Watchdog proposes Beaver County nuke plant re-licensing delay

May 29 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Kim Leonard The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

 The discovery in April of a small hole in the steel liner of a
building that contains one of the Beaver Valley Power Station's
 nuclear reactors has prompted a watchdog group to ask the Nuclear Regulatory
> Commission to review safety-test procedures.
> Citizen Power, based in Squirrel Hill, petitioned the agency
> this week
> to hold off on relicensing the two nuclear reactors at the plant in
> Shippingport while an investigation is conducted. NRC spokesman Neil
> Sheehan
> said Thursday that the request will be reviewed.
> Plant owner FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron said some corrosion and a
> perforation roughly the size of a paper clip were discovered during
> routine
> checks April 24 while the plant's Unit 1 was taken down for refueling.
> The problem in the layer of steel -- about 3/8 of an inch thick
> -- was
> fixed, and Unit 1 is back in operation, spokesman Todd Schneider said.
> Ted Robinson, staff attorney for Citizen Power, said the
> organization
> wants the commission to look at whether requirements for visual
> checks of
> liners and occasional pressure tests are enough to detect leaks in
> aging
> plants such as Beaver Valley -- where corrosion was found and
> repaired in
> 2006.
> "There are different types of tests they could do," he said.
> FirstEnergy is seeking federal approval to run power-generating
> Units
> 1 and 2 until 2036 and 2047, respectively. Their original 40-year
> licenses
> run out in 2016 and 2027. An official with the commission is
> expected to
> issue a decision in late September.
> "As far as Beaver Valley goes, it's not that we want to stop the
> license-renewal process," Robinson said. "We want to make sure the
> proper
> reviews are in place."
> Citizen Power's petition contains a statement from Arnold
> Gundersen,
> an adviser with Burlington, Vt.-based Fairewinds Associates, a
> consulting
> firm that deals with nuclear issues. Gundersen contended that
> differences in
> pressure between the outside air and conditions inside Beaver Valley's
> reactor might have drawn moisture through the 3-foot-thick concrete
> building
> to voids and wood next to the liner.
> Gunderson urged that more testing be done and wrote that "an in-
> depth
> analysis of the corrosion problems that exist between the liner and
> the
> porous concrete may uncover systemic failure mechanisms" that put
> public
> health at risk.
> First Energy's Schneider said the interior conditions that
> Gundersen
> cites no longer exist at the plant, but Citizen Power's Robinson
> said the
> corrosion found last month might have been developing for years.
> Some blistering paint was the first sign of a problem,
> Schneider said,
> and further inspection and ultrasonic tests found a small perforation.
> "It was caused by a piece of wood that had been embedded in the
> concrete and was touching the liner," he said.
> A section of the liner was cut out and replaced with steel
> plate and
> was tested according to the commission's requirements, he said.
> The NRC's Sheehan said an in-house panel will review Citizen
> Power's
> petition and provide a response within 120 days.
> FirstEnergy handled the situation properly, Sheehan said. The
> review
> of FirstEnergy's relicensing request, submitted in August 2007, is
> fairly
> far along, and the commission hasn't found any issues so far that
> would
> preclude approval, he said.
> Kim Leonard can be reached via e-mail or at 412-380-5606.