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FirstEnergy to upgrade nuke unit

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The owner of Beaver Valley Power Station is likely to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and employ hundreds of workers during a major construction project in 2017, officials said on Tuesday.

FirstEnergy Corp. is moving forward with plans to replace Unit 2's three steam generators and its reactor head, a once-in-a-lifetime project for the nuclear power unit, company officials said at a public hearing in Moon. They did not give more specifics, but spokeswoman Jennifer Young said details would be about the same as when the work was done on Unit 1 in 2006, which cost about $330 million and employed 1,800.

“That's a really big project,” said Larry Nelson, secretary-treasurer at the Beaver County Building and Construction Trades Council. “We're happy to see it happen.”

Most of the work should go to local tradesmen because that union coalition has a long-standing agreement to do all the plant's outside construction, Nelson said. It will contact affiliates in Pittsburgh and Youngstown for any manpower it can't supply, he added.

Young and a spokeswoman at Bechtel Corp. — which won a contract this spring to do the installation — said it was too early to say where workers would come from.

It's one of the largest projects the plant will ever undertake. In 2006, workers used 20,000-pound force of pressurized water to cut a hole in the side of the Unit 1 reactor's dome-topped containment building. The hole was 21 feet wide through three feet of concrete and steel. It has to be large enough to fit three generators, each weighing 380 tons, through it.

The Akron-based company has been planning for years to do the work as part of its long-term upkeep. Federal regulators have given it a 20-year license extension so it can operate until 2047, but the plant will need to replace its original generators to work for that long, Young said.

Theodore S. Robinson, a staff attorney at the advocacy group Citizen Power, urged officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at Tuesday's hearing to be vigilant during the project. The work on Unit 1 in 2006 led the company to find corrosion on the reactor's protective liner — and it found a hole in that steel in 2009.

“If they find corrosion again, they should vastly enhance the inspection system,” Robinson said in an interview after the hearing.

He was the only public speaker at the event, which drew a crowd of about a dozen. It's an annual event, at which officials of First­Energy's three nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio and nine regulators sitting across the room from them talk openly about the priorities at the plants.

Beaver Valley has had several issues during the past year, with security problems during two inspections and a two-week shutdown in Unit 2 in spring because of vibrations in its generator. But regulators, who criticized some of the company's operations in Ohio, had little to say about Beaver Valley. It's been a well-run plant for a long time, and the recent security issues have been limited, said William M. Dean, regional administrator for the commission.

Regulators, citing security concerns, have given no details about the issues, except to say that they are lower-level problems. FirstEnergy has said that one related to a simulated attack drill, while experts have said the other likely concerned access to the plant.

“Their other performance and operations are generally very good,” Dean said after the hearing. “It's not like there's a substantive breakdown in the security system.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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