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Explosion at South Korean coal-fired power plant kills one, injures four

09 August 2018

An explosion at a coal-fired power station in South Korea on August 8 left one worker dead and four others injured, the Yonhap agency reported. The blast occurred at the plant of energy company GS E&R in the city of Pocheon, about 50 km northeast of Seoul. Police believe that combustible dust could have caused the explosion.

Pocheon power station - Image: GS E&R
Pocheon power station - Image: GS E&R

The power plant, which runs on bituminous coal and generates 550 tons of steam per hour and 169.9 megawatts of electricity, is owned by GS E&R, an energy provider which operates Korea’s largest combined heat and power (CHP) plants in Gumi, North Gyeongsang, and Ansan, Gyeonggi. 

Permission to build the CHP plant in Pocheon was granted to the company in October 2015, and construction broke ground in December of that year. The plant supplies steam to the nearby Jangia industrial complex as well as electricity.

According to Koreajoongangdaily.com, the blast took place during a test run at the newly-built plant. Police and fire authorities said the 45-year-old subcontractor employee named Kim was killed when a conveyor belt in the plant’s basement carrying coal to the furnace suddenly blew up.

Four other workers suffered burns and are being treated at local hospitals, with one of the victims suffering first degree burns on his body. Kim and two of the injured were in the basement when the explosion occurred, while the other two were above ground.

The exact cause of the blast is still under investigation, but police suspect that combustible dust around the conveyor belt may have ignited. The fire department pointed to an electric spark as the likely cause.

Park Yong-ho, the Pocheon Fire Station chief, said in an emergency press conference that further investigation is needed, but that “it looks like the spark-proof switch on the machine malfunctioned while the workers were conducting maintenance operations on the conveyor belt’s speed sensor.”

Neighbours protested at the plant’s construction because of concerns about the impact on the environment - including fine dust creation. Last year, some local residents blocked trucks carrying building material from entering the construction site for over a month.

After the explosion, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung sent one of his deputies to review the accident site and ordered an immediate halt to all operations at the plant until safety concerns are fully addressed.


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