Nuclear plant fire may be caused by known fault

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Preliminary findings suggest the fire which broke out at Vandellos II was caused by excessive vibrations detected in April.

26 August 2008

BARCELONA -- A fire at the Vandellos II nuclear power plant in Catalonia on Sunday may have been caused by a fault that had been known about for months, investigators said Monday.

The fire, which occurred outside the station's radioactive perimeter at 8.45am Sunday, led plant directors to put an emergency plan into effect as a large plume of smoke rose above the power station, which is located about 40 kilometres southwest of Tarragona.

The plan was deactivated less than two hours later, and Spain's Nuclear Security Council (CSN) described the incident as "insignificant" in terms of its safety and environmental impact on Monday.

However, the plant is likely to be closed for weeks as an investigation gets underway and repairs begin.

According to the preliminary findings of a three-member team of inspectors sent by the CSN, the fire was caused when a half-inch pipe carrying hydrogen ruptured and ignited. However, questions remain over what caused the pipe to burst.

ANAV, a consortium formed by power companies Endesa and Iberdrola that runs Vandellos and two other Catalan plants, has acknowledged that an electricity generator connected to the pipe had started to vibrate excessively in April. International experts were called in to study the problem, and the manufacturer of the generator recommended that the plant be shut down if the vibrations worsened.

"If it turns out that the fault contributed to the accident we will dig deeper," a CSN spokesperson said.

Earlier in August, the CSN recommended that the government fine ANAV EUR 22 million for a radioactive leak at its Asco I nuclear power plant in last November.

[El Pais / Ferran Balsells / Expatica]

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