updated 7/21/2009 4:46:50 PM ET 2009-07-21T20:46:50

Consultants hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority after a disastrous coal ash spill found widespread problems with how America's largest public utility is running and maintaining its coal ash storage operations.

Overall, the consultants said in the report Tuesday to the TVA board of directors, the "necessary systems, controls and culture were not in place" to properly manage the coal ash operations at TVA's 11 coal-fired power plants.

The report by McKenna Long and Aldridge of Atlanta follows the spill of more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash Dec. 22 at the Kingston Fossil Plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville.

The consultants reported that "TVA did not have any standard procedures regarding operation and maintenance of wet-ash ponds" and didn't put a priority on preventing spills or accidents. Their report says TVA has failed to ensure standard training for engineers who inspect the operations.

It also found problems with a lack of accountability or system of checks and balances.

The failure of the earthen walls holding back the six-story-tall pile of wet coal ash at the Kingston plant was one of the worst disasters of its kind and has focused new attention on the risks and lack of regulation of ash storage areas around America.

The Kingston spill covered about 300 acres. The ash flowed into the Emory River and destroyed or damaged about two dozen lakeside homes. The cleanup could take years and TVA estimates the cost could run to $1 billion, excluding fines and pending lawsuits brought by residents.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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