2014-01-09 18:39:42

5 dead in Japan chemical factory explosion

(Vatican Radio) In Japan, five people are dead and more than a dozen injured after an explosion at a chemical factory occurred during maintenance.

The explosion took place at a plant that produces materials for semiconductors. Witnesses said the blast felt like an earthquake. A fire then broke out. Japanese media said the victims' bodies were taken to a police station for identification. Some of the survivors suffered heavy injuries.

The plant operator, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, said workers were conducting routine maintenance on a heat exchanger, which involved removing and washing a six-metre-long cylinder. It was unclear what caused the blast. Investigators said it seemed either hydrogen gas had escaped or water mixed with a volatile chemical used at the site.

The incident, in Yokkaichi, central Japan, cast a spotlight on Japan's chemicals industry. Yokkaichi is home to a large number of petrochemical plants and suffered heavy air pollution during Japan's industrialisaton in the 1960s and 70s. Many local residents still suffer from lung problems, including what has become known as Yokkaichi asthma.

Listen to Alistair Wanklyn’s report: RealAudioMP3

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