published Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Regulators to discuss 'red' inspection findings at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

The Unit 1 fuel storage pool at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Alabama.
Undated photo from TVA.
The Unit 1 fuel storage pool at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Alabama. Undated photo from TVA.
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Nuclear regulators have called a public meeting Monday with TVA at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant to discuss the results of the first wave of "red" inspection findings there.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in early May gave the Tennessee Valley Authority a "red" or "high safety significance" rating in connection with last fall's failure of a cooling-water injection valve at Browns Ferry on the Tennessee River near Athens, Ala.

The NRC said the valve may have been inoperable for more than 18 months at TVA's oldest nuclear plant. The valve is part of a system that would be used for core cooling during certain accident scenarios, and its inoperable state could have led to core damage had a series of unlikely events occurred. The valve has been replaced.

"Red" is the worst level given by the NRC before a plant is shut down, something the agency has never done.

The rating prompted a series of NRC inspection teams at Browns Ferry that will use three phases to examine not only the plant's hardware, but also its safety and maintenance systems and culture, according to NRC officials.

The first round of inspections began this month. Joey Ledford, a spokesman for NRC, on Tuesday would not discuss the findings.

"Our inspectors had a very productive phase one of the inspections," he said. "We will go over what they found in the meeting [on Monday]."

  • photo
    Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is near Athens, Ala.

TVA spokesman Ray Golden said the utility is taking the "red" rating seriously and is using the "opportunity" of the inspections to "accelerate the pace of change."

"TVA's No. 1 priority is to operate our plants safely. We've worked closely with the NRC the last two weeks, providing information and data as they've conducted their inspection," he said.

Last spring, TVA appealed the red rating, saying the problem was a mechanical flaw in the valve. NRC denied the appeal in June, but continued an independent review of TVA's contention that other utilities might have the same testing and mechanical problems.

In August, NRC reiterated its denial and said TVA had opportunities to find and fix the problem well before the valve failed.

"TVA's failure [in its method of testing] contributed to the performance deficiency," states the NRC letter, signed by NRC Regional Administrator Victor M. McCree.

Ledford said Monday's meeting will include members of the NRC supplemental inspection team as well as managers from the NRC's regional office in Atlanta.

"After the results are presented ... the Tennessee Valley Authority will have an opportunity to respond. NRC staff will be available to answer questions from the public," Ledford said.

He said inspections will continue for several months at the plant, with the second phase expected to begin later in October.

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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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