TVA ordered to improve handling of employee concerns at Watts Bar

The TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is photographed on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, near Spring City, Tenn., as Unit 2 begins producing electricity for the first time, 43 years after construction began at the site.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed that it mishandled some employee concerns voiced about the new Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant before its startup, but regulators will not issue a civil penalty because of corrective actions TVA has taken to improve the way it responds to whistleblowers and employee safety concerns.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said today that TVA violated regulatory requirements and an earlier 2009 order by stifling or ignoring some employee comments and concerns at Watts Bar prior to the unit 3 startup last year. TVA has since revamped its procedures and policies to help encourage employees to voice concerns and to prevent managers from trying to suppress such comments.

"We were disappointed that the 2009 order had not been followed completely, but we believe this new order gives TVA a well-defined path to ensuring the existence of a safety conscious work environment at all its nuclear sites," said NRC Region II Administrator Cathy Haney. "The ability to raise safety issues without fear of reprisal is very important to ensuring the safety of any plant," .

The new NRC order, which was developed through a mediation process with regulators and TVA, outlines the corrective actions and steps TVA has already taken and agreed to take going forward. Although the issues were identified at the Watts Bar plant, TVA has also agreed to implement actions at its Browns Ferry and Sequoyah nuclear plants, as well as at its corporate offices.

Among the steps already taken are an analysis of the causes of the violation and inserting specific corrective actions from that analysis into TVA's corrective action program. TVA has also initiated direct communications to employees and contractors about work environment requirements, established an executive review process to ensure personnel actions do not constitute retaliation, and hired advisors and consultants to focus on safety culture.

TVA has also agreed to a video briefing for all employees and contractors who perform NRC-regulated activities and an all-hands meeting at every site; further training on NRC employee protection, nuclear safety culture and work environment policies; changes in work processes to ensure a safety conscious work environment is established and maintained; and independent audits and assessments to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the actions.

Read the NRC order below: