TVA expects to add about 100 jobs at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in the next year as part of an effort to improve performance and safety, officials said Wednesday.
“I’m going to go to the CEO shortly with a revised plan,” Tennessee Valley Authority chief nuclear officer Preston Swafford said. “We’ll probably start the hiring in a couple months.”
The new jobs will involve various specialties.
“It’s across the board,” said Keith Polson, Browns Ferry site vice president. “Engineering, maintenance, radiation protection, chemistry, work control, emergency planning.”
Browns Ferry, in Limestone County, has 1,300 employees and 700 contract employees.
The increase in staffing is part of a broad effort aimed at improving a plant that has lagged behind the industry, Swafford said.
“Coming up with the right staffing numbers is something we’ve been working on for quite a while,” Polson said. “What is the right number for a three-unit site, not only to make the improvements but to sustain them? It has to be sustainable.”
TVA added about 60 engineering positions at Browns Ferry last year.
Swafford said there were signs that Browns Ferry was in decline beginning three or four years ago. Hiring Polson to take over at Browns Ferry in December 2009 was the first major step in the effort to improve the plant.
“The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations out of Atlanta had given the signal that it was having concerns that Browns Ferry was going in the wrong direction,” Swafford said.
Swafford said he was hired to turn Browns Ferry and TVA’s two other nuclear plants around.
Since then, Swafford said, TVA has taken steps to operate its three nuclear plants as a single fleet.
All three Browns Ferry units are operating at a degraded performance level, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NRC issued a “red finding,” its harshest sanction short of closing a plant, for Unit 1’s performance. The other two units recently received “white” findings, indicating problems of “low to moderate safety significance.”
Swafford said the NRC findings were in part a consequence of the effort to improve the plants, and more findings are possible.
“It’s not unusual in a turnaround for it to get pretty dark and gray before the light starts to shine through,” Swafford said. “It takes years to uncover latent issues that weren’t addressed like they should have been.”
Swafford said a TVA representative will attend a public meeting today in which the U.S. Energy Department is seeking public input on a proposal to use weapons-grade plutonium at Browns Ferry.
At this point, Swafford said, TVA is committing few resources to the issue.
“I’m not going to get caught up in the middle of that fray,” Swafford said. “It would be nothing but a distraction for me. It takes my eye off the ball.”
He said TVA will only use the mixed-oxide fuel if it concludes it is safe and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves use of the fuel. Those steps are years down the road, he said.