- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is warning that a “chilled work environment” exists at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Barr Nuclear Plant and employees are afraid to report any possibly safety problems.

As a result, the NRC has written a letter that gives TVA 30 days to come up with a plan to address work environment concerns at its plant near Spring City, Tennessee.

“We have not identified any serious safety violations or instances involving significant plant safety issues, but the information gathered has led to concerns about the impact the work environment is having on plant operations and raises questions about your commitment to emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment,” the letter says.

The letter follows a March 22 meeting in Atlanta where NRC officials brought up concerns to TVA.

A spokesman for TVA said the agency is working “very aggressively” to correct the situation and wanted everyone from the lowest level employee to the CEO of TVA to feel free to raise safety concerns.

“In fact, we need our employees to raise concerns,” TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. “They are the first line of defense.”

The NRC found evidence that operations employees did not feel free to raise safety concerns to management because they feared retaliation and did not feel that their issues would be addressed. The fear of getting punished for raising concerns, the NRC letter said, is such that it is impeding open communication in plant operations.

The NRC said it will continue to monitor the work environment at Watts Bar.

TVA is the nation’s largest public utility. It provides electricity to about 9 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

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