A non-radioactive ammonia leak at a Southern California nuclear plant prompted an emergency alert and precautionary evacuation of nearby workers.

Workers stopped the leak two hours after detecting it in a storage tank in the water purification system of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 3, said Todd Adler, the plant’s engineering manager.

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The emergency alert was because fumes could prevent access to certain areas of the plant, Adler said.

The alert, the second lowest of four federal classifications for emergencies at commercial nuclear power plants, canceled at 6:07 p.m. and evacuated workers returned.

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“It’s a chemical spill that could happen at any industrial facility,” Adler said. The cause of the leak was under investigation.

The leak was in the non-nuclear section of the plant, operated by Southern California Edison. No radioactive material released, there were no injuries and there was no danger to the public, the company said.

Approximately 25 gallons of leaked ammonia collected in a basin underneath the tank designed for that very purpose, Edison spokeswoman Lauren Bartlett said.

Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause irritation, serious burns, lung damage, and even death.

They use ammonia at the plant to treat water turned into steam, which runs the turbines that produce electricity. The treated water also removes heat from the reactor’s cooling system.

The leak did not affect electricity production at the plant, and other units remained fully operational, Adler said.

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