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Regulators Say Problem At Ala. Nuclear Plant Was Of 'High Safety Significance'

Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala.
Jay Reeves
Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced today that Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Athens, Ala. will be under greater inspection and oversight from the agency.

The move comes after the commission found that "failure of a low pressure coolant injection valve last fall... was of 'high safety significance.'" In Oct. 2010, the NRC said in a press release, a valve on a residual heat removal system remained stuck shut.

The NRC said the issue never put the public in danger, but under certain accident scenarios that valve would have been essential to cool the reactors, so the NRC assigned the incident its most serious rating of red on a three-color scale.

"The valve was repaired prior to returning the unit to service and Browns Ferry continued to operate safely," said Victor McCree, NRC Region II administrator. "However, significant problems involving key safety systems warrant more extensive NRC inspection and oversight."

The AP reports that the valve malfunctioned in 2009, but The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant, didn't discover the problem through routine checks until "plant was being refueled in October 2010."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.