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FACILITIES INSTRUCTIONS,

STANDARDS AND TECHNIQUES

VOLUME 3-16

MAINTENANCE OF POWER CIRCUIT BREAKERS

Internet Version of This Manual Created


December 1999

HYDROELECTRIC RESEARCH AND


TECHNICAL SERVICES GROUP

The Appearance of the Internet Version of This


Manual May differ From the Original, but the Contents Do Not

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR


BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
DENVER, COLORADO
Maintenance of Power Circuit Breakers
Volume 3-16

CONTENTS

Section . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page

1. Importance of adequate maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

2. Maintenance of molded case circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

2.1. Frequency of maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

2.2. Routine maintenance tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

3. Maintenance of Iow-voltage circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

3.1. Frequency of maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

3.2. Maintenance procedures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

4. Maintenance of medium-voltage circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

4.1. Frequency of maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

4.2. Safety practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

4.3. Maintenance procedures for medium-voltage air


circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

4.4. Maintenance procedures for medium-voltage oil


circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

4.5. Maintenance procedures for medium-voltage vacuum


circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

5. Maintenance of high-voltage circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

5,1. Frequency of inspections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

5.2. External inspection guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

5.3. Internal inspection guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

5.4. Typical internal breaker problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

5.5. Influence of duty imposed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

6. Maintenance of SF6 gas circuit breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

6.1. Properties of SF6 (sulfur hexafluoride) gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

6.2. Handling nonfaulted SF6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

6.3. Handling faulted SF6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

(FIST 3-16 1/92)


i
SECTION I - IMPORTANCE OF 2.2.1. Insulation resistance test.- A
ADEQUATE MAINTENANCE megohmmeter may be used to make
tests between phases of opposite
The maintenance of circuit breakers deserves polarity and from current-carrying
special consideration because of their parts of the circuit breaker to ground.
importance for routine switching and for A test should also be made between
protection of other equipment. Electric the line and load terminals with the
transmission system breakups and equip­ breaker in the open position. Load
ment destruction can occur if a circuit breaker and line conductors should be dis­
fails to operate because of a lack of connected from the breaker under
preventive maintenance. The need for insulation resistance tests to prevent
maintenance of circuit breakers is often not test mesurements from also showing
obvious as circuit breakers may remain idle, resistance of the attached circuit.
either open or closed, for long periods of Resistance values below 1 megohm
time. Breakers that remain idle for 6 months are considered unsafe and the
or more should be made to open and close breaker should be inspected for pos­
several times in succession to verify proper sible contamination on its surfaces.
operation and remove any accumulation of
dust or foreign material on moving parts and 2.2.2. Millivolt drop test.- A millivolt
contacts. drop test can disclose several abnor­
mal conditions inside a breaker such
SECTION 2 - MAINTENANCE OF as eroded contacts, contaminated
MOLDED CASE CIRCUIT BREAKERS contacts, or loose internal connec­
tions. The millivolt drop test should be
2.1. FREQUENCY OF MAINTENANCE.- made at a nominal direct-current volt­
Molded case circuit breakers are age at 50 amperes or 100 amperes
designed to require little or no routine for large breakers, and at or below
maintenance throughout their normal life­ rating for smaller breakers. The
time. Therefore, the need for preventive millivolt drop is compared against
maintenance will vary depending on manufacturer's data for the breaker
operating conditions. As an accumulation being tested.
of dust on the latch surfaces may affect
the operation of the breaker, molded case 2.2.3. Connections test.- The con-
circuit breakers should be exercised at nections to the circuit breaker should
least once per year. Routine trip testing be inspected to determine that a good
should be performed every 3 to 5 years. joint is present and that overheating is
not occurring. If overheating is indi­
2.2. ROUTINE MAINTENANCE TESTS.- cated by discoloration or signs of
Routine maintenance tests enable arcing, the connections should be re­
personnel to determine if breakers are moved and the connecting surfaces
able to perform their basic circuit cleaned.
protective functions. The following tests
may be performed during routine 2.2.4. Overload tripping test.- The
maintenance and are aimed at assuring proper action of the overload tripping
that the breakers are functionally components of the circuit breaker can
operable. The following tests are to be be verified by applying 300 percent of
made only on breakers and equipment
that are deenergized. (FIST 3-16 1/92)

1
the breaker rated continuous current maintenance of low-voltage air circuit
to each pole. The significant part of breakers:
this test is the automatic opening of
the circuit breaker and not tripping a. An initial check of the breaker
times as these can be greatly affected should be made in the TEST position
by ambient conditions and test condi­ prior to withdrawing it from to enclo­
tions. sure.

2.2.5. Mechanical operation.- The b. Insulating parts, including bush-


mechanical operation of the breaker ings, should be wiped clean of dust
should be checked by turning the and smoke.
breaker on and off several times.
c. The alignment and condition of the
SECTION 3 - MAINTENANCE OF movable and stationary contacts
LOW-VOLTAGE CIRCUIT BREAKERS should be checked and adjusted ac­
cording to the manufacturer's
3.1. FREQUENCY OF MAINTENANCE.- instruction book.
Low-voltage circuit breakers operating at
600 volts alternating current and below d. Check arc chutes and replaces
should be inspected and maintained very any damaged parts.
1 to 3 years, depending on their service
and operating conditions. Conditions that e. Inspect breaker operating mecha-
make frequency maintenance and nism for loose hardware and missing
inspection necessary are: or broken cotter pins, etc. Examine
cam, latch, and roller surfaces for
a. High humidity and high ambient damage or wear.
temperature.
f. Clean and relubricate operating
b. Dusty or dirty atmosphere. mechanism with a light machine oil
(SAE-20 or 30) for pins and bearings
c. Corrosive atmosphere. and with a nonhardening grease for
the wearing surfaces of cams, rollers,
d. Frequent switching operations. etc.

e. Frequent fault operations. g. Set breaker operating mechanism


adjustments as described in the
f. Older equipment. manufacturer's instruction book. If
these adjustments cannot be made
A breaker should be inspected and within the specified tolerances, it may
maintained if necessary whenever it has indicate excessive wear and the need
interrupted current at or near its rated for a complete overhaul.
capacity.
h. Replace contacts if badly worn or
3.2. MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES. - burned and check control device for
Manufacturer's instructions for each cir­ freedom of operation.
cuit breaker should be carefully read and
followed. The following are general pro­
cedures that should be followed in the (FIST 3-16 1/92)

2
I. Inspect wiring connections for d. Do no lay tools down on the equip-
tightness. ment while working on it as they may
be forgotten when the equipment is
j. Check after servicing circuit breaker placed back in service.
to verify the contacts move to the fully
opened and fully closed positions, 4.3. MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES
that there is an absence of friction or FOR MEDIUM-VOLTAGE AIR CIRCUIT
binding, and that electrical operation BREAKERS.- The following suggestions
is functional. are for use in conjunction with
manufacturer's instruction books for the
SECTION 4 - MAINTENANCE OF maintenance of medium-voltage air circuit
MEDIUM-VOLTAGE CIRCUIT breakers:
BREAKERS
a. Clean the insulating parts including
4.1. FREQUENCY OF MAINTENANCE.- the bushings.
Medium-voltage circuit breakers which
operate in the range of 600 to 15,000 b. Check the alignment and condition
volts should be inspected and maintained of movable and stationary contacts
annually or after every 2,000 operations, and adjust them per the
whichever comes first. The above manufacturer's data.
maintenance schedule is recommended
by the applicable standards to achieve c. See that bolts, nuts, washers, cot-
required performance from the breakers. ter pins, and all terminal connections
are in place and tight.
4.2. SAFETY PRACTICES.- Maintenance
procedures include the safety practices d. Check arc chutes for damage and
indicated in the ROMSS (Reclamation replace damaged parts.
Operation & Maintenance Safety
Standards) and following points that e. Clean and lubricate the operating
require special attention. mechanism and adjust it as described
in the instruction book. If the operat­
a. Be sure the circuit breaker and its ing mechanism cannot be brought
mechanism are disconnected from all into specified tolerances, it will usually
electric power, both high voltage and indicate excessive wear and the need
control voltage, before it is inspected for a complete overhaul.
or repaired.
f. Check, after servicing, circuit
b. Exhaust the pressure from air re- breaker to verify that contacts move
ceiver of any compressed air circuit to the fully opened and fully closed
breaker before it is inspected or re­ positions, that there is an absence of
paired. friction or binding, and that electrical
operation is functional.
c. After the circuit breaker has been
disconnected from the electrical
power, attach the grounding leads
properly before touching any of the
circuit breaker parts.
(FIST 3-16 1/92)

3
4.4. MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES are tightened properly to prevent leak­
FOR MEDIUM-VOLTAGE OIL CIRCUIT age.
BREAKERS.- The following suggestions
are for use in conjunction with the 4.5. MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES
manufacturer's instruction books for the FOR MEDIUM-VOLTAGE VACUUM
maintenance of medium-voltage oil circuit CIRCUIT BREAKERS.- Direct inspection
breakers: of the primary contacts is not possible as
they are enclosed in vacuum containers.
a. Check the condition, alignment, The operating mechanisms are similar to
and adjustment of the contacts. the breakers discussed earlier and may
be maintained in the same manner. The
b. Thoroughly clean the tank and following two maintenance checks are
other parts which have been in con­ suggested for the primary contacts:
tact with the oil.
a. Measuring the change in external
c. Test the dielectric strength of the oil shaft position after a period of use
and filter or replace the oil if the can indicate extent of contact erosion.
dielectric strength is less than 22 kV. Consult the manufacturer's instruction
The oil should be filtered or replaced book.
whenever a visual inspection shows
an excessive amount of carbon, even b. Condition of the vacuum can be
if the dielectric strength is checked by a hi-pot test. Consult the
satisfactory. manufacturer's instruction book.

d. Check breaker and operating SECTION 5 - MAINTENANCE OF


mechanisms for loose hardware and HIGH-VOLTAGE CIRCUIT BREAKERS
missing or broken cotter pins, retain­
ing rings, etc. 5.1. FREQUENCY OF INSPECTIONS.-
Most manufacturers recommend com­
e. Adjust breaker as indicated in in- plate inspections, external and internal, at
struction book. intervals of from 6 to 12 months. Ex­
perience has shown that a considerable
f. Clean and lubricate operating expense is involved, some of which may
mechanism. be unnecessary, in adhering to the
manufacturer's recommendations of in­
g. Before replacing the tank, check to ternal inspections at 6- to 12-month
see there is no friction or binding that intervals. With proper external checks,
would hinder the breaker's operation. part of the expense, delay, and labor of
Also check the electrical operation. internal inspections may be avoided
Avoid operating the breaker any more without sacrifice of dependability.
than necessary without oil in the tank
as it is designed to operate in oil and 5.1.1. Inspection schedule for new
mechanical damage can result from breakers.- A temporary schedule of
excessive operation without it. frequent inspections is necessary
after the erection of new equipment,
h. When replacing the tank and refill-
ing it with oil, be sure the gaskets are
undamaged and all nuts and valves (FIST 3-16 1/92)

4
the modification or modernization of cuit breakers rated under 230 kV.
old equipment, or the replication of Normally, no more than 2 years
old equipment under different condi­ should elapse between external in­
tions. The temporary schedule is spections or 4 years between internal
required to Correct internal defects inspections.
which ordinarily appear in the first
year of service and to correlate 5.2. EXTERNAL INSPECTION GUIDE-
external check procedures with LINES.- The following items should be
internal conditions as a basis for more included in an external inspection of a
conservative maintenance program high-voltage breaker.
thereafter. Assuming that a circuit
breaker shows no serious defects at a. Visually inspect PCB externals and
the early complete inspections and no operating mechanism. The tripping
heavy interrupting duty is imposed, latches should be examined with spe­
the following inspection schedule is cial care since small errors in
recommended: adjustments and clearances and
roughness of the latching surfaces
may cause the breaker to fail to latch
6 months after erection Complete inspection properly or increase the force neces­
and adjustment sary to trip the breaker to such an
12 months after Complete inspection
extent that electrical tripping will not
previous inspection and adjustment always be successful, especially if the
tripping voltage is low. Excessive
12 months after Complete inspection "opening" spring pressure can cause
previous inspection and adjustment
excessive friction at the tripping latch
12 months after External checks and and should be avoided. Also, some
previous inspection inspection; if checks extra pressure against the tripping
are satisfactory, no
internal inspection
latch may be caused by the electro­
magnetic forces due to flow of heavy
12 months after Complete inspection short-circuit currents through the
previous inspection and adjustment breaker. Lubrication of the bearing
surfaces of the operating mechanism
should be made as recommended in
5.1.2. Inspection schedule for existing the manufacturer's instruction book,
breakers.- The inspection schedule but excessive lubrication should be
should be based by the interrupting avoided as oily surfaces collect dust
duty imposed on the breaker. It is and grit and get stiff in cold weather,
advisable to make a complete internal resulting in excessive friction.
inspection after the first severe fault
interruption. If internal conditions are b. Check oil dielectric strength and
satisfactory, progressively more fault color for oil breakers. The dielectric
interruptions may be allowed before strength must be maintained to pre
an internal inspection is made. vent internal breakdown under voltage
Average experience indicates that up surges and to enable the interrupter
to five fault interruptions are allowable to function properly since its action
between inspections on 230 kV and
above circuit breakers, and up to 10
fault interruptions are allowable on cir­ (FIST 3-16 1/92)

5
depends upon changing the internal should trip at about 56 percent of
arc path from a fair conductor to a rated trip-coil voltage. The trip-coil re­
good insulator in the short interval sistance should be measured and
while the current is passing through compared with the factor test value to
zero. Manufacturer's instructions state disclose shorted turns.
the lowest allowable dielectric
strength for the various circuit break­ Most modern breakers have trip coils
ers. It is advisable to maintain the which will overheat or burn out if left
dielectric strength above 20 kV even energized for more than a short pe­
though some manufacturer's riod. An auxiliary switch is used in
instructions allow 16 kV. Detailed series with the coil to open the circuit
instructions for oil testing are found in as soon as the breaker has closed.
FIST Volume 3-5. The auxiliary switch must be properly
adjusted and successfully break the
If the oil is carbonized, filtering may arc without damage to the contacts.
remove the suspended particles, but
the interrupters, bushings, etc., must Tests should also be made to deter­
be wiped clean. If the dielectric mine the minimum voltage which will
strength is lowered by moisture, an close the breaker and the closing coil
inspection of the fiber and wood parts resistance.
is advisable and the source of the
moisture should be corrected. For e. Trip breaker from protective
these reasons, it is rarely worthwhile relays.
to filter the oil in a circuit breaker
while it is in service. f. Check operating mechanism
adjustments. Measurements of the
c. Observe breaker operation under mechanical clearances of the operat­
load. ing mechanism associated with the
tank or pole should be made. Appre­
d. Operate breaker manually and ciable variation between the value
electrically and observe for malfunc­ found and the setting when erected or
tion. The presence of excessive after the last maintenance overhaul is
friction in the tripping mechanism and erected or after the last maintenance
the margin of safety in the tripping overhaul is usually an indication of
function should be determined by mechanical trouble. Temperature and
making a test of the minimum voltage difference of temperature between
required to trip the breaker. This can different parts of the mechanism
be accomplished by connecting a effect the clearances some. The
switch and rheostat in series in the manufacturers' recommended
trip-coil circuit at the breaker (across tolerances usually allow for these
the terminals to the remote control effects.
switch) and a voltmeter across the trip
coil. Staring with not over 50 percent g. Doble test bushings and breaker.
of rated trip-coil voltage, gradually in­
crease the voltage until the trip-coil
plunger picks up and successfully
trips the breaker and record the mini­
mum tripping voltage. Most breakers (FIST 3-16 1/92)

6
Table I - Maximum Contact Resistance
Air circuit breakers Oil circuit breakers
kV Amperes Microhms kV Amperes Microhms

5-15 600 100 7.2-15 600 300


1200 50 1200 150
2000 50 2000 75
4000 40

23-24 All 500


46 All 700
69 600 500
1200 500
2000 100

115-230 All 800

h. Measure contact resistance. As I. Make time-travel or motion-analyzer


long as no foreign material is present, records. Circuit breaker motion an­
the contact resistance of high-pres- alyzers are portable devices designed
sure, butt-type contacts is practically to monitor the operation of power
independent of surface condition. circuit breakers which permit
Nevertheless, measurement of the mechanical coupling of the motion an­
electrical resistance between external alyzer to the circuit breaker operating
bushing terminals of each pole may rod. These include high-voltage and
be regarded as the final "proof of the extra- high-voltage dead tank and SF6
pudding." Any abnormal increase in breakers and low-voltage air and vac­
the resistance of this circuit may be uum circuit breakers. Motion
an indication of foreign material in analyzers can provide graphic records
contacts, contact loose in support, of close or open initiation signals,
loose jumper, or loose bushing contact closing or opening time with
connection. Any one of these may respect to initiation signals, contact
cause localized heating and movement and velocity, and contact
deterioration. The amount of heat bounce or rebound. The records
above normal may be readily obtained not only indicated when
calculated from the increase in mechanical difficulties are present but
resistance and the current. also help isolate the cause of the
difficulties. It is preferable to obtain a
Resistance of the main contact cir­ motion-analyzer record on a breaker
cuits can be most conveniently when it is first installed. This will
measured with a portable double provide a master record which can be
bridge (Kelvin) or a "Ducter." The filed and used for comparison with
breaker contacts should not be future maintenance checks. Tripping
opened during this test because of and closing voltages should be re­
possible damage to the test equip­ corded on the master record so
ment. subsequent tests can be performed
under comparable conditions.
Table 1 gives maximum contact
resistances for typical classes of
breakers. (FIST 3-16 1/92)

7
Time-travel records are taken on the Fortunately, these difficulties are most
pole nearest the operating mecha­ likely to appear early in the use of a
nism to avoid the inconsistencies due breaker and would be disclosed by the
to linkage vibration and slack in the early internal inspections. As unsatis­
remote phases. factory internal conditions are corrected
and after one or two inspections show the
5.3. INTERNAL INSPECTION GUIDE- internal conditions to be satisfactory, the
LINES.- An internal inspection should frequency of internal inspections may
include all items listed for an external safely be decreased.
inspection, plus the breaker tanks or
contact heads should be opened and the 5.5. INFLUENCE OF DUTY
contacts nd interrupting parts should be IMPOSED.-
inspected. These guidelines are not
intended to be a complete list of breaker 5.5.1. Influence of light duty.- Internal
maintenance but are intended to provide inspection of a circuit breaker which
an idea of the scope of each inspection. has had no interruption duty or
switching since the previous
A specific checklist should be developed inspection will not be particularly
in the field for each type of inspection for beneficial although it will not be a total
each circuit breaker maintained. loss. If the breaker has been
energized, but open, erosion in the
5.4. TYPICAL INTERNAL BREAKER form or irregular grooves (called
PROBLEMS.- The following difficulties tracking) on the inner surface of the
should be looked for during internal interrupter or shields may appear due
breaker inspections: to electrostatic charging current. This
is usually aggravated by a deposit of
a. Tendency for keys, bolts (espe- carbon sludge which has previously
cially fiber), cotter pins, etc, to come been generated by some interrupting
loose. operation. If the breaker has
remained closed and carrying current,
b. Tendency for wood operating rods, evidence of heating of the contacts
supports, or guides to come loose may be found if the contact surfaces
from clamps or mountings. were not clean, have oxidized, or if
the contact pressure was improper.
c. Tendency for carbon or sludge to Any shrinkage and loosening of wood
form and accumulate in interrupter or or fiber parts (due to loss of absorbed
on bushings. moisture into the dry oil) will take
place following erection, whether the
d. Tendency for interrupter to flash breaker is operated or not.
over and rupture static shield or resis­ Mechanical operation, however, will
tor. make any loosening more evident. It
is worthwhile to deliberately impose
e. Tendency for interrupter parts or several switching operations on the
barriers to burn or erode. breaker before inspection if possible.
If this is impossible, some additional
f. Tendency for bushing gaskets to
leak moisture into breaker insulating
material. (FIST 3-16 1/92)

8
information may be gained by equivalent to 100 no-load operations,
operating the breaker several times employed by some companies, is
after it is deenergized, measuring the necessarily very approximate
contact resistance of each pole although it may be a useful guide in
initially and after each operation. the absence of any other information.

5.5.2. Influence of normal duty.- The 5.5.3. Influence of severe duty.-


relative severity of duty imposed by Erosion of the contacts and damage
load switching, line dropping, and from severe mechanical stresses may
fault interruptions depends upon the occur during large fault interruption.
type of circuit breaker involved. In The most reliable indication of the
circuit breakers which employ an oil stress to which a circuit breaker is
blast generated by the power arc, the subjected during fault interruptions is
interruption of light faults or the afforded by automatic oscillograph
interruption of line charging current records. Deterioration of the circuit
may cause more deterioration than breaker may be assumed to be
the interruption of heavy faults within proportional to the energy dissipated
the rating of the breaker because of in the breaker during the interruption.
low oil pressure. In some designs The energy dissipated is
using this basic principle of approximately proportional to the
interruption, distress at light current and the duration of arcing;
interrupting duty is minimized by that is, the time from parting of the
multiple breaks, rapid contact travel, contacts to interruption of the current.
and turbulence of the oil caused by However, the parting of contacts is
movement of the contact and mech­ not always evident on the
anism. In designs employing a oscillograms, and it is sometimes
mechanically driven piston to supple­ necessary to determine this from
ment the arc-driven oil blast, the indicated relay time and the known
performance is more uniform. Still time for breaker contacts to part.
more uniform performance is usually Where automatic oscillograph records
yielded by designs which depend for are available, they may be as useful
arc interruption upon an oil blast in guiding oil circuit breaker
driven by mechanical means. In the maintenance as in showing relay and
latter types, erosion of the contacts system performance.
may appear only with heavy
interruptions. The mechanical Where automatic oscillographs are
stresses which accompany heavy not available, a very approximate, but
interruptions are always more severe. nevertheless useful, indication of fault
duty imposed on the circuit breakers
These variations of characteristic may be obtained from relay operation
performance among various designs targets and accompanying system
must be considered when judging the conditions. All such data should be
need for maintenance from the tabulated in the circuit breaker
service records and when judging the maintenance file.
performance of a breaker from
evidence on inspection. Because of
these variations, the practice of
evaluating each fault interruption as (FIST 3-16 1/92)

9
SECTION 6 - MAINTENANCE OF SF6 GAS pressure for a given electrode
CIRCUIT BREAKERS spacing. The dielectric strength
increases with increasing pressure;
6.1. PROPERTIES OF SF6 (SULFUR and at three atmospheres, the
HEXAFLUORIDE) GAS. ­ dielectric strength is roughly
equivalent to transformer oil. The
a. Toxicity.- SF6 is odorless, colorless, heaters for SF6 in circuit breakers are
tasteless, and nontoxic in its pure required to keep the gas from
state. It can, however, exclude oxy­ liquefying because, as the gas
gen and cause suffocation. If the liquifies, the pressure drops, lowering
normal oxygen content of air is re­ the dielectric strength. The exact
duced from 21 percent to less than 13 dielectric strength, as compared to
percent, suffocation can occur without air, varies with electrical configuration,
warning. Therefore, circuit breaker electrode spacing, and electrode
tanks should be purged out after configuration.
opening.
e. Arc quenching.- SF6 is approxi­
b. Toxicity of arc products.- Toxic mately 100 times more effective than
decomposition products are formed air in quenching spurious arcing. SF6
when SF6 gas is subjected to an elec­ also has a high thermal heat capacity
tric arc. The decomposition products that can absorb the energy of the arc
are metal fluorides and form a white without much of a temperature rise.
or tan powder. Toxic gases are also
formed which have the characteristic f. Electrical arc breakdown.- Because
odor of rotten eggs. Do not breathe of the arc-quenching ability of SF6,
the vapors remaining in a circuit corona and arcing in SF6 does not
breaker where arcing or corona dis­ occur until way past the voltage level
charges have occurred in the gas. of onset of corona and arcing in air.
Evacuate the faulted SF6 gas from SF6 will slowly decompose when ex­
the circuit breaker and flush with fresh posed to continuous corona.
air before working on the circuit
breaker. All SF6 breakdown or arc products are
toxic. Normal circuit breaker operation
c. Physical properties.- SF6 is one of produces small quantities of arc
the heaviest known gases with a den­ products during current interruption
sity about five times the density of air which normally recombine to SF6. Arc
under similar conditions. SF6 shows products which do not recombine, or
little change in vapor pressure over a which combine with any oxygen or
wide temperature range and is a soft moisture present, are normally re­
gas in that it is more compressible moved by the molecular sieve filter
dynamically than air. The heat trans­ material within the circuit breaker.
fer coefficient of SF6 is greater than
air and its cooling characteristics by 6.2. HANDLING NONFAULTED SF6.
convection are about 1.6 times air. The procedures for handling nonfaulted
SF6 are well covered in manufacturers'
d. Dielectric strength.- SF6 has a di­
electric strength about three times
that of air at one atmosphere (FIST 3-16 1/92)

10
instruction books. These procedures recommended for use when re-
normally consist of removing the SF6 from moving solid arc products; how-
the circuit breaker, filtering and storing it ever, regular coveralls can be
in a gas cart as a liquid, and transferring worn if disposable ones are not
it back to the circuit breaker after the available, provided they are
circuit breaker maintenance has been washed at the end of each day.
performed. No special dress or
precautions are required when handling b. Hoods.- Hoods must be worn
nonfaulted SF6. when removing solid arc
products from inside a faulted
6.3. HANDLING FAULTED SF6.- dead-tank circuit breaker.

6.3.1 Toxicity.- c. Gloves.- Gloves must be worn


when solid arc products are hah-
a. Faulted SF6 gas.- Faulted SF6 died. Inexpensive, disposable
gas smells like rotten eggs and gloves are recommended. Non-
can cause nausea and minor disposable gloves must be
irritation of the eyes and upper washed in water and allowed to
respiratory tract. Normally, faulted drip-dry after use.
SF6 gas is so foul smelling no one
can stand exposure long enough d. Boots.- Slip-on boots, non-
at a concentration high enough to disposable or plastic disposable,
cause permanent damage. must be worn by employees who
enter eternally faulted dead-tank
b. Solid arc products.- Solid arc circuit breakers. Slip-on boots
products are toxic and are a white are not required after the
or off-white, ashlike powder. Con- removal of solid arc products
tact with the skin may cause an and vacuuming. Nondisposable
irritation or possible painful boots must be washed in water
fluoride burn. If solid arc products and dried after use.
come in contact with the skin,
wash immediately with a large e. Safety glasses.- Safety
amount of water. If water is not glasses are recommended when
available, vacuum off arc products handling solid arc products if a
with a vacuum cleaner. full face respirator is not worn.

6.3.2 Clothing and safety equipment f. Respirator.- A cartridge, dust-


requirements.- When handling and re­ type respirator is required when
moving solid arc products from faulted entering an internally faulted
SF6, the following clothing and safety dead-tank circuit breaker. The
equipment should be worn: respirator will remove solid arc
products from air breathed, but it
a. Coveralls.- Coveralls must be does not supply oxygen so it
worn when removing solid arc must only be used when there is
products. Coveralls are not sufficient oxygen to support life.
required after all solid arc
products are cleaned up.
Disposable coveralls are (FIST 3-16 1/92)

11

The filter and cartridge should be 6.3.3 Disposal of waste.- All


changed when an odor is sensed materials used in the cleanup
through the respirator. The use operation for large quantities of SF6
of respirators is optional for work arc products shall be placed in a 55­
on circuit breakers whose in­ gal drum and disposed of as
terrupter units are not large hazardous waste. The following
enough for a man to enter and items should be disposed of:
the units are well ventilated.
a. All solid arc products
Air-line-type respirators should
be used when the cartridge type b. All disposable protective
is ineffective due to providing too clothing
short a work time before the
cartridge becomes contaminated c. All cleaning rags
and an odor is sensed.
d. Filters from respirators
When an air-line respirator is
used, a minimum of two working e. Molecular sieve from breaker
respirators must be available on and gas cart
the job before any employee is
allowed to enter the circuit f. Vacuum filter element.
breaker tank.

(FIST 3-16 1/92)

12