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The Tennessee Valley Authority is taking steps to correct safety concerns at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, federal regulators said Monday, but the installation still has problems months after regulators cited it for serious violations involving a failed valve in the cooling system.
Inspectors with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said most of the plant's programs for fixing problems meet agency requirements, and operators have made improvements in oversight systems involving a type of valve that led to the citation earlier this year.
But regulators said they found "multiple examples" where the federal utility made repairs at the plant without determining what had caused the problem in the first place. They called the plant an "outlier" within the nuclear industry because it lacks certain documentation for its testing program.
The head of TVA's nuclear program didn't contest the NRC's findings during a public meeting at the plant's training facility.
"We still have a road to go, but we're headed that way," said Preston Swafford, executive vice president and chief of TVA's nuclear operations.
NRC staff members met publicly with TVA officials at the north Alabama plant to discuss the first part of an extensive inspection that was required after the agency decided earlier this year that the failure of a valve in an emergency cooling system in the Unit Three reactor could have resulted in a serious safety problems. No one was hurt, they said, and the problem has since been fixed.
But the commission still issued a "red" finding against the plant, which was the most severe of the types of violations the agency can issue for problems at nuclear generating stations. The NRC said the valve may have been broken for as long as 18 months before TVA employees discovered and reported the problem.
NRC inspector Bob Orlowski said a team of five people recently spent nearly two weeks going through the plant and determined most of its procedures met agency guidelines. Yet in some cases, he said, Browns Ferry workers fixed mechanical breakdowns or problems without taking the next step of attempting to determine what led to the failure.
"This contributes to long-standing issues and more significant problems," he said.
TVA's vice president for Browns Ferry, Keith Polson, said the utility will use regulators' assessments to improve plant safety as quickly as possible. The meeting ended the first of a three-part safety review at the plant, and the chairman of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko, is scheduled to visit Browns Ferry on Friday.
TVA voluntarily shut down its entire nuclear section in 1985 to address safety and performance issues. The utility supplies power to about 9 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.