By Colby Cosh - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
The town of West, Texas, population 2,849, awoke to a scene of horror after a large explosion at a fertilizer plant containing as much as 27 tons of anhydrous ammonia. The farm community near the city of Waco was built by Czech immigrants in the late 19th century and is still renowned for its kolaches and its smazeny syr. A fire started at the West Fertilizer Co. at around 7:29 p.m. local time Wednesday night, and what happened next is a mystery. Ammonia is typically stored as a refrigerated liquid, and material-safety sheets do not describe it a source of extreme explosion danger, but at ordinary atmospheric temperatures it boils and becomes a gas that can combust explosively in certain concentrations. It also seems possible that other fertilizers, more dangerous in the presence of fire, were stored at the site.
By Aaron Hutchins - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 1:01 AM - 0 Comments
Rescue teams going house to house in search of casualties
By The Associated Press - Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 9:12 PM - 0 Comments
MEXICO CITY – An explosion at the main headquarters of Mexico’s state-owned oil company…
MEXICO CITY – An explosion at the main headquarters of Mexico’s state-owned oil company in the capital killed 14 people and injured 80 on Thursday as it heavily damaged three floors of the building, sending hundreds into the streets and a large plume of smoke over the skyline.
There were reports that people remained trapped in the debris — as many as 30 according to civil protection and local media — from the explosion, which occurred in the basement of an administrative building next to the iconic, 52-story tower of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.
Ana Vargas Palacio was distraught as she searched for her missing husband, Daniel Garcia Garcia, 36, who works in the building. She last heard from him at 1 p.m.
“I called his phone many times, but a young man answered and told me he found the phone in the debris,” Vargas. The two have an 11-year-old daughter. His mother, Gloria Garcia Castaneda, collapsed on a friend’s arm, crying “My son. My son.”
There was no immediate cause given for the blast, which also damaged the first and second floors of the auxiliary building in a busy commercial and residential area. But in a Tweet, Pemex said it had evacuated the building as a precautionary measure because of a problem with the electrical system.
The company later tweeted that experts were analyzing the explosion and any reports of a cause were speculation.
“It was an explosion, a shock, the lights went out and suddenly there was a lot of debris,” employee Cristian Obele told Milenio television, adding that he had been injured in the leg. “Co-workers helped us get out of the building.”
The tower, where several thousand people work, was evacuated. The main floor and the mezzanine of the auxiliary building, where the explosion occurred, were heavily damaged, along with windows as far as three floors up.
“Right now they’re conducting a tour of the building and the area adjacent to the blast site to verify if there are any still trapped so they can be rescued immediately,” Interior Ministry spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told Milenio.
A reporter at the scene saw rescue workers trying to free several workers trapped. Television images showed people being evacuated by office chairs, and gurneys. Most of them had injuries likely caused by falling debris.
“We were talking and all of sudden we heard an explosion with white smoke and glass falling from the windows,” said Maria Concepcion Andrade, 42, who lives on the block of Pemex building. “People started running from the building covered in dust. A lot of pieces were flying.”
Police landed four rescue helicopters to remove the dead or injured. About a dozen tow trucks were furiously moving cars to make more landing room for the helicopters.
Streets surrounding the building were closed as evacuees wandered around, and rescue crews loaded the injured into ambulances.
“I profoundly lament the death of our fellow workers at Pemex. My condolences to their families,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said via his Twitter account.
Shortly before the explosion, Operations Director Carlos Murrieta reported via Twitter that the company had reduced its accident rate in recent years. Most Pemex accidents have occurred at pipeline and refinery installations.
A fire at a pipeline metering centre in northeast Mexico near the Texas border killed 30 workers in September, the largest-single toll in at least a decade for the company.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, March 14, 2011 at 8:23 AM - 26 Comments
Like some of you, I’ve been trying to follow the post-earthquake events at the nuclear facilities in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. This effort has been both reassuring and infuriating. The bottom line at this moment appears to be that, despite worst case being heaped upon worst case, the design of the containment apparatus of the Fukushima power plants has successfully prevented any danger to the Japanese populace.
Indeed, one is forced to conclude that we have witnessed a demonstration of the near-impossibility of public danger from nuclear power plants of this type. This facility is situated in what we would be tempted to call the stupidest possible place—though densely populated Japan does not have much choice in the matter. An earthquake of the magnitude of March 11′s was literally considered impossible by seismologists, and the plants were not built to survive it. (Some, in fact, will certainly not survive as power-producing assets; where there has been partial meltdown or cooling by unfiltered seawater, the economic value of the cores will have become zero—minus the cleanup cost—almost immediately.)
When trouble came, the onsite generators that are supposed to circulate coolant in an emergency had been wiped out by the tsunami, and mobile backup generators rushed to the scene could not be hooked up because of flooding. (Who could have seen that coming after a tsunami?) As a consequence of the resulting heat buildup, hydrogen started exploding all over the place—presenting no apparent threat to the integrity of the containment vessels, but quite a significant one to the integrity of emergency responders’ bodies.
It’s a frustrating sequence of events to behold, and it has been made more so by the poor crisis management of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the Japanese government. A serious nuclear incident is the whole world’s concern, and TEPCO and Japan have an obligation to explain to the world just what has happened. But English-language reports from the state broadcaster, NHK, have been shockingly feeble and confused. TEPCO’s press releases, meanwhile, are masterpieces of indecipherable technical and even legal jargon. (“As the reactor pressure suppression function was lost, at 5:22am, Mar 12th, it was determined that a specific incident stipulated in article 15, clause 1 has occurred.”)
The global public has been left to figure out for itself what to make of hazy videos of nuclear power facilities exploding. What little context we can assemble, as we try to interpret such a mortifying sight, arrives mostly in shreds provided by Western oracles—ones who, in their turn, seem to mostly be working from supposition and indirect evidence, and who may not be particularly independent from the nuclear industry.
No one should forget, while trying to make sense of what’s happening in Japan, that something like 300 people died in major coal mining accidents around the world in 2010 alone. None of those accidents involved natural disasters, and probably not all of them even involved culpable human error. We just accept a certain quantum of mortality as the cost of keeping the lights on—when it comes to every means of power generation, that is, except nukes. A death toll in the single digits from the Fukushima troubles would represent an amazing triumph of design robustness. (Especially if we judge the quality of Japanese engineers and regulators by their competence at communications.)
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 1 Comment
A new telescope system will keep watch for killer asteroids from space
In 1908, the skies over Siberia lit up in a sudden and massive explosion: an asteroid, 40 m wide, had entered earth’s atmosphere and was breaking up in a multi-megaton burst. Although the asteroid itself didn’t make it to the ground, the shock wave and massive fireball that resulted destroyed 2,000 sq. km of forest, laying waste to the ground below. The Tunguska Event, as it’s called, took place in a remote area, so no human lives were lost. If the blast happened over Toronto, London or Shanghai, it would be another story.
Thousands of asteroids, most of them untracked, swarm around our planet; some are over 10 km wide. “Right now, the most probable amount of warning we’ll have for an asteroid impact is zero, because we don’t know where most of them are,” says Robert Jedicke, 46, a University of Hawaii astronomer originally from Niagara Falls, Ont. Jedicke is part of a team at UH’s Institute for Astronomy that’s working to change that. A new program, called Pan-STARRS, will combine the world’s most powerful asteroid-tracking telescope with the largest digital camera ever built. The first of four planned telescopes is set to begin its full scientific mission any day now. “In the past 200 years, we’ve discovered half a million asteroids,” he says. The first telescope alone “should find a comparable number in a single year.”