final decision on Davis-Besse fate must be made by mid-2019, when FES must either purchase fuel for Davis-Besse’s next refueling or proceed with the shutdown, the company said.

In June, President Trump gave U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry a directive to come up with a government plan for staving off more closures of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Critics have vowed a concerted legal fight.

Efforts for a bailout from the Ohio General Assembly have failed, and no buyers have emerged.

The decommissioning process can take up to 60 years, according to NRC officials who made a presentation to the public at the Camp Perry Conference Center west of Port Clinton earlier this summer.

FirstEnergy Solutions and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. filed for bankruptcy protection in March. Both are subsidiaries of FirstEnergy Corp., which has said it is getting out of electrical generation and focusing on transmission.

Thomas S. Mulligan, FES spokesman, has said the company has chosen the SafStor method of decommissioning for Davis-Besse, one of three the NRC allows. The FES plan is to transfer radioactive fuel into water containing boron for four years, then seal it in concrete boxes for as long as 56 years.

The length of time depends on how fast the radioactive material decays.

The NRC’s other two types of decommissioning strategies are Decon — described as the immediate dismantling of all equipment and structures — and Entomb, which is immediate encasement in concrete. SafStor is often considered “deferred dismantling,” because it allows for a more gradual removal of parts as fuel decays.

Davis-Besse employs about 700 workers. Once the fuel has been stored, most will be gone except those involved with security or fuel-handling, Mr. Mulligan has said.

All four FES nuclear plants — as well as many of the nation’s 99 nuclear plants — can no longer compete against rock-bottom natural gas prices and competition from renewable energy sources.

FES is not legally bound to shut down its plants until it files two documents with the NRC, one stating it has permanently ceased operations and another which certifies in writing when nuclear fuel has been permanently removed from plant reactors. The submission of those two letters commits plants to remain shut down, according to Prema Chandrathil, NRC spokesman.

Davis-Besse is about 30 miles east of Toledo along the Lake Erie shoreline. It is Ottawa County’s largest employer and has been online since 1977.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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