Fires such as the one that heavily damaged the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant are relatively rare. Nevertheless, a similar fire occurred less than 19 months ago at another nuclear plant in North Carolina.

Largely because of a devastating fire at an atomic reactor in the mid-1970s, fire safety requirements at nuclear power plants are among the most stringent anywhere.Operators must have firefighting teams present 24 hours a day, install a myriad of automatic fire suppression systems and take precautions to isolate fires in the non-nuclear parts of a plant from the reactor.

Some of those precautions were key to controlling the fire at the Maine Yankee plant near Wiscasset, Maine, on Monday night. The atomic reactor quickly and automatically shut down, even though the fire was in the non-nuclear side of the plant.