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The Nation

Ohio Nuclear Plant Is Back Online

March 09, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A puff of smoke and a spray of water came from an Ohio nuclear plant Monday as workers brought it back online after a two-year shutdown ordered when leaking acid nearly ate through a protective steel reactor cap.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the plant permission to restart, beginning a process expected to last 10 to 14 days to bring it to full power.

"This basically is a new Davis-Besse that we're going to be starting," plant spokesman Richard Wilkins said. "It's new in many ways, not just the equipment but also the way we operate the plant."

Corrosion on the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse plant, east of Toledo and along Lake Erie, was the most extensive ever found at a U.S. nuclear reactor. It led to a precautionary review of 68 similar plants nationwide.

Federal officials blamed plant operators for lax safety standards that allowed the leak to go unnoticed for years. The plant is owned by FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, the company that a U.S.-Canadian government task force said shares much of the blame for August's Northeast blackout.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission came under fire for not detecting the leak sooner. As a result, regulators have agreed to make changes to safety and inspection procedures. On Monday, the agency said the plant could safely operate after numerous repairs and changes in management, but environmentalists said only 16 of 49 recommended changes had been made in how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees nuclear plants.

The agency will monitor the startup and is assigning three full-time inspectors. Most nuclear plants have two inspectors.

In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will require the plant to undergo an independent inspection each year for five years. The commission's oversight panel will continue to monitor "until we are satisfied that the plant is up and operating in a stable condition," said James Caldwell, a regional administrator for the agency.

The plant was closed in February 2002 for routine maintenance when inspectors found corrosion on the reactor vessel, where leaking boric acid had almost eaten through a 6-inch steel cap.

FirstEnergy spent about $600 million for repairs and replacement power.

During the shutdown, regulators also found design flaws in Davis-Besse's cooling system pumps. FirstEnergy replaced the damaged reactor vessel head and overhauled the plant's management.

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