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Fire breaks out at San Onofre; no risk to public, officials say

April 20, 2012 |  6:27 pm

San onofre
A small fire broke out in an electrical panel at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant Friday afternoon, but officials said there was never a threat to the public.

According to a statement from plant operator Southern California Edison, the fire occurred on the non-radiological side of the plant, and no one was hurt. The plant's fire department extinguished the blaze.

Operations personnel declared an "unusual event" at 12:49 p.m. and immediately notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to Edison's statement, which said there was no threat to the public or workers. The fire started at 12:34 p.m. and was extinguished in about 45 minutes.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and the extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

The plant had been out of service since Jan. 31 because of unusually rapid wear on tubes in its newly replaced steam generators. The cause of the wear is under investigation, and the commission has prohibited Edison from firing up the plant's reactors until it determines the cause of the problem and solves it.

Also Friday, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the manufacturer of the malfunctioning steam generators, announced a timeline for its own evaluation of the issues at the plant. Mitsubishi announced a target date of May 31 for wrapping up its evaluation of the problems in Unit 2 and Aug. 31 for Unit 3.

The commission has said Edison must understand the issues at Unit 3 before Unit 2 can restart. Mitsubishi’s timeline led the anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth to call for the plant to stay offline through the summer, but Edison and NRC officials said Mitsubishi’s analysis is separate from Edison’s probe into the problems at the plant, and the two may be on different timetables.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a news conference Friday that regardless of the timeline, the agency stands by its position that the plant can’t restart until the problems are fully understood.

“The bottom line is that what will determine timing is when they have a cause identified and we’ve reviewed that and determined it to be acceptable, and when they have a path forward, and we’ve reviewed that and determined it to be acceptable,” he said.


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Photo: The San Onofre Nuclear power plant has been shut down since January. Credit: Mark Ralston/Getty Images