TVA readies troubled Browns Ferry for major NRC review

TVA readies troubled Browns Ferry for major NRC review

February 14th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Local Regional News

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

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Nearly two years after federal regulators red flagged the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant for safety violations following a 2010 valve failure, the Tennessee Valley Authority expects to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review its plant operations and remove the red flag notice.

TVA Nuclear Chief Preston Swafford said today he expects to submit a letter to the NRC in the next few days asking for the NRC to review the Browns Ferry plant and the equipment and procedure improvements made at the North Alabama plant.

"We've been working over two years preparing for this and I think we've done a good job to try address the issues we and the NRC have identified," Swafford said. "We've completed everything we were expected to do. We did not request this review until we were ready."

The NRC inspection procedure, known as a 95003 review, is one of the most intense reviews the commission conducts of a plant. In the past decade, there have been only five red flagged nuclear plants and the Browns Ferry citation is the first red flag ever for TVA.

In October 2010, a valve on safety equipment on Unit 1 at the Browns Ferry plant failed to open when operators shut down the reactor for refueling. TVA later determined that the last time the valve definitely had worked as required was on March 2009.

The malfunction, and TVA's inability to detect the problem for so long, led regulators to order an enhanced review of the plant's safety systems and procedures. Potentially, the stuck valve could have impaired TVA's ability to shut down the unit in some accident scenarios.

The equipment problem came 26 years after the same Browns Ferry unit suffered from disabled safety systems when a fire erupted while a worker was using a candle to check for air leaks.

Swafford said TVA has replaced equipment, revamped procedures, upgraded training and done root-cause analyses to identify problems since a 2010 valve problem was discovered.

NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said a 21-person team from the NRC will conduct the 9503 review.

"This is about as an extensive review as a plant gets," he said.