published Friday, December 21st, 2012

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant vice president replaced

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant
Watts Bar Nuclear Plant
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The TVA vice president in charge of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant left the employment of TVA on Wednesday, but TVA will not say why.

"Timothy Cleary will serve as acting site vice president for Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, effective immediately. Cleary replaces Don Grissette," said TVA spokesman Ray Golden on Thursday.

Golden said TVA will not elaborate on Grissette's departure.

The news came on the same day TVA announced Watts Bar worker incentives for the behind-schedule, over-budget new reactor. The incentives are to ensure the new reactor can be made operational by the end of the 2015.

TVA's vice president for nuclear construction, Mike Skaggs, said he believes the incentives will continue recent Watts Bar improvements.

In February, TVA said completing Unit 2 would add as much as $2 billion to the original $2.5 billion budget. Officials also said the reactor's timeline would stretch three years beyond the initially planned 2012 startup.

In announcing the incentives, Skaggs said if the new reactor is operational by Dec. 31, 2015, and if its final total cost ranges between $3.875 billion to $4.4 billion, each of an estimated 3,000 workers, depending on how long they worked, could receive a flat bonus ranging from about $1,500 to $37,500.

"We've gained traction," he said of work at the plant since January when workers were forced into a "stand down" to address safety, quality and schedule problems. Contract employees had removed parts from the operating reactor rather than the twin one under construction where they were supposed to be working.

"We've had a good safety and quality performance for the last [several] months, and I believe this incentive plan will bring [more] margin," Skaggs said.

He said TVA's independent quality control team has recently given the Unit 2 work a 95 percent quality control rating -- good news because low quality control ratings mean do-overs that drive up completion time and cost.

Watts Bar woes

Watts Bar in 2007 became the first reactor to be licensed for construction by federal regulators since Pennsylvania's 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown.

But its management and work efforts have taken hit after hit in recent years.

In 2011, a contract electrician from Chattanooga and his boss were charged federally with falsifying nuclear safety records for the new reactor's construction.

In some cases, the two noted or approved inspections and measurements made on cables that didn't even physically exist, according to court records.

At that time the reactor was scheduled to be finished in October 2012.

Later in 2011, however, TVA announced that its completion would be delayed until 2013 and that costs would climb.

In December 2011, TVA disclosed that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had raised a safety concern flag over security. Neither TVA nor the NRC would disclose the security problem.

Skaggs then was named to replace Ashok Bhatnagar as the head of the Watts Bar Unit 2 construction project.

In January 2012, TVA ordered the safety "stand down" for about 1,000 contract workers there.

In April, TVA announced the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor would take three more years to build and up to $2 billion in added costs.

Challenges ahead

In announcing the worker incentives Thursday, Skaggs said Unit 2 construction may still face some of its toughest challenges.

"We're making good progress, but it will become harder and harder," he said.

As each segment of construction ends, workers and plant officials must make sure one system works with the next system -- pumps operate correctly with the automatic sensors, for instance.

And the construction team must document their work and schematics to turn each finished segment over to the plant's operations people who much ready themselves and that new equipment to operate along with the existing reactor which was completed in 1996.

"My opinion and the staff's [opinion] is that we have the right people to complete this," Skaggs said.

Cleary joined TVA in August 2007.

"Tim is an experienced nuclear power generation leader. His breadth of experience ranges from site operations, engineering and license renewal, to general management, organizational effectiveness and new business initiatives," Golden said.

Grissette had joined TVA in 2009. He previously had been a vice president for nuclear operations at Florida Power and Light.

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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