By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - A Tennessee man pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he falsified inspection reports at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar nuclear facility now under construction.
Prosecutors allege that last August, Matthew D. Correll, 31, completed paperwork falsely claiming that he had measured cables intended to supply energy to safety systems to be built at Watts Bar, the only nuclear power plant currently under construction in the U.S.
The federal charges come as the nuclear industry faces increased scrutiny in the aftermath of radioactive releases from power plants in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.
"We always take the falsification of federal records very seriously, especially given the nature of these records at these facilities," said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian. "Cutting corners on the construction of our nuclear power plants is a serious matter."
If convicted, Correll faces a maximum term of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release on each count. He was released pending trial, set for May 23 in Chattanooga.
The case was investigated by the TVA Office of the Inspector General and turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office for prosecution.
"This action today is an example of TVA's systems and procedural safeguards working as designed," said Ashok S. Bhatnagar, senior vice president for TVA Nuclear Generation Development & Construction. "The system worked."
The Watts Bar facility is expected to be completed in late 2012.
(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)