A boiler tube failed at power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Thursday morning, filling the plant with steam, sending burning coal out of the boiler and causing a temporary shutdown of the entire facility.
Two people ended up evaluated, but neither suffered an injury, said university spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said.
The boiler tube failure occurred at 8:44 a.m. in Boiler 1, one of four boilers that make up the campus power plant. Grimes described the malfunction as similar to one that occurred in December 1998: A metal tube failed after getting thinner over years of use.
“When the liquid came out, it caused what they call a steam flash. You can imagine dumping water on hot coals,” she said. “It did blow some hot coals out of the boiler when the flash happened.”
The University Fire Department, City of Fairbanks Fire Department, Steese Volunteer Fire Department and Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue responded and extinguished the fires, Grimes said.
The entire power plant went offline while emergency crews responded, but by 9:30 a.m., the steam had cleared and workers restarted the plant with a different boiler, the oil-fired Boiler 3, Grimes said.
The university didn’t lose electricity while the power plant was offline, because Golden Valley Electric Association provided electricity. Campus buildings lost heat and hot water for about 90 minutes.
Grimes said there was little damage beyond the part that failed.
“It is just the one boiler tube that is damaged and damage to the rest of the plant was fairly minimal,” she said.
Having Boiler 1 offline for repairs should not change the availability of heat or electricity on campus in the next few weeks. The boiler was on schedule to go offline in a few days and it will simply begin its maintenance early, Grimes said.
The power plant is more than 50 years old. Grimes didn’t immediately have information about the age of the tube that failed.
Contractors broke ground last summer on a $245 million power plant that will replace the current plant’s two original coal-fired boilers with a 17 megawatt coal and biomass-capable boiler. The current power plant’s oil and gas/oil power plants will remain in use. The new plant should be ready to go by early 2018, officials said.