An electrician charged with falsifying inspection records at an unfinished nuclear reactor in Tennessee was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation and community service 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 that 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 Tennessee Valley Authority officials said at a March news conference after Correll's arrest that the falsified records posed no harm to the public. The news came amid publicity about the nuclear disaster in Japan.
Correll, 31, was charged with falsifying reports while working in August 2010 at the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, 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 in Spring City between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
A court filing shows Correll was part of a crew working in an area where an asbestos suit and respirator had to be worn and temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. The filing said the records were falsified on the spur of the moment when Correll was told 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 had 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 that 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 that _ much like media coverage of the case _ there was a time when criminals were taken to the public square as a message to everyone else that "this could happen to you." The judge also sentenced Correll to 100 hours of community service.
Correll and his attorney left the courthouse without making any comment.
Correll's then-supervisor at Williams Specialty, John E. Delk, has also been charged. His attorney, Jim Logan, said Thursday that Delk would plead guilty to the same felony charge Nov. 9.
Correll and Delk no longer work for Williams Specialty Services, a subcontractor on TVA's $2.5 billion, 1,200-megawatt reactor project. The company previously issued a statement saying it has cooperated with the investigation.
TVA, the nation's largest public utility, supplies power to customers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.