TVA will outline the improvements it has made in its employee concerns program next week in a meeting with top regional officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the NRC's regional headquarters in Atlanta comes two months after regulators issued a critical letter to TVA about how its programs, people and procedures may be stifling some control room operators in the Unit 1 reactor at Watts Bar from raising safety concerns.
"The hesitancy to raise concerns is what the NRC calls a 'chilling effect,' NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said, "and we want to hear what steps TVA has taken to change that atmosphere."
In a 17-page response to the NRC last month, TVA outlined a number of meetings, surveys and communications that plant managers have made over the past couple of months to change the culture at Watts Bar. J.W. Shea, TVA's vice president of nuclear licensing, acknowledged in a recent letter to the NRC that some workers may have felt intimidated by management or felt a perceived emphasis on production over safety during recent months as TVA moved ahead with final testing for the startup of the Unit 2 reactor.
"After conducting analyses via dedicated teams, TVA agrees that a work environment inconsistent with TVA core values and behaviors exists within the Watts Bar Nuclear operations department, and pledges to determine the causes and implement appropriate corrective actions," Shea said in his letter to the NRC. "Neither the actual or perceived existence of a degraded work environment is acceptable at TVA."
While more than 1,100 workers have been completing tests and installations for the startup of Unit 2, those working on the existing, operating plant have raised concerns about an atmosphere that no longer encourages employees to raise concerns about plant operations and safety.
TVA Nuclear Chief
Joe Grimes told the Times Free Press earlier this month that TVA is committed to doing a better job of handling employee concerns and will outline the steps it has and will take during Tuesday's meeting with the NRC.
"We're continuing to address those work environment issues and the power ascension activities we're undergoing to make sure that our Unit 2 reactor to started up the right way," Grimes said.
Later this month, TVA is preparing to activate the Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar by bringing the reactor to a critical, self-sustaining nuclear reaction capable of generating heat and steam for electricity generation. After investing more than $4.5 billion over the past four decades on Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA expects the new unit to be in full power generation mode and classified as a commercial reactor by this summer.
TVA began building the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant in 1973 and was within a few months of activating the Unit 1 reactor in 1985 when employees began voicing safety concerns that ultimately led to 11 years of reassessment and upgrades on that unit.