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AN INNOVATIVE METHOD FOR FINDING LEAKS IN OIL FILLED HIGH VOLTAGE CABLES

R.H. Goodwin BSc Pr. Eng. SAIEE S.A.I.E.E., H.V. Test (Pty) Ltd, P.O. Box 651287, Benmore, 2010, South Africa. Email Address: ron@.hvtest.co.za

Abstract Oil filled cables still form a major part of the high voltage (>33kV) cable network in many countries. In Britain some of the cables were installed in 1933 and are still operating 77 years later. These cables are extremely reliable until they are damaged and start leaking. Damage to the underground water is a major problem and an environmental nightmare. Up until 2008, there were very few methods for locating these leaks. The traditional D.C. drop method which is not very successful because the oil insulates the surrounding leaking area. The most commonly used method is the Freezing Method using liquid nitrogen to isolate the various sections. In 1997 Con Edison commissioned Brookhaven Laboratories to develop what has become known as the PFT Tracer Location Method. This paper will discuss the merits of this very innovative tracer method and the experience gained in the South African Transmission system. Introduction Oil filled cables even to this day form the main backbone of transmission cable networks for a large number of major utilities throughout the world. The voltages vary from 33kV to 275kV 3 and single phase. The U.K. have oil filled cables (fluid filled cables FF cables) which were installed in 1933 and are still operating. In the U.K. it is estimated that there is 4,000 km of oil filled cables. In South Africa there are 200 circuits varying in length from 500m to 10 km with an estimated total length of 600km with voltages from 33 to 132kV. The move away from FF cables is mainly due to cost and environmental issues. These FF cables are extremely reliable and, provided the oil pressure is monitored and maintained, they give very little trouble. Unlike oil impregnated paper cables, oil filled cables are basically a pipe filled with oil with the paper insulated cores lying in the pipe. The oil is free to migrate down the pipe and should there be any damage to the outer pipe, this oil will leak out causing a rapid drop in pressure. FF cables are protected with pressure alarm contacts which then result in the cable being disconnected or if the pressure is maintained, by the site head tanks, the pressure will be maintained while the oil leak is located. There have been a number of leak locating methods introduced over the years but the latest innovative PFT Tracer is the most effective and can be done live. All the other methods require the cable to be taken out of circuit.

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Oil Filled Cables These cables are commonly called Oil Filled Cables but also known as fluid filled cables where the conductors, 3 or single phase, are insulated with insulating paper types which are impregnated and lying in insulating oil. Unlike the lower voltage (MV) cables, these cables are held under pressure using Header Tanks. There are two types of FF cables. (i) High Pressure Type up to 9 bars and mainly used on the EHV Cables. (ii) Low Pressure Type up to 4 bars. In the H.P. cables the oil is circulated continuously between two cables eg two separate feeders whereas the low pressure FF cables have static header tanks. Typical L.P. cables are shown in Figure 1. The fluid is used for cooling and insulating. Monitoring of the oil pressure is critical with alarms and tripping functions. These cables are protected using lead or aluminium sheaths, which, in addition provide an excellent earth fault path. This sheath is then protected by an outer insulation layer for protection against damage whilst in operation and during installation. Unfortunately, these cables are very expensive to manufacture and there are very few suppliers left in the world. XLPE cables have superseded these FF cable Operating Life Span In London, there are FF cables that were installed in 1933 and are still operating today 77 years one wonders if the new XLPE cables will ever match this operating life span? What with the problems with water trees, EHV XLPE cables, operating at 132kV, have a radial electrical stress of 3kV/mm. With these stress levels we simply cannot expect the Figure 1 same life span from these polymeric cables. Some of the older FF cables have a lead sheath which is perfectly coentric with an oil pipe for cooling in the middle of the conductor. Quite amazing and to think it was manufactured in 1930. Cable Oil Leaks FF cables are extremely reliable until they start leaking. The location of these leaks has been a major problem because of: (i) The environmental damage. (ii) Difficulty in locating these leaks. Unlike an XLPE cable, FF cable can carry on operating unless the leak is so extensive that the pressure cannot be maintained. Normally, however, these leaks start small and increase with time.
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Provided the pressure is maintained by the header tanks, and or additional mobile backup tanks, the cable can continue operating. In the U.K., the utilities have mobile tank trailers which are parked at the header tanks, in order to maintain the pressure particularly when the continuity of supply is critical. The hydraulic systems are protected with pressure alarms and trip signals in order to protect the cable and personnel. A high point termination which has a sudden loss of oil and the alarm and trips do not operate, becomes a bomb scattering porcelain shrapnel everywhere and resulting in a fire. Location of these oil leaks has traditionally been done using the Freezing Method where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the cable oil at various locations and by determining on which side the pressure continues to drop. The process The Salami method is continued until the leak is discovered. Depending on the leak, the location method could take up to 10 freezes. During these freezes the cable is offline and losing revenue. Each freeze could cost up to US$20,000 per freeze taking into account the excavation work, cost of freezing, the loss of revenue and damage. Unfortunately this freezing damages the outer insulating jacket (freezing cracks) which then results in water ingress and corrosion of the metal sheath which in time produces further leaks. The other disadvantage of this method is the possible damage that is done to adjacent cables during excavation. Some leaks can take up to a year to locate with this freezing method because of the low leak rate. The Freezing Method has the following disadvantages; (i) Damage to the outer jacket due to freezing. (ii) Damage to the cable and adjacent cables during excavation. (iii) Pinpointing a leak is not possible. (iv) Damage to other services during excavation. (v) Due to the large number of freezes, damage to roads and other surfaces could be prohibitive eg in the middle of London. (vi) Cost of freezing cost of liquid nitrogen and logistics tanker etc. (vii) Extended time for leak location. (viii) Greater environmental damage. (ix) Loss of Revenue. D.C. Voltage Drop Method The D.C. Voltage Drop Method is a well known method for locating outer jacket faults on cables. Here a D.C. Voltage is applied to the metallic sheath at the one end whilst the other lead is connected to a mother earth in the form of an earth spike. The principle is that the current will flow down the metallic sheath to the point where the outer jacket is damaged and then flow back to the DC Test Instrument earth spike (see attached sketch). The test voltage can be increased up to 5kV. Pin Pointing earth spikes are then used in conjunction with a galvometer to locate the fault. The basic assumption is that the damage to the outer jacket is where the cable leak is. Leaking FF cables unfortunately insulate the soil in the vicinity of the oil leak. A further aggravating factor is that the higher the D.C. voltage is taken, the higher the burning current and the larger the leak becomes it is self defeating. As the area is saturated with oil, the D.C. leakage decreases making the method impossible.
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Figure 2

The PFT Tracing Leak Location: In 1988, ConEdition approached EPRI and Brookhaven National Laboratories to develop a Leak Detector for their FF cables. ConEd have the High Pressure (14 bar) Fluid Filled Cables (HPFF) and the Low Pressure Fluid Filled Cables (LPFF) (4-6 bar). They still form a major part of their transmission system (Ref 1.). The HPFF cables normally are 2 pipe circuits where the oil is continuously circulating between the two pipes providing both cooling and insulation. The oil pressure is continuously monitored by a PC. FF cables develop leaks due to: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) Contractor excavation damage. Corrosion. Outer jacket damage by freezing or third party. Stray currents due to D.C. traction. Mechanical damage from poor laying techniques. Road works vibration and compression.

Where the cable pipe (HPFF) or cable sheath is compromised a leak starts and in the case of the HPFF cables, a large volume is discharged in a very short time. With the strict Environmental Laws in the USA, ConEdison were desperate to find a new method. Brookhaven National Laboratories (through EPRI) carried out extensive and very detailed tests. (See Ref. 1). The article describes the development of this method as far back as January, 1999. Unfortunately, this method was dedicated to ConEd (and EPRI) and it was only in 2006, that a couple of ex ConEdision employees started to promote this method outside of New York. Since then a number of players have entered the market providing a service in the USA and recently providing the equipment into the world-wide market. Perfluorocarbon Tracer (so-called PFT) PFTs are Perfluorocarbon Tracers, which were developed by The Tracer Technology Centre of Brookhaven National Laboratories in New York. These PFTs have unique properties of being liquid at room temperature, totally non-toxic and thermally inert. Perfluorocarbon Tracers (PFTs) have been widely used in air movement studies (3) going back to 1979. This air movement research is important to determine where for instance airborne contaminants such as a nuclear radiation spillage (eg Chernobyl) or nerve gas
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(Japan) may migrate to. PFT has been used in the tracing of Contraband Money (5) and has even been used for medical purposes. PFT is man made and does not exist as a natural gas in the atmosphere. It was estimated in 2009 that there was 500mt of this gas in the atmosphere which represents by volume 8ppq that is 8 x 10-15 (4). Any detector must have the ability to detect this background concentration level. So the detection of small amounts of this gas in a specific area is absolute necessity. PFT has the following advantages: (i) In these very small quantities (10-100ppm) that are introduced in the cable as a tracer, the insulation properties of the oil are not compromised. (ii) The gas is very stable and inert. (iii) Unlike SF6, PFTs do not deplete the Ozone layer (4). (iv) PFTs do not oxidize in the atmosphere (4). (v) PFTs have very low boiling points and as such is an ideal tracer for oil filled cables. (Whilst under pressure in the cable, the PFT remains in solution once it is released via the leak (atmospheric pressure) the PFT becomes a gas easily permeating the soil into the atmosphere). Oil Filled Cable Hydraulics The LPFF cables can withstand pressures up to 8 bar but generally operate at 4.5 bar. In order to keep these cables under pressure and to have reserve oil (in the event of a leak) a cable run will consist of a number of hydraulic sections with reservoirs on both ends. The geographical profile of the cable route will inevitably result in one end elevated above the other. Whilst one end may have a pressure of 4.5 bar the elevated far end may be at 1.5 bar. Obviously it is critical to keep this cable under pressure at all times and these cables are protected by alarm and trip signal coms (radio or hard wired). Should the elevated far end suddenly lose pressure due to a leak, the cable must immediately be isolated in order to avoid a termination failure. Great care should be taken during tagging and pressurising of the cable, for this very reason. These cables are filled and pressurized using a special Degassifying Oil van. Some of the older oil vans have been operating for over 50 years these vans were based on heating or vacuuming cycles in order to remove any moisture and dissolved gases. The latest oil vans are PLC controlled and based on high vacuum (0.17mBar) (2). The oil is treated in batches and the oil is only released to the cable when the moisture and dissolved gases are to specification. Strict control and monitoring of the oil pumped into the cables is recorded by the PLC and then by GSM and the details are transferred to a Central Recording Station for environmental control. The tagging equipment is fitted to these oil vans. Cable Oil Leaks In HPFF cables with pressures of more than 14 bar, oil leaks of thousands of litres can occur in a couple of hours. The potential environmental damage is of major concern. Utilities have to find these leaks fast in order to limit the environmental damage. Not only has the leak to be located in a certain time but all the
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contaminated soil has to be removed and destroyed under strict environmental conditions. LPFF cables have the advantage of causing less environmental damage because of the low operating pressure. Unfortunately this has a negative effect, in that these leaks are more difficult to locate leaks of 30-50 litres per month are common and with nitrogen freezing, locating these leaks is impossible and most utilities wait for the flow to increase before leak location is even attempted. In HPFF cables the tracer concentration can be reduced to a minimum because of the volume of oil that is released at the leak. In LPFF cables generally the tracer concentration is much higher especially if leaks of 1-2 litres per day are to be located. The density of the soil/road or concrete covering the cable will prevent or delay the PFT gas. Tarred roads can make PFT location difficult. Sea sand on the other hand makes location very easy. Cable ducts, pipes and communication cable ducts can result in false leak location. Tracer Tagging of the FF Cable There are a family of PFT tracers (4) that are available for cable oil tagging. It is important to carry out compatibility tests in order to make sure that the PFT will not affect the insulating and cooling properties of the specific cable oil that is being used. Extensive tests were conducted by EDF, U.K. on the compatibility of a particular PFT group. Their investigation concluded that PFT concentration up to 100ppm would not be detrimental to the cable insulation in these LPFF cables (7). They have embarked on an extensive operation using 5 Degassifying vans to tag all their cables. In South Africa, the main utility, ESKOM have invested in the same technology and are busy tagging all of the LPFF cables in the Johannesburg area. Johannesburgs City Power have also embarked on this technology. In South Africa, there are 250 LPFF cable circuits with lengths varying from 0.5 to 10 kms in length. These FF cables have an oil capacity of between 2-5 litres per metre. Because of the structure of the cable it is estimated that 65% of the oil is mobile. The other 35% is trapped in the insulating papers (these figures have been correlated and confirmed during the tagging of numerous cables). The PFT tracer is introduced into the cable via the Degassifier oil van. New (or recycled) oil is degasified by the oil van and then the PFT is introduced into the oil before it is pumped into the cable reservoirs and then into the cable. This tagged oil is slowly (60-600 litres per hour) pumped down the cable to the far end reservoir. On a good cable (no leaks) a small vacuum can be pulled on the far side which will then increase the pump rate up to approximately 200 litres per hour. A 1000 metre cable with 2l/m in capacity would take approximately 6.5 hours (assuming 65% of the cable is mobile). Great care has to be taken not to lose pressure or allow air to enter the cable system. We are presently experimenting with tagging of live cables. Extreme care
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has to be taken because of the risk of losing pressure. It is important to test the pressure alarm and trip signals before this operation is carried out. Leaking FF Cables These leaking cables are the obvious and urgent cables requiring tagging they are however, the most difficult to tag. The leak rate and location determines the length of time to tag. For example, a 5km cable with a capacity of 2 litres per metre with a leak rate of say 100 litres per month will take 50 months to tag. Obviously this is unacceptable so the trick is to tag your good cable FIRST. Recycling of FF Cable Oil These FF cables have been in operation for up to 40 years in South Africa. The oils of 40 years ago were very different from todays high tech oils. However, the onus was on the suppliers of these oils to make sure that the oils that were supplied over the years were chemically and electrically compatible. In the writers opinion provided the oil over the years has been electrically and chemically compatible and the cable has not been overloaded or over stressed, then there is no reason why the cable oil cannot be recycled back into the cable. The oil has after all, being operating successfully over the life of the cable. Great care must be taken in collecting the oil from the far end. Avoid contaminating the oil and as far as possible and avoid moisture ingression. Continual testing of the oil for water, dissolved gas and particle count is important. Under these conditions, the recycling of the cable oil has major financial implications. At a cost of US$5.00 per litre the cost of pumping virgin oil on a 5km (2 litres per metre) cable is US$25,000 which is a major expense. The recycling of the oil is therefore significant and should be carefully investigated and justified.
Figure 3

Tagging Process In Figure 3 the PFT injection is shown. The Degassifer Van pumps tagged PFT oil into the Near Side Reservoir. The PFT tracer remains in suspension in the oil and is transported down the cable to the far side. The oil and PFT is under a pressure of 3-4 bar. When the PFT reaches the leak location, the PFT is released with the oil into the surrounding earth. The PFT then evaporates (at atmospheric pressure) and evolves as gas permeating the soil
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into the atmosphere. The PFT Test Van which is driving by detects the PFT. The PFT concentration in the cable can be varied to suit the type of soil and road or pavement covering. Normally the PFT gas is detected in the area using the drive by Test Van. By knowing the route of the cable, bar holes are drilled through the asphalt or concrete side walks in order to pin point the leak. Wind may make the detection of the leaks more difficult but once the PFT gas is detected by the Test Van and because this gas does not exist naturally, the final pin pointing is just a matter of time. Because the Test Van detector is designed to read down to very low values (10-15) of PFT, the detector in the Test Van may become flooded if there is high PFT concentration. The Test Van has then to drive outside of the area in order to purge the detector of the excessive volumes of PFT gas. Bar holes are then used to pin the actual leak. Here a portable sampling bag is used to collect samples. Tagging Difficulties In order to introduce the tracer, A Degassifier oil van is required in order to have purified oil with less than 20ppm moisture and no free gas. The normal practice is for the utility to have their own oil Degassifying vehicle. The tracer is introduced into the purified oil just before it is introduced into the cable system. The dosing equipment is important because of the very low ppm levels that are required. Very small and delicate dosing pumps are required and a good knowledge of hydraulics is important. The LPFF cables normally have spiral ducts, conductor tubes or even space between the conductor where free oil can move through the cable. See Fig. 1. In these cables, the cable (and PFT) travels relatively quickly down the cable. Single core cables are difficult to circulate the oil because of the configuration. The oil in the conductor papers are trapped and impregnated into the insulation. This oil does not travel through the cable. . Because the PFT is inert, it does not chemically react with the cable oil. When a leak occurs, the PFT quickly goes into a gas, and disperses through the soil. Transit times through the soil vary according to the density of the soil, tarmac etc. as a rough rule of thumb this is 3-4 days. This is another good reason to have all your cables tagged. Low volume leaks 40-50 litres per month and are normally not a top priority but because the oil has accumulated over a longer period of time, these leaks are easily detected. False leaks can occur because of: Cable ducts. Adjacent communication cable ducts or conduits. Dense tarmac or concrete. Tunnels. Sewers or Manholes which make the pin pointing difficult.
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The cable route and length should be accurately known in order to avoid false leaks. Most of these cables have been in service for 40 years or more and the topographical landscape may well have changed. Flooding could have washed away the top soil. For this reason great care must be taken when drilling bar holes. For pin pointing the leak, rather drill 2-3 metres to the one side of the cable route. Mobile Leak Detection Unit
Figure 4

In South Africa, the mobile leak detection consists of a Test Van containing the PFT detection equipment. The Van should preferably be a 4 x 4 vehicle if difficult terrain is to be traversed. Inside the Van the following equipment is required: Super silent Portable Generator to power the equipment and to provide lighting. Alternatively a battery pack and inverter. Vacuum sampling device. Gas Concentrator. Gas Chromatograph and Detector. Carrier Gases. Control Desk and Lap Top. GPS Satellite Receiver. Figure 5 (See the attached pictures Figures 5, 6 and 7). The latest units have GPS satellite location where the actual leaks are automatically tagged on the area map whilst the operator is slowly (3/5 mph) driving along or beside the cable route. See the attached Figure 6 Map with waypoints. The red waypoints indicate where PFT was detected. The final pinpointing is done by using bar holes and taking sample bags. The sample bag with Figure 6 the highest concentration will indicate the exact location of the leak. The concentrator and GC must be able to detect down to the ambient background PFT level (10 x 10-15) - this is the calibration level and one of the routine checks on the detection system. The Degassifer truck and the point of connection to the cable system, should be free of leaks and spillage in order to avoid having this influence the PFT Test Van Detector. Spillage at faults and leaks must be carefully recorded GPS co-ordinates and leak volumes.
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A very useful sampling device is the CATS (Capillary Absorption Tube Sampler) can be used to measure the PFT Concentration. These are small glass tubes filled with a material which absorbs the PFT. These CATS can be placed on fence poles, pylons, poles etc. along the route of the cable. These are then analysed by the concentrater and GC .

Figure 7 : City Power Central to Florida

Mobile Detector The mobile detector is mounted in a Test Van. The detector consists of a vacuum pump which is sampling the ambient air as the vehicle navigates the route at 4-5 kph: The batched sampled air is then concentrated in special traps. These trap concentrators are specially designed to trap the PFT and other gases. The PFT concentration is minimal when compared to other gases. The gas is then passed on to a Gas Chromatograph and finally to an ECD (Electron Capture Detector) using a Radio Active source. This source is of a very low level but has to be registered and controlled by the local Radio Active Agencies. The GC software is designed to look for a particular trace which is an indication of the magnitude of that particular PFT gas. The mounting of these very sensitive pieces of equipment is very important and great care should be taken to protect this laboratory equipment. The software that is used for the analysis is very simple and a sample is shown below The PFT peaks are then used to place waypoints on the GPS Map software which is done automatically while the Test Van is driving along the route of the cable. See Figure 6.

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Experiences in South Africa using the PFT Leak Detection In South Africa we have been using the PFT method of leak location for the past 2 years. To date 39 leaks have been located. An analysis of the type of leaks is as follows:

Figure 8 A graphical presentation of the PFT detected at leak 2 (drive by leak detection).

Band Wipes Repairs Sleeves Cable Wipes Pumping Lines Barrier Pumping Nipple Cable Sheath Total

5 3 10 6 2 1 12 39 (October 2010)

Most of these cables were installed 40 years ago. It is interesting to note that Cable Sheath leaks are 30% of the total leaks. The wiping problems could possibly be due to the fact that the skill of the Tradesman has been lost. It is very important to record exactly the cable oil that is pumped in order to determine if the entire cable length is tagged. Feeder Standby is -1. Some typical sheath leaks are shown below.

Figure 9

Figure 10
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Benefits:

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The following benefits are listed below: Environmentally safe PFT. The cable dielectric strength is not compromised. The leak location can be done live. The cable operating life can be extended. Reliability of the cable is greatly improved. No freezing is necessary to find leaks. Less damage to the environment. Less damage to adjacent cable. Less damage to the FF cable (by not freezing). Less excavation work than freezing. Replacement of these very expensive cables is now not necessary. Excavating to remove or replace these cables in the centre of a busy city is avoided. Vastly improved environmental conditions. Less cable oil lost in the sub soil. Reduced sheath fault damage hence less leaks. No loss of revenue due to Feeder outage.

Conclusion The PFT Tracer leak location is technically and economically a viable method of leak location in Fluid Filled Cables. Other methods are unreliable, time consuming and damaging to the leaking cable and adjacent cables. The freezing method is expensive and unreliable. Recycling of the cable oil should be carefully considered because of the financial benefits. The cable reliability should however not be comprised (the authors opinion). Utilities should concentrate on tagging their good cables rather than concentrating on the leaking cables (unless the volumes are too great). The leak rate determines the tagging rate on a leaking cable. On a nonleaking cable, tagging can be done at 200 litres/hour or more (LPFF). Drive by leak location is possible using the GPS Mapping technique. Pin Pointing when using the PFT tracer can be within a meter of the actual leak. Because this method of leak location is not as intrusive as the freezing method, the operating life of these LPFF and HPFF cables can be extended. Leak location on PFT tagged cables can be done within 4 hours of notification. The reliability of these cables will increase and the cost of lost cable oil will decrease significantly. Of more importance and vital to our future is the environmental damage. Tons (not litres) of cable oil are lost by the Utilities due to leaks into the underground water system. Today this is unacceptable and in most countries Environmental Laws dictate that all of this lost oil is recorded, recovered and destroyed. In practice, this is not done and Utilities are at risk of hefty fines. The PFT tracer technology for leak location will reduce the leak location time to hours instead of months and years.
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Fluid Filled Cable Users will now with this technology be able to account for every litre of cable oil that is lost due to cable leaks. References 1) Leak Location in Fluid Filled Cables using the PFT Method. R. Ghafurian, R.N. Dietz, T. Rodenburg, J. Dominguez, N. Tai. IEEE Vol. 14 No. 1 Jan. 1999. 2) Balfour Beatty Paper. 3) Experimental Design data of the April 1997 Multitracer Atmospheric Experiment at Idaho Memorial Engineering Laboratory L.A. 7795-M5 Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory 1979. Various Authors. 4) Environmental Research Technology Brookhaven National Laboratories. New York. 5) Vapour Detection of Trafficking of Contraband Money. Laboratories. New York. 6) Wasson-ECE Tracer Analyser. Acknowledgment: 1) EDF Allan Croucher, Paul Williams for the valuable advice. Brookhaven National

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