UpdateFire at Mitsui Chem put out, Iwakuni-Ohtake units remain shut

23 April 2012 13:57  [Source: ICIS news]

(adds details on extinguishing of fire, police investigation)

By Tomomi Yokomura

Mitsui ChemicalTOKYO (ICIS)--A fire at Mitsui Chemicals' facilities at Iwakuni-Ohtake Works in Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan, has been extinguished, following a blast on Sunday at the site that killed a 22-year-old worker and injured 21 others, the company said on Monday.

Production at all of its units at the site remains shut, the company added.

Mitsui Chemicals confirmed the fire at the affected plants, including the resorcinol and cymene facilities, was put out at 14:31 local time. The company added that any impact on product supply is still not yet known.

The first blast that ignited a fire occurred at 02:15 Japan time on Sunday at a unit that produces 7,600 tonnes/year of resorcinol, which is an adhesive for wood and automotive tyres.

A second explosion occurred at a tank of the resorcinol plant at 08:05 local time. The resulting fire spread to the adjacent cymene plant and a utility piping rack, and raged on throughout the day, until it was put under control at 17:15 local time on Sunday.

Local authorities are investigating the cause of the blasts, which damaged the windows and roofs of 14 plants at the site, according to Mitsui Chemicals.

“We will make our utmost effort to find out the cause [of the explosions],” the company said in Japanese.

As part of the investigation, the Yamaguchi Prefectural Police raided the office of Mitsui Chemical’s Iwakuni-Ohtake Works on Monday morning on suspicion of professional negligence, a police official said.

The police were investigating the situation of the plants’ safety management and operation procedure, the official added.

The police are also conducting a judicial autopsy of the 22-year-old worker, Shota Sunakawa, who was killed in the first blast. “When we get the results, we will make an announcement,” the official said in Japanese.

He said the police planned to conduct an on-site investigation at the affected area of the factory on 24 April to find out the cause of the blasts.

Among the plants that were shut are Mitsui Chemicals’ 400,000 tonne/year purified terephthalic acid (PTA) unit and its 145,000 tonne/year polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plants.

“We are investigating the extent of the damage but it seems limited at this point in time,” said another company source, adding that no restart date has been set for the PTA facility.

“We are also considering if a force majeure needs to be declared,” he said.

Mitsui Chemicals’ 30,000 tonne/year methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) plant at the site was also taken off line following Sunday’s blasts.

“Because of the seriousness of the matter, [Mitsui Chemicals] will not be able to restart the plant until after they receive government approval to do so,” said a market source.

Mitsui Chemicals is the largest of three MIBK makers in Japan with a nameplate capacity of 30,000 tonnes/year.

MIBK, which is derived from acetone, is used as a solvent for industrial paints and thinners, and to produce rubber chemicals.

Additional reporting by Bohan Loh and Trisha Huang
Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s blog – Asian Chemical Connections

By: Tomomi Yokomura
+65 6780 4359

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