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Sequoyah Nuclear Plant chemistry program given "high risk" ratings by TVA inspector general

TVA's Office of the Inspector General said that issues with the physical work environment as well as accountability hindered operations of the department.
Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority
TVA Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant near Soddy-Daisy, TN

SODDY-DAISY, Tenn. — The Tennessee Valley Authority Office of the Inspector General audited its chemistry program at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy, releasing its report on Thursday. In it, it said there were many risks that could hinder the program's effectiveness.

The risks were separated into two categories: behavioral and operational. During the audit, the office interviewed 21 of the program's 22 employees and surveyed people who worked with them.

The program is responsible for maintaining the chemicals for plant systems, avoiding harmful effects from nuclear fuel and minimizing the amount of radiation that workers are exposed to. The SNP's chemistry program is divided into two departments — technical support and nuclear chemistry.

The technical support department analyzes chemistry program areas to make sure radiation is not hazardous, conducts quality control, is responsible for maintaining instruments and monitors the program's auxiliary systems like cooling water.

The nuclear chemistry department samples and analyzes plant systems, documents laboratory and sampling activities and responds to chemistry problems.

In the report, the OIG found that there were work-related issues between the technical and chemistry departments, including a perception that technicians had more work than chemists. The OIG said it also found low morale and ethical concerns among the program. Some people said that complacency had become an issue, leading to workers making mistakes and taking shortcuts.

Operational issues also contributed to the program's morale issues, according to the report. They said problems with the lab's air conditioning system led to temperatures occasionally rising above 90 degrees.

Some people also said that personnel also did not rinse areas well after handling radioactive samples and that they were not being disposed of in the correct sinks, leading to contamination in clean areas.

The report also said lab instrumentation had failed in the past or is failing due to the heat. Due to this, some people said that the program had to send radioactive samples to Watts Bar Nuclear Plant for analysis.

To address concerns about accountability issues, morale problems and relationships inside and outside the program — TVA management said it rolled out a revised accountability model. TVA said it also upgraded the lab's heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

TVA released this statement on the OIG report: 

"Safety is always TVA’s top priority, both for our own employees as well as the public we serve. Although the TVA Office of the Inspector General report on the organizational effectiveness of the Sequoyah Nuclear Chemistry and Environmental work group found NO risk to the safety of our employees, plant equipment or the public, we value its feedback as part of our efforts to continually improve and sustain a culture of healthy accountability in all of our operations.... Actions to fully address the OIG’s recommendations have either already been taken, or are in development."

You can read the full report here.