Authorities are investigating an explosion at a state-run weapons development facility in Daejeon that killed one and injured six others on Wednesday.
The Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency said Thursday that it has set up an on-site probe team with the fire agency, the National Forensic Service and other investigative agencies, to identify the cause of the chemical explosion at the Agency of Defense Development.
A fire agency van enters the Agency of Defense Development headquarters in Yuseong, Daejeon, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The explosion occurred around 4 p.m. on Wednesday inside the rocket fuel lab located on the first floor of building No. 9. A researcher, 30, who was inside the lab, was killed in the explosion and four others who were in the counting room on the second floor were injured. Two firefighting personnel from the ADD suffered smoke inhalation.
Although the cause of the blast is still being investigated, the ADD said the researchers had been handling nitromethane, a hydrocarbon-based fuel, transforming solid fuel into a gel and testing its discharge into the missile engines.
Lim Seong-taek, head of the ADD division in charge of the experiment, said there was no combustion of fuel or use of electric signals that could have caused the blast.
“The lab handles low-risk rated hydrocarbon chemicals, such as jet fuels and methane,” Lim said, adding, “We tentatively presume an unexpected ignition took place, increasing the pressure inside (the tank).”
The researchers usually observe from the second floor, and the agency believes one of them went down to check something during the experiment. None of the researchers was wearing protective gear, ADD added.
According to authorities, the fire personnel inside the laboratory complex tried to put out the fire initially. The fire authorities dispatched more than 120 firefighters and some 30 fire engines to the site to contain the fire. The blaze did not spread beyond the lab complex.
Head of ADD's external affairs office Han Yee-soo (Yonhap)
Head of ADD's external affairs office Han Yee-soo on Thursday said they have organized an emergency task force to cooperate with the authorities in investigations and support the bereaved families and the injured researchers. An outsourced researcher who sustained a severe injury in his stomach underwent a surgery and is making recovery, Han added.
This was the third accident in the weapons lab in the last year and a half. In April last year, a fire started during an explosive weapons test, leading to an explosion that severely damaged the facility. In June that year, a fire started in the fridge in one of the labs.
By Choi Ji-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)