Hydrogen Buildup Caused Power Plant Blast

Monday, April 18, 2011 @ 12:04 PM gHale

Tuesday, March 15 started off just like any other day at the Progress Energy’s L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington, NC.

But what followed shortly before 9 a.m. changed what started off as routine maintenance on one of the plant’s three-coal fired units to an explosion that led to the death of 24-year-old technician Cory Rogers.

The unit was offline while routine maintenance work was taking place, but a buildup of hydrogen caused the explosion that killed that killed Rogers, Progress officials said.

Utility officials said hydrogen acts as coolant in the generator and they should purge it from the area when the unit shuts down for maintenance. But some hydrogen was still in the unit when Rogers entered, and either a fan or a work light ignited the hydrogen.

Progress officials said they are trying to figure out why they did not purge all the hydrogen from the unit.

Rogers, of Burgaw, started working for Progress Energy in 2004 as part of the Power Careers program at Progress Energy, which targets high school students to provide them with hands on experience that can transition into a job after they graduate. He officially joined the Sutton Plant in 2007 as an instrumentation and control technician.

The 600-megawatt Sutton Plant includes three coal units built in 1954, 1955 and 1972.

In 2009, Progress Energy said it planned to retire the Sutton Plant’s three coal-fired units and build a 620 MW combined-cycle power plant.

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