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Fire shuts down Stanford's linear accelerator; no estimate on when it will restart

This undated image provided by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory shows an aerial view of the SLAC site, looking west. Authorities say a smoky fire at the Stanford Linear Accelerator late Wednesday evening June 25, 2014 forced the closure of the nearby interstate, but the blaze didn't cause any injuries or pose a threat to the public. (AP Photo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

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This undated image provided by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory shows an aerial view of the SLAC site, looking west. Authorities say a smoky fire at the Stanford Linear Accelerator late Wednesday evening June 25, 2014 forced the closure of the nearby interstate, but the blaze didn't cause any injuries or pose a threat to the public. (AP Photo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

MENLO PARK, Calif. - The linear accelerator at Stanford University's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California was shut down Thursday and two research labs idled after a fire damaged electrical equipment that helps power the accelerator, a lab spokesman said.

SLAC spokesman Andrew Gordon said he didn't know what, if any, impact the shutdown would have on research. SLAC conducts research in high-energy physics and subatomic particles.

"Efforts to restart the operation are underway, but there is no estimate on when it will be back in operation," he said. "We're still assessing the situation."

Firefighters were called to the lab shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday. Callers reported heavy black smoke coming from the 2-mile (3.2-kilometre)-long accelerator structure, which runs beneath a highway south of San Francisco.

The fire was confined to a school-locker-size electrical cabinet in a building above the accelerator, Gordon said. The cause was under investigation.

Firefighters brought the fire under control about 45 minutes after it was reported. Fire crews used mobile carbon dioxide extinguishing carts stored on-site to suppress the fire, Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

There was some minor smoke damage around the cabinet, but the accelerator itself was not damaged, Gordon said.

Both Gordon and Schapelhouman said there was no threat to the public.

SLAC, which stands for Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, was established in 1962 with the goal of accelerating electrons to nearly the speed of light for experiments in creating, identifying and studying subatomic particles, according to the centre's website. It's one of 10 Department of Energy Office of Science laboratories.

One of the two labs that were idled studies technologies that will power the next generation of particle accelerators. The other uses an X-ray laser to capture atomic-scale snapshots that can show never-before-seen structures and properties in matter, according to SLAC's website.

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