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'Fire' at Basin Bridge power plant

By T. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI, MARCH 6. Three units of the new Basin Bridge gas turbine power station were abruptly shut down on Monday night following fears of a major fire at the plant.

There was panic in the area, which has a significant slum population, after some personnel of the plant came out and advised them to move away in view of a potential disaster.

The fire service rushed more than 20 tenders and Metrowater tankers to the plant to put out the blaze. The plant managers were particularly alarmed because of the use of highly- combustible naphtha as fuel.

No casualty was reported. Residents of the surrounding slums, who saw smoke billowing through a chimney for about 45 minutes, said they did not experience any suffocation.

Around 9 p.m., the officials, overseeing the operation of the power station, noticed smoke from an equipment at Unit IV of the station.

The people in the nearby localities then grew panicky and came out of their houses in large numbers, as the smoke was blowing to a height of 20 ft. to 30 ft. They were pacified about their safety only after the fire tenders and Metrowater tankers went inside the plant premises and put out the ``fire''.

Except the tenders and the tankers, entry into the plant was barred, and the media were not allowed in. Around 10 p.m., the police and fire service personnel came out of the plant and assured the local population that there was nothing to worry as ``the situation had been handled effectively.''

Sources say the smoke emanated from the reduction gear compartment, which is used to reduce the speed of the machine. At the time of the incident, three of the four units were functional, generating 90 MW of power. ``As a precautionary measure, we switched off all the three units,'' they say.

The 120-MW Basin Bridge gas turbine power plant, run and maintained by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB), is normally used during peak hours (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.). There are four units, having 30 MW capacity each. While the units I and II were supplied by a Japanese company, the other two are from BHEL. The power station was established at a cost of about Rs. 400 crores. All the four units were commissioned during February-March 1996.

Pointing to the blowing of the fumes for more than 30 minutes, sources said the operation of the machine with a snag should have been stopped immediately and wondered why it was not done so. ``Does it mean that the alarm system in the plant did not function properly,'' they ask.

According to a TNEB spokesman, due to ``timely steps'', a major fire accident was averted. There was no loss of power generation. An investigation will be conducted into the factors behind the incident and the damage caused to the machine. ``We hope that other machines will start generation tomorrow,'' he said. However, no time frame was set for the defective unit to be back on stream.

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