Bloomberg News

FirstEnergy Finds More Cracks at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant

October 31, 2011

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- FirstEnergy Corp. said an investigation of damage to the concrete outer shell of its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant unearthed additional hairline cracks.

The sub-surface cracks on the shield building don’t “affect the facility’s structure integrity or safety,” Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy said in a letter to investors today. The company said the 913-megawatt reactor, shut since Oct. 1, will resume producing power in late November.

FirstEnergy shut the plant to install a new reactor vessel head three years earlier than previously planned. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2005 imposed a $5.45 million fine, its largest ever, for FirstEnergy’s failure to discover corrosion had eaten a hole in a prior vessel head.

Contractors found the newest cracks on the shield building, a 30-inch-thick (76 centimeters) reinforced concrete structure that protects the reactor’s containment building from wind and tornadoes. FirstEnergy previously discovered a hairline crack measuring about 30 feet (9 meters) on Oct. 10 after it cut a hole in the side of building to allow for installation of the new vessel head.

The commission said last week it was sending a concrete material expert to the plant, located 21 miles (34 kilometers) southeast of Toledo, after the Oct. 10 report of cracks.

The flaws are primarily located in a decorative element that protrudes about 18 inches out from the building and plays no role in its structural integrity, Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said in a phone interview today.

The company is still studying two other cracks found as it tested the shield building and continues “to assess their implications, if any,” she said.

Reactor Relicensing

Because the shield building doesn’t form the primary safety barrier to the nuclear reactor, cracking to its reinforced concrete isn’t considered a safety threat and the operator doesn’t need federal permission to resume power output from the reactor, said Viktoria Mitlyng, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman.

FirstEnergy is seeking regulatory permission to extend its operating license for Davis-Besse, which has been in service since 1977, by another 20 years. The commission is scheduled to issue its decision on the application next year.

--Editors: Tina Davis, Jasmina Kelemen

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Johnsson in Chicago at jjohnsson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net


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