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Japan chemical plant explosion kills one, injures 30

01 October 2012

One firefighter was killed after a chemical tank explosion at Nippon Shokubai Co's Himeji plant in western Japan on September 29, a local fire department official said. An acrylic acid storage residue tank exploded around 2:30 p.m. local time and the fire later spread to another acrylic acid tank and a toluene tank at the plant, the official said.

In total two explosions occurred at the plant, killing a 28-year-old firefighter and injuring about 30 people, the official added.

Nippon Shokubai controls the largest share of the world market for super-absorbent polymers, which is used in the production of nappies, and has been expanding its international sales network to keep up with demand.

According to the company, demand is so high that its production facilities have been required to operate at full capacity and it has announced plans to set up production facilities overseas. The company was particularly keen to meet growing demand for disposable nappies in China.

The water-absorbing polymers soak up an infant's waste through hydrogen bonding with water molecules. Generally, nappies that utilise the technology are able to absorb 50 times their own weight of liquid. 

Before the incident, the Himeji plant produced 320,000 tons of the super-absorbent polymer, according to the Sankei newspaper, about 20% of the global market. If the operation of the factory is suspended for a long time, it could affect worldwide nappy production.

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