Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Valley Authority’

Finally a positive ruling for those adversely affected by coal power plants.  Today a federal judge ruled that the Tennessee Valley Authority is liable for a huge spill of toxin-laden sludge in 2008 in Tennessee when containment dike at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant burst. About 5 million cubic yards of ash spilled out of a storage pond, into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan found TVA was negligent in its conduct and will be liable for damages to be determined later. Ratepayers have had to pay for the spill in the form of higher power costs as the $1.2 billion cleanup of the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency described as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind, continues.  After damages are awarded it is likely that TVA will pass those costs along to their customers.

And rest assured, the nearly $11 million TVA paid for outside legal help plus the work done by in-house lawyers, for which TVA is saying they can’t provide a total, will also be passed along to ratepayers.

Lesson learned here, if your energy generator messes up, you get to pay for it.

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In a memo issued today, the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said that the failure of a low pressure coolant injection valve last fall at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, located near Athens in north Alabama, was of “high safety significance

NRC inspection findings are evaluated using a safety significance scale with four levels, ranging from “green” for minor significance, through “white” and “yellow” to “red” for high significance. On Oct. 23, 2010, a valve failed to open when operators attempted to use a shutdown cooling loop during refueling. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the plant operator, later determined that the last time the valve had definitely worked as required was on March 12, 2009 when the loop was placed in service. At the time, the public was not endangered because no actual event occurred. However, the system is counted on for core cooling during certain accident scenarios and the valve failure left it inoperable, which potentially could have led to core damage had an accident involving a series of unlikely events occurred.

An accident such as the one that occurred on April 27th when the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, only 100 miles south of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, was devastated by an estimated EF-4 tornado over a mile wide that stayed on the ground for 2 hours, leaving behind a shocking landscape of twisted wreckage for seven miles.  That same storm cell took out transmission lines to the plant causing it to lose offsite power and triggering the three units at the plant to shut down automatically.

A regulatory conference to discuss the issue was held on April 4, just weeks before the massive tornado cell swept through the southeast. TVA stated that the failed valve was the result of defective manufacturing but still would have opened and supplied the necessary cooling water. The NRC review disagreed and concluded the violation was “red” or of “high safety significance.” The valve was repaired after its failure was discovered last October and prior to returning the unit to service, however the NRC has determined that significant problems involving key safety systems warrant more extensive NRC inspection and oversight. 

Had the problem not been discovered and repaired six months before the the tornados shut down the plant, would the outcome have been different?  More Fukashima-like?  The increased scrutiny of the nation’s aging nuclear industry, due in large part to the disaster in Japan, is uncovering some disquieting issues.  Will the NRC’s return to being a regulatory agency instead of a shill for the industry, and their heightened oversight prevent another nuclear disaster – or is it only a matter of time before an undetected problem at a plant, coupled with unforeseen events, has the US coping with its own disaster?

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Most people can recall or have at least heard of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. This event is cited as one of the most devastating environmental disasters to occur in US history, receiving much mediated and public attention. Yet, why is it that over the past few weeks there has been waning discourse about a recent coal spill in Tennessee that is estimated to be 50 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill?

Aerial Footage of the Spill:


Just recently on December 22 of 2008, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash flooded out of a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Kingston Fossil Plant in an Eastern Tennessee town just forty miles West of Knoxville. For those unfamiliar with this particular culprit known as coal ash, it is the leftover residue from coal-fired power plants that generate electricity and expel pollutants.  In order to prevent the ash from entering into and contaminating the atmosphere, it is mixed with water so that it can be kept in retaining pools.

This particular TVA plant had been accumulating waste for over half a century, housing sludge that staggered 65 feet into the air, spreading over 100 acres prior to when the dam burst in December. As imagined, the consequences of this spill were, and still are, devastating to the surrounding communities. The expansive outflow of sludge has damaged around twenty-two homes and has reportedly spilled into two tributaries of the Tennessee River, the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The Tennessee River marks a major source of drinking water for not only people in East Tennessee, but in Alabama, Kentucky, Chattanooga, and Western regions of Tennessee as well. Concerned yet? The T.V.A. isn’t—their website refers to the spillage as an “ash slide”, making the catastrophe sound rather harmless.

So, the big question is, why has a story of such magnitude been so downplayed in the media? I know that there are big stories to cover in the news right now, from the conflicts between Israeli and Palestinian forces to a tanking American economy. But, this is arguably the biggest environmental disaster in United States’ history! This story needs to be unveiled—questions need to be asked and action needs to be taken. The main question I asked earlier—why is the story going unreported—directly leads into the conflict surrounding the hazards of coal ash. When it comes to the subject of coal residue, the majority of people engaged in the topic believe that coal ash contains no harmful toxins, and is perfectly safe. This likely explains why this story has been shoved under the rug. Yet, it would be misleading to say that there are not people concerned about this issue, namely environmentalists and Tennessee residents who believe that coal ash is harmful. If there is a present concern, the question should be examined: is coal ash really as harmless as many claim it to be? (more…)

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