“BUCHANAN – An explosion and fire in a transformer yard at the Indian Point nuclear power complex today led to the shutdown of the Indian Point 3 reactor, but officials said the fire was quickly extinguished with no impact on public health and safety.

The unplanned shutdown, the second this week, will degrade the plant’s safety rating to white from green, the safest of four operational categories, said Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The lower rating means the controversial atomic energy generator will face increased inspections by governent regulators, Screnci said.

Today’s incident was reported at around 11:15 a.m. Shortly after noon, Michael Slobodien, a director of emergency planning for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns and operates the plant, said the facility was stable and under control.

“Between the transformer and the reactor, there’s a huge concrete structure,” he said.

Entergy has declared a “notice of unusual events,” the lowest of four emergency classifications in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with the state and regional counties. An investigation has been launched to determine what caused the fire and what kind of damage.

“It’s too early at this point,” Slobodien said.

The unusual event was delcared at 11:43 a.m. and ended at 12:47 p.m., said Screnci of the NRC.

The Entergy declaration prompted Westchester County to open its emergency operation center at the Transportation Management Center in Hawthorne. Officials planned a press briefing there at 1:45 p.m.

The Verplanck Fire Department responded to the scene this morning, but they were told they were not needed because the facility’s internal brigade handled the situation.

Buchanan Mayor Dan O’Neill said he was not concerned about the fact that the fire had taken place at the nuclear facility.

“Unfortunately, these things happen when you’re making electricity,” he said. “It could happen at any type of power plant. … This had nothing to do with nuclear power, it had to do with making electricity.”

Indian Point 3 had returned to service Saturday, following a scheduled 24-day refueling outage when workers replaced 96 of the 193 fuel assemblies used during operation.

Then, a steam generator problem prompted workers to manually shut down the plant early Tuesday morning, but no release of radiation was reported and the plant was restarted less than 24 hours later.

Coming up from a re-start after that unplanned shutdown, Indian Point 3 was at about 90 percent capacity when today’s fire broke out, officials said.

The plant, which went online 31 years ago this week, had two unplanned shutdowns in 2006, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission records.

NRC spokeswoman Screnci said Entergy was not required to sound its emergency siren system because the plant’s neighbors did not need to do anything in response to the incident. The sirens are intended to notify residents to turn to an Emergency Alert System broadcast for information.

On Monday, 123 of the 150 new emergency-warning sirens failed to successfully complete an operational test. The sirens are required to be ready to go by a week from Sunday. The existing system remains in use until then.

Staff writers Bruce Golding and Len Maniace contributed to this report.”

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