Alabama Browns Ferry nuclear unit gets US scrutiny

HOUSTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - A northern Alabama nuclear power unit that was shut for 22 years before reopening last May will undergo extra scrutiny by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after five unplanned shutdowns in 2007, the NRC said.

NRC staff will conduct the extra inspection in the next few months. The plant has not put the public or plant workers at increased risk, said Ken Clark, NRC spokesman.

Unit 1 as well as the other two units at the Tennessee Valley Authority-operated plant were at 100 percent production on Wednesday, the NRC said. Browns Ferry, near Athens, Alabama, has three 1,155-megawatt units.

All Browns Ferry units have run without interruption since October, said Craig Beasley, spokesman for Browns Ferry and the federal TVA.

Beasley said the five shutdowns occurred in part because TVA was being cautious in what he called a “wide margin of safety.”

The unit is one of seven or eight U.S. reactors that are in a category for extra NRC inspection because of issues including numerous shutdowns in a short period, said Clark. There are 104 reactors in the United States.

“In November, the NRC conducted a focused inspection to evaluate the causes of the shutdowns and did not identify any significant findings that would impact plant safety,” the NRC said in a press statement.

The NRC’s Clark said the five unplanned shutdowns were not related.

Beasley said that there was no relation between the 22-year hiatus of Unit 1’s operation and the five shutdowns from May to October last year.

When Browns Ferry 1 reopened last May, it marked the first addition since 1996 to the U.S. fleet of operating nuclear power reactors. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by David Gregorio)