Federal regulators have slapped TVA with a $70,000 fine for not maintaining required fire watches at the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant three years ago and failing to adequately supervise contract workers who tried to cover up the failure.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the civil penalty today, ruling that the failure in the fall of 2012 to maintain the fire watches, and the subsequent attempt to hide the error, was a Severity Level III problem.
Victor McCree, regional administrator for the NRC, said he was imposing the fine "to emphasize the importance of prompt identification of violations, the importance of TVA's oversight of its fire protection plan implementation, and in recognition of the willful aspects of the violations."
"The potential consequences of missed fire watches concern us," McCree said in a statement today. "Although there are other fire protection features, fire watches are an important part of the plant's overall fire protection strategy, especially in areas where other equipment may be temporarily unavailable."
TVA said it will not contest the penalty. John Carlin, the Sequoyah site vice president, said TVA has upgraded equipment and procedures to limit the need for long-term fire watches and improved its oversight procedures to avoid a repeat of the problem during outages like the one in 2012 that caused the problem.
NRC said in October and November of 2012, four contract laborers, including four foremen, "deliberately failed to conduct compensatory hourly fire watches as required." The hourly watches were required to compensate for fire equipment that was out of service at the time of a refueling outage at the Sequoyah plant near Soddy-Daisy.
"In addition, the NRC found that four foremen deliberately filed to exercise supervisory duties as required," McCree said.
NRC is imposing a monetary fine because NRC inspectors, not TVA, discovered the violation.
McCree said the lack of a fire watch did not create any immediate problems since there was no fire during the lapses in fire protection procedures and he said TVA has since corrected the problem. But NRC plans another inspection and review of the plant, probably during an outage at Sequoyah this spring.
TVA, which ordered its own Inspector General investigation of the problem a couple of years ago, dismissed six contract workers and managers that failed to maintain the fire watches or tried to cover up the problem.
"This was not consistent with TVA and Sequoyah standards and we've taken aggressive steps to correct this problem," Carlin said. "We take this very seriously, and those involved were removed and they may no longer work at TVA nuclear facilities."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that TVA tried to cover up the lack of fire watches. The falsification of records about the fire watches at Sequoyah was done by contract workers for Day & Zimmerman, one of the construction and engineering firms hired by TVA to do work at Sequoyah. TVA dismissed those workers, ordered an internal investigation of the problem and fully cooperated with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its probe about the fire watch problem, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. The NRC cited TVA for not adequately overseeing the contract workers, but the NRC did not find that TVA itself tried to cover up the problem.