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Fire Damages Switches at TMI

September 8, 1985

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (AP) _ A smoldering fire broke out at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant Saturday, damaging electrical switches at Unit 1 but presenting no danger to plant workers, a spokesman said.

Plant operators doused the fire in the relay room with an extinguisher minutes after an alarm sounded at 3:58 p.m., spokesman Doug Bedell of GPU Nuclear Corp. said.

″There was no hazard to plant workers and no emergency condition was declared,″ he said.

At the time of the fire, the plant was running on ″hot standby,″ meaning Unit 1 was heated to operating temperatures but the reactor was not running, Bedell said. The plant contined operating on standby after the fire, according to Bedell.

Unit 1 was left undamaged when the worst commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history crippled its twin in 1979. Although GPU has received permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the Unit 1 reactor, it has remained shut while the state and several groups appeal the ruling.

″If the reactor had been running, it would have shut down during the fire,″ Bedell said.

The fire damaged switches that operate the control rods, Bedell said. The rods control the nuclear reaction when the plant is running under normal circumstances.

To put out the fire, operators inserted four groups of control rods, shutting off electricity to the switches, Bedell said. The four groups, normally withdrawn when the plant is shut down, serve as a backup for the primary four sets used during normal operation, he said.

The switches were in the relay room, an area underneath the control room that contains electrical boxes and cables, according to Bedell.

The cause of the fire had not been determined Saturday night, Bedell said. He also could provide no estimate on the time needed to fix the switches.

He said the NRC was notified of the fire.


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