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Fire Destroys Cooling Tower at Nuclear Plant

May 11, 1986 GMT

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) _ A fire destroyed a cooling tower at the shut down Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant on Saturday, but a spokesman said the blaze never threatened the main reactor building less than a half mile away.

The afternoon fire at the Tennessee Valley Authority plant swept through the cooling tower made of redwood, fiberglass and aluminum. No injuries were reported, said TVA spokesman Craig Beasley.

″It was well outside the security area,″ he said. ″It didn’t involve any security systems.″

A special TVA team from Chattanooga, Tenn., is investigating the cause of the fire.

The four-story tower, 100 yards long and 30 yards wide, was one of six used to cool water headed from the plant to the Tennessee River, said TVA spokesman David Lauver.

The plant’s fire crew, assisted by firefighters from Athens, Tanner and Clements, contained the blaze, officials said.

Joe Gilliland, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Atlanta, said the cooling towers had nothing to do with the plant’s nuclear reactors, which could operate normally without any of the structures.

Browns Ferry three reactors have been shut down since March 1985 because of operational problems cited by the NRC. Beasley said the fire would not have any effect on bringing the plant back on line because it can operate with the five remaining towers.

Beasley estimated the damage to the 16-year-old structure at $1 million.

A fire at Browns Ferry in March 1975 was considered the nation’s worst nuclear accident until Three Mile Island in March 1979.

During a check of Browns Ferry’s wiring in 1975, a worker used a candle that set off a fire that crippled the plant’s safety system. The reactors were shut down before the fire could kill the safety systems and cause the nuclear fuel to burn and melt down.