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Fire At Troubled California Nuclear Plant Extinguished

By Cassandra Sweet Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Edison International'S (EIX) southern California utility said Friday that a fire at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been shut for months over equipment problems, was extinguished. The fire ignited in an electrical panel in the "non-radiological side" of one of the plant's two units, said Edison, which operates the plant and co-owns it with Sempra Energy's (SRE) San Diego utility. The plant's fire department put out the blaze a few minutes before 1 p.m. local time, less than an hour before it started, the company said. The plant, located on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, has been shut since Jan. 31 when a steam tube ruptured and released radioactive steam. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the radiation levels weren't dangerous. Since the incident, the NRC has ordered Southern California Edison to keep the plant shut until it determines the cause of premature wear found in several steam tubes, or pipes, and has figured a way to fix the problem. The plant's other unit had been shut down for routine maintenance and refueling before the steam-tube rupture. Edison has kept that unit offline while it examines steam tubes in steam generators at both units. At each unit, about 19,500 tubes carry hot, radioactive water and steam from pools of water that hold nuclear-fuel rods to two generators, which use the steam to produce electricity. The tubes are critical for keeping the plant's nuclear-fuel rods cool. The steam tubes are contained in a chamber filled with cool water and must be strong enough to withstand pressure from the hot water inside and the cool water outside to ensure that radiation doesn't escape. The tubes are components of four steam generators that Edison and Sempra bought from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (7011.TO) and installed in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of $800 million. The NRC said Friday in a status report that Mitsubishi was conducting its own examination of the steam tubes and generators and expected to complete the review by Aug. 31. SoCal Edison could theoretically resolve the steam tube issue and restart the plant before then, as the schedule for Edison's review is completely separate from Mitsubishi's, said Jennifer Manfre, a spokeswoman for SoCal Edison. She noted that the company doesn't have a timeline for fixing the steam tube issue and restarting the plant. -By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; cassandra.sweet@dowjones.com -0-

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