BROWNS FERRY, ATHENS – A TVA spokesman is taking exception to a story by The Huntsville Times, also reported by WAFF-TV that says a fire at the nuclear plant was not made public for nearly 7 months. The daily newspaper reported the slow response last Friday, July 13, “HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — TVA’s Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Athens had a fire in one its control rooms in January, but public notice of the event was not issued until this week.”
Manager of Nuclear Communications, Raymond Golden, TVA spokesman, told the Quad-Cities Daily, “That is not correct. The event happened on Jan 26 and TVA quickly alerted the on-site NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) resident inspector who responded to the event.” He continued, ” The event occurred in the Unit 3 control room when an operator noticed a smell of burning wire insulation and per his training and procedures he notified our on-site fire department. Simultaneously, reactor operators determined the odor was coming from an electrical cabinet, specifically a small power supply circuit card. During the event for a period of a few seconds there was a small flame (less than 2-inches in height) that extinguished upon opening the circuit breaker to the power supply. No fire fighting was necessary during this event.” He also said, “The visible flame lasted for a few seconds and was reported quickly to the on-site NRC resident inspector. TVA decided to voluntarily issue what is known as a Licensee Event Report (LER). The LER contains the root cause analysis of what happened and what corrective actions are to reduce the potential for reoccurrence. Utilities are provided with up to 60 days to develop this material. In March 2012, TVA filed the LER with the NRC within the time allowed.”
The above statement does not exactly answer the Huntsville Times indictment. Notifying the on-site NRC desk, is not the same as notifying the public. A formal incident report was received by the NRC on March 26, exactly 60 days from the date of the incident. We asked Golden if it was usual and customary to wait until the last possible moment to report such incidents to the NRC. He replied, “This LCO was voluntary filed by TVA.” He continued, “The limit for required LCOs is 60 days. TVA strives to exceed, or meet the regulatory requirements.” Golden used the abbreviation, “LCO” in this statement portion. We presume he meant “LER”, Licensee Event Report.
Browns Ferry was the site of the worst nuclear plant fire in U.S. history in 1975. A plant employee using a candle to look for air hose leaks accidentally ignited some sealing material, the fire resulted in operators having no control over the plant for about an hour. Browns Ferry officials didn’t notify Limestone County Emergency Management officials about the fire until the following day.
Many of the current nuclear plant fire regulations followed the 1975 incident.