"The Tennessee Valley Authority ignored warnings for more than two decades about the safety of the fly ash pond at its Kingston Fossil Plant and could have prevented its catastrophic collapse by addressing them, the TVA inspector general wrote in a scathing report issued Tuesday.
The utility's independent watchdog found TVA management has not accepted responsibility for decisions leading to the catastrophe. Instead, the report found, officials limited the scope of an investigation into the cause of the disaster in an apparent effort to shore up its legal defense in lawsuits.
The utility's actions, the report concluded, were fueled by a cultural resistance to change that looked at ash as insignificant.
And, he warned, a similar spill could occur at other power plants if TVA doesn't take action.
The report, issued by Inspector General Richard W. Moore, is the most comprehensive review to date of the spill, which dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash sludge into the Emory River and surrounding countryside on Dec. 22. No one died, but 26 houses were destroyed or damaged, and the tab for the cleanup could approach $1 billion.
"Any restoration for individual victims or the community of necessity involves an acknowledgement of TVA's role in what happened in the early morning hours of December 22, 2008," Moore wrote.
Moore and TVA President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Kilgore testified on the report and the environmental cleanup before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on Tuesday morning. Kilgore told members of the subcommittee, which oversees TVA, that the utility might have to clean house in light of the spill and its aftermath.
"We have to change," Kilgore said. "If that means heads have to roll, if people have to leave, so be it."
Moore hired the engineering firm Marshall Miller and Associates of Bluefield, Va., to assist in the investigation, and his conclusions are based on their review of documents and facilities, plus his office's interviews with key TVA personnel.
Moore found TVA could have prevented the spill if the utility had corrected problems raised by internal engineers and consultants beginning as early as 1985. That year, TVA's director of engineering projects noted in a memorandum that an earthen dike that held back the sludge wasn't built to design specifications and had a calculated safety factor below acceptable levels. The dike's rupture 23 years later released the flood of toxin-laden sludge.
A pair of contractors' reports, issued in 2004 after TVA temporarily closed the facility because of a blowout in one of the dredge cells, also should have raised red flags, Moore wrote. One, by Geosyntec Consultants, "should have served as a clear warning to TVA regarding the stability of the Kingston ash storage facilities," Moore wrote.
TVA didn't follow Geosyntec's recommendations to conduct more studies on the stability of the pond and install monitoring and drainage systems at the facility. Moore wrote that Kilgore "was unable to ascertain why" TVA didn't make the improvements.
"Had corrective measures been taken in a timely fashion, it is possible that TVA could have potentially prevented the occurrence of the failure," the report stated.
One TVA engineer told investigators that "TVA had a cheap solution to ash storage by stacking higher, so that is what they did."
A video of the hearing is here at the subcomittee's web site.
Previous posts from this blog - many tracking the constantly changing "facts" provided by TVA - are here.
Blogger R. Neal points out testimony in the hearing mentioned above where Congressman John Duncan ridiculed those investigating and demanding corrective action:
"It's interesting that U.S. Representatives from Texas and Minnesota are strong advocates for the residents of Roane County and other areas affected by TVA coal-fired power plants, while Tennessee's Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN2) refers to disaster victims and cleanup advocates as "extremists" and "kooks."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN4) take a different view. Sen. Alexander says the IG report "raises major concerns which must be taken seriously." Rep. Davis says that TVA "has a long road ahead to regain the trust of Tennessee families."Rep. Duncan's remarks are disgraceful and an insult to the residents of Roane County."
RoaneViews has local reactions from residents to this report and many more stories on the ongoing problems with TVA.
"Heads will roll" says Kilgore -- really? When? Who? The future safety of so many, and the future operations of TVA demand a heavy price today and will for many years to come.