Browns Ferry Still Seeing Red

Monday, June 25, 2012 @ 11:06 AM gHale

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is not ready for a third and final special inspection to clear a reactor’s “red” safety rating.

“We agree that [the red finding] is where we should be right now,” said Keith Polson vice president at TVA’s Browns Ferry. “We want to reduce the risk at the plant and improve our performance, but that has to be sustainable. This is an exercise to improve our process.”

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Browns Ferry got a red rating last year from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) after they discovered in October 2010 that a valve intended to help cool the Unit 1 reactor in emergencies was not functional in the previous 18 months. The red rating comes when NRC believes an entire plant has issues of “high safety significance.”

NRC already has made two sets of follow-up inspections on its schedule, but under NRC policy, TVA will set the final inspection schedule. TVA spokesman Ray Golden said the utility hopes to be ready to invite NRC to inspect its progress in late 2012 or early 2013.

On Thursday, Polson said TVA has reviewed five years of past plant problems and brought in an independent consultant to look at the utility’s safety cultures, as well.

“For the most part they match,” Polson said, but the third-party consultants did find “a couple of issues” that TVA has “to do some more work on.”

Those issues involve helping employees feel more comfortable with bringing concerns to managers, said Polson and TVA’s Nuclear Operations Chief Preston Swafford.

“Obviously this is a journey we’re taking very seriously,” Swafford told NRC officials, and the plant and its officials will make the necessary changes.

NRC Deputy Regional Administrator Leonard Wert said NRC will continue to do its routine oversight and inspections while TVA continues to work on improving safety issues.

“I’m encouraged with the conversation about sustainability [of improved operations and safety culture],” Wert said. “The issues at Browns Ferry are complex and demanding and will require diligent efforts over a long period of time.”

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