Managers at America's newest nuclear power plant say they are doing more to listen to workers and to build a safety conscious work environment after earlier surveys and regulators found that supervisors in the past had a "chilling effect" on workers raising safety concerns.
TVA said it is improving the way it develops, listens and responds to worker concerns that may be raised at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., although plant officials said they are continuing to work on the safety culture at the twin-reactor plant.
In an update report to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Thursday night in Athens, Tenn., TVA managers at Watts Bar cited a number of positive changes to encourage and respond to any worker safety concerns.
"Were committed to have a healthy work environment at Watts Bar," Paul Simmons, site vice president at Watts Bar, told a NRC panel during Thursday's hearing. "We are monitoring progress and adjusting actions to sustain an environment to raise concerns at Watts Bar."
Tom Marshall, a 25-year TVA employee who was recently named plant manager at Watts Bar, said recent employee and manager surveys indicate plant operations are improving at Watts Bar.
"People are doing what they should have been doing all along; they are stopping and resolving issues before they move on and the management teams, which is the exciting part, is supporting that," he said. "Managers are listening to the concerns and getting them addressed."
That was not the case in the past, according to nuclear regulators and TVA's own watchdog agency. On March 23, 2016, the NRC staff issued a letter to TVA expressing concern that some licensed operators may have been unduly influenced by TVA managers outside the control room, which could have caused what is described as a "chilling effect" on the plant's work environment, making it less likely for employees to raise safety issues.
Last year as TVA started up the unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar, utility employees voiced more concerns to the NRC than at any nuclear plant in the country and earlier this year TVA's Inspector General said the safety culture was still lacking at Watts Bar, in some areas.
Simmons said TVA plans to conduct another employee survey soon to gauge worker sentiment. But plant leaders said Thursday night that recent surveys, employee meetings and labor union feedback suggests there is much more of a "safety first" culture at Watts Bar today than in the past.
"I definitely think we are on the right track," Simmons said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.
This story was updated Nov. 2 at 10:50 p.m.