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Oil and Gas

California nuclear reactors not in fire danger

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Southern California wildfires moved closer on Wednesday to two nuclear reactors at the giant San Onofre electrical plant in San Diego County, but were not seen threatening operations, officials said.

“The fire does not pose a threat to the plant itself,” said Gil Alexander, spokesman for Southern California Edison. Separately, officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed Alexander’s assessment.

The fires raging in northern San Diego County on a U.S. Marine base were about a mile from the inland edge of the San Onofre complex but were still several miles from the reactors.

But even if flames approach the reactors, there is little danger a blaze will reach them because they are surrounded by acres of concrete, officials said.

“There might be a little brush but there is not much fuel for a fire,” said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. “There aren’t many trees in the area.”

SCE’s San Onofre fire department, as well as the fire department from the Camp Pendleton Marine base, “conducted a controlled burn Wednesday to reduce fuel on the inland side of Interstate 5, should the fire reach that point. It is still a mile or more on the other side of a hill,” said Alexander.

The San Onofre nuclear reactors are situated between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean.

Wildfires have burned more than 1,000 homes in San Diego County, prompting the largest evacuations in state history and causing damages that are expected to surpass $1 billion.

Neither San Onofre reactor is currently operating due to maintenance work that began before the fires sparked on Sunday. Maintenance continued Wednesday and would not change the plant’s schedule for returning to production, Alexander said.

TRANSMISSION CONCERN

The fire is less a threat to the plant than it is to massive power transmission lines that run to and from it, said the NRC’s Dricks.

Nuclear power plants need electricity from outside to run essential safety systems and operate huge pumps that move hundreds of thousands of gallons of water used to cool the reactor even when its not operating, said Dricks.

If power lines to San Onofre cease operation -- an event that was not expected on Wednesday -- backup generators are on site that can run the cooling water pumps.

Transmission lines to San Diego Gas & Electric’s service area, which lies mainly to the south of the plant, were out of service Wednesday. Lines to the north and into SCE service area are working and not in danger from fires, Alexander said.

The two reactors at San Onofre can generate about 2,250 megawatts of power, enough to serve about 1.4 million homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric, which owns 20 percent of San Onofre and therefore owns 20 percent of the power generated there, had not returned phone calls Wednesday to determine whether the lines from San Onofre to its service area to the south of the plant were working.

SDG&E is owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy. Southern California Edison is owned by Edison International, based in Rosemead in suburban Los Angeles.

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