A large, hydrogen-cooled generator is driven by steam turbines at a power station. During maintenance shutdowns, the hydrogen cooling loop in the generator is purged with carbon dioxide. After CO2 concentrations are measured with a densitometer to verify the complete removal of hydrogen, the generator is purged with air and the maintenance is performed.

This purging procedure was used prior to the explosion. The CO2 reading was reported to be 100 percent CO2 at the top of the generator. The cooling system was then purged with air and a 1/2 inch pipe in the cooling loop was cut to install some new instrumentation. When the pipe was cut, pressurized gas was emitted at the opening. Workers assumed the gas was either carbon dioxide or air and proceeded with the new instrument view more