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Fire in cooling tower closes UK gas power plant

20 October 2014

A large fire in a cooling tower at the Didcot B gas-fired power station in Oxfordshire has resulted in the closure of one of the two generating plants at the site. It was not clear how the fire started, but officials ruled out arson or terrorism. According to RWE's website, one 720-MW unit at the site, Didcot B5, has been taken offline. The other unit, Didcot B6, is still in service.

Didcot B power station - Image: RWE
Didcot B power station - Image: RWE

Oxfordshire chief fire officer Dave Etheridge said that the fire was brought under control about two hours after it broke out on the evening of October 19. Thames Valley police had advised nearby residents to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed but Etheridge said that the smoke plume was not thought to pose a public health risk.

A spokesman for operator RWE npower said: “We can confirm that no one is injured which is clearly the most important thing and also that the fire is now under control.”

Didcot B has been in operation since 1997, produces 1,360 megawatts of electricity at full capacity and can supply power to up to one million homes, according to RWE npower. The coal-fired Didcot A station stopped operating in March 2013 after reaching its 20,000-hour generating limit set by EU air quality controls, and was demolished three months ago.

UK energy secretary Ed Davey said: “I’ve been reassured by National Grid that there is no risk to electricity supplies."

Nevertheless, with a number of other power stations off-line, UK generating base load is now very low, with the margin of electricity supply over demand particularly tight. On October 20, nine of the UK's 17 nuclear reactors were non-operational, three for refuelling and six for the inspection or repair of recently discovered problems.

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