published Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Browns Ferry gets green light on some safety fixes

The thick door of the equipment entrance to the Unit 2 reactor stands open on its tracks during a tour of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala. The door shows the thickness of the primary containment  structure that houses each reactor.
The thick door of the equipment entrance to the Unit 2 reactor stands open on its tracks during a tour of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala. The door shows the thickness of the primary containment structure that houses each reactor.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulators told TVA nuclear officials Wednesday that it is lifting the white safety findings from the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.

TVA chief nuclear officer Preston Swafford and Browns Ferry's plant manager Keith Polson said they will in January ask NRC to schedule a third volley of inspections aimed at lifting the NRC's most serious safety flag -- a red finding that has been hanging over the plant for more than a year.

"We've done a great deal to improve conditions. I don't expect your team to be disappointed," Swafford told NRC regulators.

NRC's Gene Guthrie said the final inspections to lift the red flag will take a couple of months to complete and likely will be scheduled in April.

NRC assigns four colors -- green, white, yellow and red -- to its inspection and performance findings. Green is safe. White is the lowest safety flag. Yellow signifies moderate safety concerns. Red designates the highest level of concern.

Each color-coded safety finding brings with it additional and increasing NRC inspection and oversight.

On lifting the white designations, Guthrie said TVA's corrective actions have satisfied NRC that plant operators understand what caused a high pressure injection cooling system to be out of service longer than guidelines allow and why one of the plant's three reactors had more shutdowns than allowed in a year.

"The root causes were understood ... and [TVA's] actions were sufficient," he said.

The two white flags on those issues will be returned to green immediately, he said.

The third white finding will not be returned to green until the end of the first quarter of 2013, pending no further problems, according to NRC.

That flag was raised after NRC inspectors during an inspection drill earlier this year realized operators of Browns Ferry's three reactors did not understand 5-month-old NRC safety procedures, and neither did their trainers.

Guthrie said TVA now seems to have mastered NRC's new procedures for safe shutdown in the event of fire.

The red flag stemmed from a faulty valve on a shutdown cooling system on Unit 1 that went unnoticed for 18 months.

NRC found that the failure was a one of TVA's safety and maintenance culture there.

On Wednesday, plant manager Polson told NRC officials that TVA had created an improvement plan containing over 1,000 action items.

"To date 72 percent of those actions are complete," Polson said.

Browns Ferry is one of TVA's three nuclear plants that produce electricity for homes and businesses in seven states.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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