Browns Ferry Still Seeing Red

Friday, August 19, 2011 @ 01:08 PM gHale

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, AL, lost its appeal of a red-level warning.

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, AL, lost its appeal of a red-level warning.

More inspections are coming for Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found a serious safety violation.

The NRC denied Tennessee Valley Authority’s appeal of a red-level violation that occurred when they found a stuck valve in Unit 1 at the power plant near Athens, AL, in October 2010. Plant employees found the faulty valve when they were shutting down the reactor for refueling.

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In its appeal, TVA said the valve that was part of the residual heat removal system had no safety-related function. The NRC, however, ruled the valve provided cooling water in case of a fire at the plant and its failure could have led to overheating of the reactor’s core.

“Potentially at the time the valve was inoperable, had there been a scenario where there was a fire at the plant, the valve would have been essential for cooling the reactor,” NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said. “There was the potential for damage to the reactor’s core occurring had there been a fire.”

Ledford said the public was never in danger because there were no fires at the plant during the time the valve was inoperable. He said it would have taken a series of unlikely events for problems with the faulty valve to have led to the reactor’s core suffering damage during a fire.

Ledford said the red level finding reflects the potential for a serious accident at the nuclear plant if the faulty valve had hampered TVA’s ability to cool the reactor during a fire. He said it is only the fifth red level finding issued by NRC nationwide since it began using the color-coded system in 2001. The four-tier system ranges from green for problems of minor significance, and white and yellow to red for those with high significance.

TVA spokesman Ray Golden said even if there had been a fire at Browns Ferry while the valve was inoperable, TVA had safeguards in place that would have allowed plant operators to cool the reactor and prevent its core from suffering damage.

Golden said TVA is responding to the issues at the Browns Ferry plant raised by NRC officials.

“We do recognize the red finding is serious,” Golden said. “We’ve already put in place a response team to address NRC’s concerns.”

Ledford said NRC will be stepping up its inspections of Browns Ferry. He said the inspections will be far-reaching.

“We will be looking at the safety culture, the maintenance programs, the operation programs, the engineering programs and everything related to the plant and its operation,” Ledford said. “The inspections will be beginning within the next few weeks and will last for several months.”

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