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Fire at Zion plant posed no risks, authorities say

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 10:01 a.m. CST

(MCT) — A small fire broke out Thursday morning at the shuttered nuclear plant in north suburban Zion, but authorities said it was put out with one extinguisher and there were no radiation leaks or risks to the public.

Workers involved in the decommissioning of the lakefront plant were using torches to cut bolts when some grease began to smoke and produce small flames, said Mark Walker of EnergySolutions, the contractor handling the decommissioning.

"There was no structural damage. It was very minimal. There was a lot of smoke because grease was involved," Walker said.

Zion Fire and Rescue Department Deputy Chief Greg Friedrich said the workers were inside a turbine when a spark from a torch ignited oil at the bottom of the turbine.

The call came in at 10:20 a.m., and the all-clear was given in an hour, Friedrich said. No injuries were reported.

Battalion Chief Eric Troy said the fire occurred far from the plant's spent nuclear fuel, adding that the fuel is stored safely on the site.

He said the Fire Department holds an annual training exercise to prepare its responders for a potential radiation spill. That includes a full-scale simulation in which firefighters practice the rescue of someone who has been exposed to radiation.

Troy said the risk of a catastrophic fire at the plant is less now than when the plant was producing power.

Lake County's Specialized Response Team also has been specially trained to respond to possible emergencies at the plant, Troy said.

The Zion Nuclear Power Station, which is about 40 miles north of Chicago, was built in the 1970s and closed in 1998. Its dismantling is expected to take several more years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

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