The Perry nuclear power plant declared an unusual event Wednesday after refrigerant escaped from an air handler in a building.

The refrigerant contained trichloroethylene, which can be a neurotoxin at high concentrations. The chemical leaked out of the equipment as workers began routine maintenance, said Jennifer Young, spokeswoman for plant owner FirstEnergy Corp.

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While there were no injuries, operators declared the building off-limits and an air quality team came in to measure the air concentrations of the chemical. The Perry, OH, plant is 40 miles northeast of Cleveland.

The building, located near the reactor building, contains four activated charcoal beds that absorb any radioactive gases emitted when steam from the nuclear reactor condenses back into water after spinning the turbine generator.

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The air handlers keep the charcoal beds cool, making them more effective. Each of the four charcoal beds has its own air handler, said Young. The plant does not use all of them simultaneously.

The cooling system uses a 50-gallon reservoir containing the trichlorethylene, said Young. Engineers will not be able to tell how much of the chemical escaped until after the building’s filtration system cleans the air, she said.

Federal regulation requires nuclear power plant operators to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of such an incident.

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