As one of the most watched-over industries in the world, nuclear power generating plants are required to abide by an abundance of regulations and standards to ensure that the facility, its employees, the environment and the local population are protected from potential hazards. One of the most ominous threats that every nuclear power generating facility faces is the risk of a fire developing within the plant and the associated consequences. There is no shortage of hazards within these facilities; the possibility for fires to ignite from sources such as lube oil, fuel oil or general combustibles within a warehouse are genuine concerns. However, one of the most common sources for ignition – and unfortunately one of the most dangerous as well – are the plant’s transformers.

How Do Transformer Fires Ignite?

It is no surprise that transformers are inherently high-risk, considering the hundreds of thousands of volts that they transfer on a continuous basis. There are a number of events that can trigger transformer fires, from weather-related incidents to failures stemming from equipment operating beyond its intended service life. While lightning and short circuits in electrical equipment can cause transformer failures, breakdowns in the insulation system are frequently found to be the source of failure. As the insulation material protecting the transformer deteriorates over time from exposure to natural elements, it puts the equipment at risk for failure and subsequently, fires.

What Are the Implications of a Transformer Fire?

Depending on the severity of the fire and the effectiveness of the fireĀ suppression system protecting the area, the consequences of a transformer fire can range from minimal to devastating. Ensuing damage can include the destruction of overhead conducters, buses and cable trays, as well as the potential for more extreme ramifications when oil or other flammable materials are introduced.

It is not uncommon for a transformer to rupture during a failure, which can release oil into the area, amplifying the risk substantially. When oil is emitted from the transformer, it has the potential to spread the fire to other areas of the facility, resulting in broader damage. Additionally, if the water discharge calculations are incorrect or the containment pits are not the appropriate size, it is possible for oil to overflow from the collection basins. This creates environmental concerns and can result in oil infiltrating the water source that is used to deliver water to the fire suppression system, impeding the system’s ability to control the fire. It is critical that all of these variables are taken into account when implementing a fire protection system to minimize the risks associated with transformer fires.