‘Red’ Rating will Cost Nuke Operator

Thursday, September 1, 2011 @ 05:09 PM gHale

After getting a “red” rating at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, it will end up costing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) more than $10 million for an intensive set of nuclear regulatory inspections.

The inspections are coming because the plant got a “red” inspection rating, the worst level given by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before the plant shuts down entirely.

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The utility is still working on a budget to cover the preparatory and support work for the stepped-up NRC inspections planned at the plant beginning in September, said Ray Golden, spokesman for TVA’s nuclear operations. TVA also must pay for the NRC inspectors’ time, which could add up to more than $800,000, NRC officials said.

“I’m going to guess it’s going to be more than $10 million,” Golden said after attending a meeting between TVA and NRC in Atlanta.

The Reactor Core Isolation Coolant system on Unit 1 nuclear reactor.

The Reactor Core Isolation Coolant system on Unit 1 nuclear reactor.

The two groups met to discuss the planned volley of inspections designed to get Browns Ferry out of the “red” column of NRC’s ratings. The red rating comes when NRC believes a plant has issues of “high safety significance.” The NRC shuts down plants with ratings worse than “red.”

Among the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors, only four besides Browns Ferry ever received “red’ ratings, and a U.S. reactor has never been shut down by NRC, officials said.

At Browns Ferry, near Athens, Ala., “there was a performance deficiency … and missed opportunities” for safety testing, NRC Regional Administrator Victor McCree told TVA officials. The “missed” safety testing opportunities meant TVA was unaware for 18 months that a key valve on a reactor cooling system was inoperable.

The bad valve came to light on Oct. 23 as TVA tried to shut down the Unit 1 reactor for refueling. To overcome the problem, TVA used another cooling water line dedicated strictly to fire safety — a fire-protection design put in after a 1975 fire at the plant damaged reactor control cables.

Rick Croteau, director of NRC’s division of reactor projects, said NRC so far has budgeted 3,000 manhours to the Browns Ferry project. NRC’s fiscal 2011 hourly inspection rate is $273, said NRC spokesman Joey Ledford.

“So, 3,000 hours of inspection would result in a TVA assessment of $819,000” just for the NRC inspection time, Ledford said. “It might take fewer hours; it might take more.”

The amount does not take into account what TVA will spend to prepare for and support the inspections, he said, nor does it include the costs of any repairs or upgrades that may result from the inspections.

Although the October valve failure created no danger to the public, McCree and Croteau said the incident and other problems at Browns Ferry caused regulators to doubt the plant’s “safety culture.”

So NRC will be giving the plant and its management a thorough going-through in three different sets of team inspections. The first wave will occur Sept. 12-23, when four NRC inspectors will focus on equipment and systems testing programs, Croteau said.

A second round of inspections will be in October through December with five NRC inspectors looking hard at TVA’s maintenance program.

A third series of inspections will occur when TVA tells NRC it has corrected problems and is ready for a final review.

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