published Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

NRC closes out heightened review of TVA nuclear plants

Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.
Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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• The NRC has scheduled a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at the Sequoyah Training Center Auditorium near Soddy-Daisy to discuss TVA’s corrective measures implemented after regulators issued a “White” finding against TVA for flood-related violations.

• The NRC will conduct a hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Comfort Inn in Athens, Tenn., to discuss TVA’s flooding-related violations at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant and improvements TVA has implemented to address the NRC’s “Yellow” finding against the plant.

For the second time in as many weeks, federal regulators are removing their negative assessment of a TVA nuclear power plant after the federal utility demonstrated that it had upgraded plant operations and equipment over the past three years.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a letter to TVA Monday that recent inspections showed that TVA had addressed potential flood risks to the Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn.

Because TVA had overlooked and miscalculated the risk of a dam break or heavy rains damaging the nuclear facility, the NRC slapped both a white and a yellow finding against the Watts Bar plant two years ago.

"For the yellow and white findings [at Watts Bar], and the severity level III violation, the NRC concluded that the root and contributing causes were understood, and that the extent of condition and extent of cause were identified," Jonathan Bartley, chief of reactor projects in the Atlanta region, wrote to TVA on Monday.

In the color-coded rating system used by the NRC, a white finding is the lowest level of violation, a yellow finding is the next highest problem status and a red finding is the highest level of violating NRC standards short of an ordered shut down of the plant. When a negative finding is issued against a utility, the NRC assigns additional staff to inspect and work with the licensee until improvements are implemented and the problem corrected.

TVA lifted its red finding against the Browns Ferry nuclear plant last week and has indicated that it will lift a white finding against Sequoyah following a public hearing tonight at the plant near Soddy-Daisy.

At Browns Ferry, TVA was cited for failing to detect for months a blocked valve to a key emergency system.

Most of the other negative findings stem from TVA underestimating for years the potential of a flood at each of the nuclear plants on the Tennessee River.

In its licensing study for another plant proposed at the Bellefonte nuclear site in Hollywood, Ala., TVA discovered that it had not properly calculated the risk of a dam break or hurricane-like rainstorm flooding the riverfront nuclear plant sites at Watts Bar, Sequoyah and Browns Ferry.

In the wake of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that damaged the Fukushimi Daiichi nuclear plant two years ago in Japan, the NRC has heightened its regulations and inspections regarding the potential flood damage to a nuclear plant. The Fukushima plant nearly melted down and released radiation into the ocean and surrounding communities when floodwaters damaged the plant in March 2011.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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