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Transformer Catches Fire At Indian Point, But Public Not In Danger

BUCHANAN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A transformer failed Saturday at the Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant, causing a fire that was quickly extinguished. The unit shut down automatically and was deemed safe and stable, said a spokesman for plant owner Entergy Corp.

The transformer takes energy created by the plant and changes the voltage for the grid supplying power to the state. The blaze, which sent black smoke billowing into the sky, was extinguished by a sprinkler system and on-site personnel, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said. Westchester County police and fire were on site as a precaution.

A hiker who took a photo of the smoke above Indian Point said he heard alarms and over a loudspeaker a message saying, "This is not a drill."

It was not immediately clear what caused the failure, or whether the transformer would have to be replaced. Nappi said there was no radioactive release. It's unclear how long Unit 3 will be down.

The company's Unit 2 plant was not affected.

Nappi told CBS2's Dave Carlin that because it happened in the nonnuclear area of the facility, no one was ever in any danger and no evacuations were necessary.

Indian Point Explosion
Black smoke billows from the Indian Point nuclear power plant on May 9, 2015. (Credit: @RocklandFires/Twitter)

He said Indian Point has four emergency levels, and that the incident fell into the lowest category of "unusual event."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrived at the facility Saturday night to see the response for himself.

"This was a relatively minor situation, but when you're talking about a nuclear power plant, there are no minor situations," Cuomo told Carlin.

"Luckily, this was not a major situation, but the emergency protocols are important. They're important to me. I want to make sure that things work the way they're supposed to work in this kind of emergency," the governor said.

Among the witnesses were people fishing in Tompkins Cove, across the river who say they heard a thud and then saw smoke.

"We figured there was a fire," said Joseph Murphy. " ... You hope it's nothing serious, and you just go on with your day."

A secondary concern is making sure there is no runoff from the transformer fire winter storm drains and into the Hudson River.

Nappi said this kind of fire has happened before and safeguards are in place.

"We have trained fire brigade on-site 24/7 for events like this," he said.

In April 2007, there was a transformer fire at Indian Point 3, reportedly caused by a worn-out part.

In November 2010, a transformer exploded at Indian Point 2, cauing a fire and automoatic shutdown of the reactor.

In March 2011, Cuomo voiced concerns about the power plant being susceptible to earthquakes after experts said it sits at the intersection of two faults.

The Indian Point Energy Center supplies electricity for homes, businesses and public facilities in New York City and Westchester County. Officials said there have been no reports of power outages.

Unit 3 had been shut down Thursday morning for an unrelated issue, a water leak on the nonnuclear side of the plant. It was repaired and there was no radioactive release, Nappi said. In March, Unit 3 was shut down for a planned refueling that took about a month.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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