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More Safety Concerns at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

By Associated Press

Athens AL – The Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in north Alabama has a fire response problem that could lead to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission civil penalty.

In a letter to TVA, the NRC said inspectors this year found that the plant near Athens, Ala., potentially violated four safety standards, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Thursday.

TVA spokesman Craig Beasley said the plant is working with regulators to address their concerns. He said TVA will "do the work necessary to implement the National Fire Protection Association standards at Browns Ferry."

NRC officials said the deficiencies do not pose any immediate safety risk, since TVA has maintained fire watches and other compensatory measures in response to identified weaknesses.

NRC Regional Commissioner Luis A. Reyes said inspectors found four potential problems at the plant where a 1975 fire damaged a reactor.

"The inspection team identified potential violations associated with an inadequate fire response procedure, inadequate compensatory measures and inadequate emergency lighting," Reyes said in a letter to TVA's top nuclear officials this week.

Regulators developed those standards partly in response to a fire started by a candle two years after the Unit 1 reactor at Browns Ferry started operating.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said details will be released in December and there could be a civil penalty.

"These are not the kind of issues that would cause us to shut the plant down, but they are issues that TVA will have to address," Hannah said.

Nuclear critics said the lingering fire safety violations raise questions about the way TVA operates its oldest nuclear facility.

"Browns Ferry was the poster child for real fire concerns in this industry, and we would hope after all these years that TVA would be in compliance with the NRC standards," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "The fire risk may appear low, but there is no room for error in running a nuclear plant."

Edwin Lyman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the newspaper that most of America's 103 reactors were designed before the NRC adopted its current fire safety standards. He said most don't have the desired cable separation and firewalls between parts of the plants.

"Almost no plants meet all of the NRC's physical standards, but the regulators have allowed plants to use manual steps like fire watches and walk-downs to compensate for the inadequate plant design," he said. "For a long time, the NRC was not issuing violations for fire safety issues. But lately the commission seems more determined to enforce these rules, which we believe is long overdue."

Knoxville-based TVA serves nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

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