The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 16, 2012

Browns Ferry: Safety improving at plant

By Adam Smith

— Officials at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant acknowledged Tuesday there are significant safety culture issues at the plant, but plant operators and the Tennessee Valley Authority are moving forward to correct them.

At a public meeting held at Calhoun Community College, TVA officials and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission updated attendees on the ongoing status of increased inspections at the plant. The inspections came about after an injection valve on a residual heat removal system failed in October 2010, resulting in a “red,” or severe finding by the NRC.

The finding also placed the Unit 1 reactor into column four, or multiple degraded cornerstone, in the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process.

The added oversight, referred to by the NRC as 95003 inspections, is comprised of a three-step process. Part 1 was completed in September 2011 and Part 2, which focused on maintenance programs at Browns Ferry, was completed in November.

The third part, regarded as the most intensive, will begin when TVA issues the go-ahead to the NRC.

“It is the most formal and most intrusive part and the most diagnostic,” said Eugene Guthrie, branch chief with NRC’s Region II office in Atlanta. “One of the main focus areas of the 95003 inspection will be safety culture.”

He said part of TVA’s responsibility was to have an independent safety culture assessment completed. The NRC will also assess the plant’s safety culture and make conclusions based on the results.

Preston Swafford, executive vice president of TVA, said lessons learned at Browns Ferry could be applied to other power plants.

“We are working to be an industry leader in safety and performance, and we’ve made some real gains,” he said. “As a fleet, we’re watching our safety performance so people don’t get hurt.”

Keith Polson, vice president of operations at Browns Ferry, said the independent safety culture assessment had been completed, and safety culture actions are under way at the plant. Part of those actions, he said, involved developing a causal analysis and integrated improvement plan.

He said 4,000 safety facts were found dating back five years and about 500 findings, which were then rolled into issues. He said plant officials looked for patterns in those issues, which were then distilled down to 15 fundamental problems.

Polson said those problems were broken down into five focus areas, including corrective action programs, fire risk reduction, accountability, operational decision-making and equipment reliability.

“If we address these five focus areas with a vengeance, we’ll achieve the desired safety culture at the site,” he said.

He said many of the improvement plans implemented at the site are already showing dividends, especially in terms of significant events.

Unit 3 at the site is currently offline because of a refueling outage, and Polson said personnel exposure to radiation has been reduced by 35 percent. He said only four “first-aid’s” were reported and zero incidents were recorded by the Occupational Health & Safety Administration.

Polson said the plant’s path forward would be to finalize an integrated improvement plan and to put more action plans in place. Once enough progress has been made at the site, he said, the NRC would be called in to complete the inspections.

“Our long-term success criteria is having Browns Ferry back in the licensee response column, or from column 4 to column 1,” he said. “The bottom line is, everything has to be sustainable.”