An electrician charged with falsifying inspection records at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s unfinished Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor ended up on probation for two years after he apologized for causing any nuclear fears.
“I would like to apologize to all the residents who now sleep less securely as a result of my actions,” Matthew Correll told U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier. “I wish I could explain to them they have nothing to fear from nuclear plants in their backyards.”
Correll, who had no prior criminal record, said his hasty workplace decision bans him from continuing a nuclear career he loved.
Defense attorney Myrlene Marsa said her client broke the law by hastily obeying a supervisor’s orders to hurry up and get the job done instead of making the required inspection.
U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and TVA officials said at a March news conference after Correll’s arrest the falsified records posed no harm to the public. The news came amid publicity about the nuclear disaster in Japan.
Correll, 31, ended up charged with falsifying reports while working in August 2010 at the only site in the nation where a commercial reactor is now under construction. Prosecutors said he lied about measuring the diameter of cables designed to provide electric power to operate equipment, including safety systems, in the reactor containment structure at the plant at Spring City between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
A court filing shows Correll was part of a crew working in an area where workers had to wear an asbestos suit and respirator and temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. The filing said the records ended up falsified on the spur of the moment when supervisors told Correll to “hurry up and get it done.”
Correll worked for Williams Specialty Services of Tucker, Ga., and pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. The plea agreement reduced the maximum possible five year sentence and $250,000 fine to a maximum of six months.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Brooks told the judge even though prosecutors agreed to recommend a lesser sentence, some incarceration would be a deterrent to others who work at nuclear plants and might be in a position to “take a shortcut.”
“We believe there are many eyes watching this case,” Brooks said. “It is an industry that demands that there be very few errors.”
The judge said he received letters vouching for Correll’s good character before saying incarceration was unnecessary. The judge acknowledged Marsa’s comments about Correll’s shame and noted— much like media coverage of the case — there was a time when officials took criminals to the public square as a message to everyone else “this could happen to you.”
The judge also sentenced Correll to 100 hours of community service.
Correll’s then-supervisor at Williams Specialty, John E. Delk, is also facing charges. His attorney, Jim Logan, said Delk would plead guilty to the same felony charge Nov. 9. “The same circumstances essentially applied to him,” Logan said. “It is our belief that Mr. Delk has cooperated with the United States Attorney’s Office and the two regulatory agencies, the TVA inspector general and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”