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Nuclear plant in Arizona weathers insulation fire

Posted on by SST

A three-reactor nuclear power plant in Arizona caught fire after insulation behind a pump ignited. 

The Associated Press reported an "unusual event," which is the lowest of the four emergency levels for nuclear power plants, at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah, Ariz., late in the day Sept. 2. According to Arizona Public Service, the plant, which is located 50 miles from Phoenix, is running normally, reassuring local officials that the fire did not interrupt power production. 

In addition, the APS said after a security guard saw smoke in the turbine area on Unit 2 and promptly reported the fire, the firefighters of Palo Verde were on the scene within minutes and the fire was extinguished completely within 45 minutes. No radioactive material was released, thus the fire posed no threat to the safety or the health of the public, APS told the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

The fire, while still under investigation, is suspected to have started behind a pump that feeds water into part of the energy generating process that involves creating steam. Lubricating oil used to coat bearings in the pump may have leaked into the insulation that covers hot metal surfaces. A small oil vapor leak was found in a high pressure seal, possibly being responsible for soaking the insulation. 

Safety concerns at nuclear plant
According to Victor Dricks, a spokesperson of the NRC, said inspectors visited the plant after the fire was extinguished. They found the APS to be handling the event in accordance with law. An unrelated explosion in July temporarily reduced the power output on the Unit 1 reactor of the same plant, an event that was also rated as an "unusual event."

The plant itself is owned by a number of companies, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Edison Co., Southern California Public Power Authority, Public Service of New Mexico, El Paso Electric of Texas, the Salt River Project and APS. It is unclear if the plant utilizes the latest in flame detector equipment, which might have automatically detected the fire in the event the security guard wasn't present. 

Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.

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