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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2007
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Farley Nuclear Plant gets second-worst ranking

DOTHAN (AP) — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff gave the Unit 2 reactor at the Farley Nuclear Power Plant a "yellow" finding Thursday for valve failures that the agency said were of "substantial safety significance."

The "yellow" finding is the next-to-worst in the NRC's color coding system and means the unit will be subject to additional NRC inspections and "potentially other NRC actions," the agency said in a news release.

"I want to reassure residents near Farley that the plant continues to operate safely," said NRC Regional Administrator William Travers. "However, the failure to promptly address these valve failures warrants increased oversight by the NRC."

Whistleblower

The announcement came on the same day that an attorney in Washington, D.C., announced that a whistleblower complaint was filed with the Department of Labor on behalf of Michael Smith, a senior engineer at the Farley plant. Smith claims he and other nuclear engineers felt harassed and intimidated for reporting nuclear safety concerns and that Farley management set him up to be fired, according to his attorney, Debra Katz.

The plant, operated by Southern Nuclear Operating Co., a division of Alabama Power Co.'s parent, Southern Co., was given a preliminary "yellow" finding by the NRC staff after special inspections in May following valve failures in April 2006 and January 2007.

A conference with Southern Nuclear was held Sept. 12. In its announcement Thursday, the Atlanta-based Region II office of the NRC said it was citing the company for a violation along with giving the reactor a "yellow" finding.

Disagreement

Alison Fuqua, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear's Birmingham office, said the company did not expect the yellow rating and "strongly disagrees" with the NRC's findings.

"We were a little shocked that it remained yellow," she said. "We were expecting the rating to be dropped a level to white."

Fuqua said the company believed the valve failure was an isolated incident that was identified and repaired.

"Southern Nuclear acknowledges the NRC's violation relating to not promptly identifying the root cause of a valve failure during surveillance testing," Fuqua said. "Southern Nuclear has determined the reason for the failure and has fixed the problem."

Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the NRC office in Atlanta, said the agency found that Southern Nuclear did not act promptly enough to identify and fix the problem. He also said that, because of the way this particular valve failed, the NRC thought it was possible that this may not be an isolated incident and that other valves at the plant could experience similar failures.

He said the citation for a violation means that the plant will be under increased scrutiny from the NRC. He said the agency had not determined exactly what actions to take but that there would be more inspections than normal.

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

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