Transformer Fire Shuts Down Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant

VERNON, Vermont, June 22, 2004 (ENS) - Nuclear inspectors are still working to determine what caused two fires at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that forced a hot shutdown of the plant and an emergency declaration on Friday. The power plant is still out of service.

On Friday at 6:50 am, an unusual event was declared at Vermont Yankee due to a fire in the electrical conduits leading to the main transformer, which is located outside the plant in an area adjacent to the turbine building. There was also a small fire inside the turbine building that was quickly extinguished. Plant systems responded as designed and the reactor was safely shut down, said the plant operator, Entergy.

An unusual event is the lowest level of emergency as defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NRC regulations require that an unusual event be declared at any nuclear plant where there is a fire that lasts longer than 10 minutes.

The transformer fire was extinguished at 7:17 am with no injuries and “no release of radiation to the environment,” Entergy said.

The plant’s emergency responders were the first firefighters on the scene. Fire departments from Vernon, Guilford and Brattleboro, Vermont and the town of Northfield, Massachusetts also responded. The unusual event was terminated at 12:45 pm.

The NRC reported, “All emergency core cooling systems and their emergency diesel generators are fully operable if needed. Reactor vessel water level is being maintained at its proper level.”

A representative from the state fire marshal’s office was at Vermont Yankee Friday working with the plant’s emergency responders to determine the cause of the fire. Plant management is conducting a root-cause analysis of the event and assessing damage. At present there are no estimates of when the plant will come back on-line.

As a result of the fire, between 10 and 20 gallons of transformer oil entered the Connecticut River through a storm drain near the plant. Vermont Yankee has placed protective booms in the river to contain the materials, which have formed a thin sheen on the surface of the water in the immediate vicinity of the plant, Entergy said.

Clean Harbors, a company that specializes in cleaning up oil and chemicals spills, is on-site and performing remedial actions, including cleaning oil from the rocks on the river bank where the storm drain enters the river.

The environmental engineering firm of Normandeau Associates was called to the scene and found no damage to fish or other wildlife near the plant. Normandeau will monitor any environmental impacts on the river over the next several weeks.

Entergy Vermont Yankee Site Vice President Jay Thayer said, ‘’The most important issue is that there have been no injuries or threats to the public health or safety as a result of today’s fire,’’ he said Friday. ‘’We will spend the next few days determining the cause of the fire and assessing the damage, and we will get the plant back on-line as soon as is safely possible.’'