NRC outlines upgrades needed to get Browns Ferry off troubled list

NRC outlines upgrades needed to get Browns Ferry off troubled list

August 24th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala., is shown from above.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has outlined a list of 10 equipment and personnel upgrades the Tennessee Valley Authority must still make at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant before regulators will consider lifting a serious safety violation notice against the Alabama plant.

In an action letter to TVA released Friday, the NRC said once TVA completes the first tier of its safety improvements at Browns Ferry, regulators will inspect the plant and could lift the red safety finding issued three years ago against TVA at Browns Ferry.

The NRC slapped TVA with the red finding after discovering a blocked emergency cooling line in a key safety system. The problem had gone undetected by TVA for 18 months.

The red finding is the most severe against any operating U.S. nuclear plant and is just one step from a forced shutdown of the plant.

TVA has spent about $140 million and two years of training, equipment upgrades and procedure changes to improve operations at Browns Ferry. Last week, TVA committed in a letter to the NRC that it would complete the initial 10 safety upgrades at Browns Ferry by Nov. 30 and would continue to work on 21 other action items identified by the NRC to keep improving its safety systems and culture.

"We believe completing the 10 short-term commitment actions will help to inform the NRC's decision to close the red finding and transition Browns Ferry Unit 1 from increased NRC oversight and back to normal, routine NRC oversight," TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said. "Our ultimate goal is sustained excellence, and though we're not there yet, we are laying a solid foundation for continuous improvement at Browns Ferry."

Victor McCree, regional administrator for the NRC in Atlanta, said the confirmatory letter "gives TVA a clear set of commitments and expectations" to improve the plant and get it off of the heightened regulatory oversight it now must operate under because of the red finding in 2010.

"Browns Ferry has improved its safety performance, but it must continue to improve and sustain a high performance level," McCree said.

The three-reactor plant at Browns Ferry is TVA's biggest and oldest nuclear power plant.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.