published Friday, November 4th, 2011

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant worker pleads guilty to falsifying work records

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    Matthew David Correll, 31, of Hixson, was charged with two counts of making false statements in connection with the construction of Watts Bar Unit 2. Contributed Photo

A former Watts Bar Nuclear Plant contractor was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty in October to falsifying work records at the new reactor now under construction near Spring City, Tenn.

But U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said the sentencing is not the end of the case.

"This is not the end of the investigation," Killian said, adding there could be more charges filed. "This is the end of it as to this defendant. This is a significant case."

Killian is in charge of federal prosecutions for the Eastern District of Tennessee, which covers 41 counties.

U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier told Matthew Correll, 31, of Hixson, that he must serve two years of probation and perform 100 hours of community service.

Correll was responsible for inspecting electrical cables and reporting on their safety, Killian said. But in some cases, Correll said the cables met safety standards even when they weren't installed.

"When it leads to the containment area of the nuclear plant, it is most scary, I would say," Killian said. "Thankfully, TVA has a system of checks and balances, and they caught it."

As part of the plea agreement, Correll admitted that in August 2010 he made about 200 inspection entries on Tennessee Valley Authority forms, stating he had measured the diameter of cables installed to provide energy to equipment, and that they met required standards.

The cables are supposed to provide power to equipment, including safety equipment, inside the containment structure of the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor.

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    The Watts Bar Dam site in Spring City, Tenn., taken from across the dam inside the Meigs County line off state Highway 68. Photo by Kimberly McMillian

After the entries were submitted, they were discovered to be either inaccurate or to be measurements of cables that did not exist.

When questioned, Correll admitted he falsified all the entries, and on Thursday during sentencing he apologized.

"I would like to apologize to all the residents who now sleep less securely as a result of my actions," Correll told U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier. "I wish I could explain to them they have nothing to fear from nuclear plants in their backyards."

Correll, who had no prior criminal record, said his hasty workplace decision bans him from continuing a nuclear career that he loved.

Killian said Correll now has a federal felony record which precludes him from many jobs, as well as from voting, serving on a jury, possessing a gun and many other American rights.

"We hope that ought to be a deterrent to those other employees who might think about doing something like this [taking shortcuts]," he said.

Correll's defense attorney Myrlene Marsa said her client broke the law by obeying a supervisor's orders to hurry up and get the job done instead of making the required inspection.

Correll worked for Williams Specialty Services of Tucker, Ga., when he falsified the reactor cabling records. Williams Specialty Services is a subcontractor on TVA's $2.5 billion, 1,200-megawatt reactor project at Watts Bar.

Correll's supervisor, John E. Delk, also has been charged. Delk's attorney, Jim Logan, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Delk would plead guilty to the same felony federal charge on Nov. 9.

"The same circumstances essentially applied to him," Logan said. "It is our belief that Mr. Delk has cooperated with the United States Attorney's Office and the two regulatory agencies, the TVA inspector general and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

On Thursday, Killian praised the 13-month investigation conducted by the TVA Office of the Inspector General, headed by Richard Moore.

"The IG brought the case to us, and did a good job of working the case. That's the way the system is supposed to work, and it did," Killian said.

TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said TVA "supports the work of the court in this decision."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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