NRC proposes fine, issues violation notices over Watts Bar-1 incident

November 10, 2020, 3:04PMNuclear News

Watts Bar. Photo: TVA

One week after issuing a six-figure civil penalty to the Tennessee Valley Authority for violating Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules involving employee protection, the NRC has proposed penalties totaling more than $900,000 on TVA for a 2015 incident at the utility’s two-unit Watts Bar nuclear plant, located near Spring City, Tenn.

The NRC also has issued violations to two managers and a reactor operator for their roles in the incident.

The enforcement actions are the result of an NRC investigation—initiated in August 2016 and completed in May of last year—into events that occurred during and after the startup of Watts Bar-1 following a maintenance outage in November 2015.

The findings: During the unit’s startup, operators failed to follow plant procedures and subsequently failed to properly document their actions in the control room log, while shift managers failed to review the logs to ensure their accuracy, according to the NRC on November 6.

Through numerous inspections, interviews, and predecisional enforcement conferences over more than four years, the NRC identified five violations associated with non-conservative decision-making, failure to follow procedures, and incomplete and/or inaccurate information provided by the utility.

In a letter to TVA announcing its decision, the NRC said, “The investigation identified a pervasive weakness in the station’s conduct of operations and conservative decision-making during the fall of 2015 and early 2016 that was directly attributable to the site vice president and plant manager at the time. For example, numerous operators reported that, during this period, senior site management established an expectation that main control room staff had to demonstrate that a proposed plant operation was prohibited by plant procedures, or was unsafe, in order to stop or delay a scheduled operation. [Unit 1] management’s failure to ensure the primacy of safe operations led to several occasions during that period in which TVA staff failed to follow procedures, made inappropriate procedural changes, and operated the plant outside of established procedures.”

TVA and the three cited individuals have 30 days to respond to the proposed fines and violation notices.

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