Federal regulators are putting TVA's Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant under extra scrutiny after finding that the utility continues to violate fire safety standards at the Alabama plant.
Photo by Patrick Miklik/Huntsville Times - The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, TVA's oldest nuclear plant, is located near Athens, Ala.
But TVA officials said they are working to bring the utility's biggest nuclear plant under new National Fire Protection Association standards within two years.
TVA has failed to separate cables and equipment properly at Browns Ferry nearly three decades after stricter fire safety rules were developed in response to a 1975 candle fire at Browns Ferry, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the NRC rated one of the four fire safety violations it investigated last fall at Browns Ferry as one of "substantial safety significance," resulting in extra NRC inspections and potentially other regulatory actions.
"Protecting vital plant systems and components from fire and having workable procedures for fire response is critical to nuclear safety," NRC Regional Administrator Luis Reyes said in a statement that elevated the fire warning at Browns Ferry to a "yellow" category for the first time at any TVA plant. "We expect all nuclear plants to meet NRC fire protection regulations and will take the necessary steps to ensure they do so."
TVA has maintained fire watches and its own fire department at Browns Ferry, but the utility has determined that it would be too costly to reconfigure the plant to meet all the cable separation and firewall rules of the current NRC standards.
In their place, TVA plans to spend $15 million to upgrade safety testing and equipment at Browns Ferry to meet the alternative National Fire Protection Association requirements, TVA nuclear spokesman Ray Golden said.
TVA's two Tennessee nuclear plants -- the Sequoyah plant near Soddy-Daisy and the Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn., -- were finished in the 1980s and 1990s and include the firewalls and cable tray separations required by the NRC following the Browns Ferry fire, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said.
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