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There was an explosion at Lakeland Electric’s C.D. McIntosh Power Plant last Tuesday, officials said.

As a result, the older, second-line unit will remain out of operation for an indeterminate amount of time as engineers look for the cause of the failure, city officials said.

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The high-pressure explosion on Unit 2 happened at 1:17 p.m., launching debris and steam as superheated water was rapidly released from the high-pressure system.

Two contract workers near the blast site ended up covered with mud and soot, but there was no evidence of burns or injuries, said Lakeland Electric General Manager Joel Ivy. As a precaution, the workers went to the city’s in-house clinic for checkups.

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“There were some things blown away a pretty good ways,” Ivy said. “Hopefully, they’ll be OK, that’s our first concern.”

Had anyone been closer to the explosion, it likely would have been fatal, Ivy said. Everyone is counting their blessings.

“Thank God we didn’t have any working in that near proximity,” said Lakeland, FL, City Manager Tony Delgado.

The 110-megawatt, gas-burning power unit is approximately 40 years old, said Lakeland Electric spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons. It was a part of the first set of generators constructed at the power plant.

Though it is primarily used during high-demand periods of the day and as a backup when the utility’s two main generators are not operational, the unit has recently been operating more steadily.

The failure occurred in the “feeder pipes” low on the boiler where water heats into steam which then turns a turbine. The water is liquid at the point in the steam circuit but only because the pressure in the system prevents it from expanding into steam. With the failure, the rapid decompression created the explosion as the water flashed into steam.

Though dangerous, it was a “minor explosion,” Delgado said, “meaning it didn’t blow the whole unit up but it blew up the head on one of the pipes.”

Ivy said he didn’t want to speculate on whether the failure constitutes the end for the older power unit. That’ll be determined when engineers are able to examine the cause of failure, such as whether heat fractures, bad welds, or water chemistry and corrosion caused the weakness.

The failure on Unit 2 follows a string of three outages at C.D. McIntosh’s 370-megawatt natural-gas burning Unit 5. Those events caused members of the Utility Committee, an advisory board that oversees the utility, to question whether there are maintenance issues at Lakeland Electric.

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