TAMIL NADU

Two power units back in operation

CHENNAI, DEC. 6. Two units of the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) at Ennore were put back into operation today even as senior officials of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board began an inquiry into the fire at the station that occurred on Sunday.

The station has three units of 210 MW each. The fire broke out at the Unit II at about 3 a.m. on Sunday. As a precaution, the authorities shut down the entire station.

While the Unit III started generation again at 2 a.m. on Monday, Unit I was restarted late in the evening. As for the damaged Unit II, the question of resumption would be decided later, according to sources in the TNEB.

Fire in March 2000

The last occasion that a TNEB station caught fire was in March 2000 at the Basin Bridge gas turbine power station, when smoke began emanating from the reduction gear compartment used to reduce the speed of the machine.

At the time of the fire, three of the four units were functional, generating 90 MW of power, and they were shut down immediately.

Noting that an inquiry committee was being set up to probe the fire at the North Chennai plant, EB sources said the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, which supplied machinery for the station, had been approached.

Restoration of the unit would be taken up after getting technical opinion from BHEL.

The EB's priority is to resume production of the unit at the earliest, but energy experts say that it may take six months for operations to recommence.

Oil leak

On the cause of the fire, one version has it that the trouble began with the leak of bearing oil used in the turbines.

The leaking oil ignited because of the high heat radiation in the turbine room floor. Later, the fire spread as cables and other combustible materials ignited.

As the level in the oil storage tank declined sharply because of the leak, the automatic alert system was activated and the personnel at the plant's control room found smoke emanating from the floor. By this time, about half-an-hour had elapsed.

It took another half-an-hour to launch fire fighting operations as the Fire Department insisted that the entire station be shut down.

A power generation expert says that had those in charge of the turbine room floor been alert, the damage to the turbine could have been contained substantially.

Notwithstanding the findings of the investigating committee, experts say fire safety mechanisms need to be strengthened.

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