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Contractor cited for misconduct at Browns Ferry

By Duncan Mansfield
Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Friday a contractor foreman committed “deliberate misconduct” in removing paint at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens.

Robbie Balentine “willfully directed and allowed” open sandblasting inside the plant’s long-idled Unit 1 reactor in early 2004 in violation of permit requirements and verbal instructions, the regulatory agency said.

That resulted “in an internal contamination event involving a painter under his supervision as well as a violation of a portion of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant license related to radiation protection,” a commission statement said.

After conducting its own investigation, TVA told the NRC in October that “we do not believe that any deliberate misconduct took place and as a result there was no violation,” TVA spokesman John Moulton said.

“We never heard back. We are still waiting for a reply from the NRC on that,” he said.

The painter received a “very, very low internal contamination dose — nothing that would create any health effects,” commission spokesman Roger Hannah said.

“But the bottom line was the willful violation of the procedures.”

Balentine worked for Stone and Webster Engineering Co., a contractor on TVA’s five-year, $1.8 billion rehabilitation of Browns Ferry Unit 1. TVA hopes to return the reactor to service in May after a 22-year shutdown.

Balentine’s crew was removing paint from a huge, ring-shaped metal structure below the Unit 1 reactor vessel called a torus. The device is designed to collect excess steam in the event of a cooling system breakdown.

The torus is “slightly contaminated” with radiation, Hannah said.

The rules prohibited open sandblasting on “uneven or rough surfaces without checking with somebody first or making sure it was permitted,” he said.

Balentine apparently did neither. However, the commission imposed no sanctions against him.

The case was resolved through mediation. Balentine agreed to follow the rules and to participate in any programs that “use this event as training for others.”

Moulton said Balentine was placed on administrative leave by Stone and Webster last August after TVA was told about the problem by the NRC and decided to conduct its own probe.

“We concluded that TVA maintained proper oversight,” Moulton said.

As for Balentine, Moulton said, “He no longer works at Browns Ferry.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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