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Explosion rocks CPC plant in Kaohsiung

A major explosion at a CPC Corp., Taiwan plant in Kaohsiung has caused local residents to worry about their safety and disrupted the local petrochemical supply chain.

The explosion, which occurred at about 3:28 a.m., sparked a fire that gutted the plant for about five hours before being extinguished.

No casualties were reported. The state-run firm also claimed that no pollution was detected because of the accident.

Operations of the plant and other areas of the same refinery complex were halted, with Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu instructing that the heaviest possible penalties be imposed on CPC over the accident.

The southern city's environmental authorities slapped CPC with a NT$1 million fine for creating a hazard to the environment.

CPC Chairman Chu Shao-hua later inspected the site and offered an apology to local residents.

But Chu, pledging reinforced efforts to improve safety, said the accident will not affect the company's oil costs.

The accident comes close on the heels of a major increase in gasoline prices by the state-run company, which has led to complaints from the public and created pressure on inflation.

Firms in the plastics industry said the CPC accident has disrupted the supply chain, with prices of materials and end-products likely to go up if the plant does not resume operations soon enough.

The explosion and ensuing fire hit a butadiene storage facility at the CPC Kaohsiung refinery, which had had a poor safety record more than a decade ago before improvements were made.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a fractured pipe in the factory's distillation tower, Lee Shun-chin, head of the refinery, said at a press conference.

Losses are estimated to reach about NT$50 million (US$1.69 million) because the plant was ordered to close right after the accident for repairs and safety checks, which will take at least one month to complete, Lee said.

The plant produced 40 percent of CPC's total butadiene, an industrial chemical used as a monomer in the production of synthetic rubber, Lee said.

Though Lee said no toxic gas or waste water leaked from the complex, the accident has fueled outrage among local residents who have for years complained about pollution from the refinery.

During her inspection of the site, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen was circled by angry protesters.

She told CPC to relocate the aging refinery by 2015 as it has promised. She also urged CPC not to ignore safety at the plants simply because they are soon to be moved.

Kuomintang Legislator Huang Chao-shun also demanded that CPC launch an overall safety check of its oil refinery operations in Kaohsiung.

She said the refinery must stop all its operations until the checks can prove its safety. “We cannot let people live alongside an unexploded bomb,” she added.

Huang's call was echoed by opposition Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Tai-hua.

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 Greenback increases by NT$0.043 on Taipei forex to close at NT$29.562 TAIPEI, CNA 
Firefighters battle the fire at a CPC refinery plant in Kaohsiung, yesterday. Other facilities at the refinery were not damaged but the company halted all production at the petrochemical complex pending safety checks. (CNA)

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