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Radioactive water leak found at Ohio nuclear plant on Lake Erie

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS : January 7, 2008

AKRON, Ohio - Workers found a small radioactive water leak inside an Ohio nuclear power plant on Lake Erie, plant operator FirstEnergy Corp. said Monday.

The leak was on a weld that held two pieces of cooling pipe inside a reactor containment building at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, FirstEnergy said in a report filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The amount of water from the pipe was so small when discovered Friday that it was not quantified in the report, said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider, who described it as "moisture."

"It involved water from the reactor, so it is radioactive water but it is within the containment building and nothing was released. Our workers were not affected," he said.

The Davis-Besse plant, about 50 kilometres east of Toledo, had been scheduled for shutdown in February but FirstEnergy moved it up to the end of December when the NRC expressed concerns about the durability of certain kinds of welds at nuclear plants in general.

Schneider said the company was in the process of strengthening 16 welds when the leak was discovered at one weld. He didn't speculate about what could have happened if the leak had gone unnoticed.

"The situation did not exist while the plant was operating," he said.

"We do inspections and we would have caught a situation like this."

A message seeking comment was left Monday with the Earth Day Coalition environmental group in Cleveland, which has criticized FirstEnergy's safety claims in the past.

NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said it's possible stress from the welding reinforcement, called an overlay, may have caused a crack.

"It's not a big concern," Mitlyng said.

"What FirstEnergy is going to do is get an understanding of the nature of the crack, then it will have to propose a solution for fixing it. Then our inspectors will review it."

Schneider had no estimate on how long the evaluation of the leak may take or how long the plant will remain shut down.

The Davis-Besse plant was shut down for two years starting in 2002 after inspectors found an acid leak that nearly ate through a steel cap on the reactor vessel at the plant. It was the most extensive corrosion seen at a U.S. nuclear reactor.

By the time the plant returned to full power in 2004, FirstEnergy had spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power. The NRC required the plant improve its safety procedures.

FirstEnergy is the fifth-largest investor-owned utility in the United States

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