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OSHA, utility probe Georgia power plant explosion

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ATLANTA (AP) — Investigators were trying to determine Friday the cause of a power plant explosion in northwest Georgia that injured several people.

The explosion happened around 4 p.m. Thursday at Plant Bowen, a coal-fired plant in Euharlee — about 50 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta. Utility crews and other investigators were still examining the damaged facility Friday. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

"We're starting the investigation but we don't know how long it will be," said Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green.

The explosion occurred at a generator, Green said. The plant burns coal to generate heat that turns water into steam. The force of that steam then pushes against turbine blades connected to a shaft. As the shaft spins, it creates electricity in a generator.

Green said crews were performing maintenance work on the generator when the explosion happened.

Government and utility officials said they could not comment on the potential cause of the explosion since their investigations had just started.

Among the most common problems that cause explosions at coal-fired plants are hydrogen gas leaks and buildups of coal dust.

Many U.S. utilities use hydrogen gas to cool power plant generators, said Steve Kilmartin, director of products and markets at Environment One Corp., which sells hydrogen-monitoring equipment to the power industry. While hydrogen efficiently cools generators, it can explode if it mixes with air and is inadvertently ignited.

Buildups of coal dust are another hazard. If an explosion disturbs coal dust, the dust can collect in the air, ignite and trigger a second explosion even more powerful than the first. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that dust explosions are a potential hazard at a variety of industrial sites, including fossil fuel power plants.

OSHA investigators have started a probe into the blast, authorities said. The agency has up to six months to report its findings. The accident will also be reviewed by Georgia's Public Service Commission, which regulates electric utilities in the state. If the company is deemed at-fault for the accident and it causes electricity costs to rise, the utility could face financial penalties.

"The commission will expect a full report on the outage and what happened and why," Commissioner Stan Wise said. "And there will be a review."

Georgia Power is a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Co.

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.