Monthly Archives: November 2017

Petrochemical Fires

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Chemical plants pose a great risk when it comes to fires and blasts, in fact they present more of a threat than nuclear plants, as they can produce extremely intense explosions. This is due to the presence of chemicals like petroleum, as anybody who has foolishly tried to boost a barbecue or bonfire with this type of substance will agree.

More than 22,000 non-residential fires are reported each year in the UK, with a significant number occurring in the workplace. The consequences of this are loss of life, injury, post traumatic stress disorder, destruction of premises and loss of business. Fire and blast protection systems are crucial in this kind of environment, if disaster and injury are to be averted. It is also essential that all staff frequenting the premises, are aware of safety procedures, and report any potential hazards. Many of the past incidences of petrochemical fires could have been easily avoided if those working in the environment had known what to look out for.

By their very nature these fires are usually large, complex and difficult to subdue, due to there being a continual source of combustible fuel available. In these surroundings, knowledge of ignition risks and how a fire is likely to spread are especially helpful. A major cause of fires in these settings is combustible dust, which can be produced by a vast range of processes including chemical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, woodworking, metalworking and food processing. In fact just about everything can create some form of dust with the potential to cause a hazard.

Any work which produces sparks, such as welding, torch cutting, heating and soldering has immense potential to cause a blast or fire. Flammable liquids and gasses such as acrylic acid, crude oil and other volatile substances are dangerous if not treated with due care and attention. Machinery and equipment that is not maintained sufficiently creates a risk, making regular inspection and cleaning imperative. Another significant cause of fire in this type of workplace is electrical malfunction, which again calls for stringent checks.

Fire prevention training and the establishment of emergency procedures are extremely important in petrochemical plants to ensure the safety of all.


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Nuclear Plant Fires

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Fires in Nuclear Plants are some of the most critical, although many do not necessarily result in catastrophes such as radiation leakage. The French nuclear power station fire earlier in the year is in this category, as there were no major casualties, although five people were treated for smoke inhalation, and the fire was quickly brought under control. The plant is run by EDF Energy, who are also the main contractor on the new UK £18 billion power station located at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The fire at the Flamanville site in Northern France started early in the morning, in the non-nuclear area of the turbine hall, and caused a minor explosion. Although there was no immediate danger the nearby reactor was turned off for safety. The fire was extinguished by the time the fire fighting team arrived, and authorities say there is no risk of any danger associated with the blaze. The cause of the fire is still however unknown, although sabotage has been ruled out.This type of event serves to emphasise the importance of preventative measures in this kind of environment along with the need for strict procedures on discovery of fire hazards or fire ignition.

A new reactor is currently under construction at Flamanville, originally intended to open in 2012, it is now over budget and expected to go into operation in 2018. This will be the same design as the one at Hinkley Point C, and will be the first new nuclear reactor built in the UK for two decades. EDF also plan to build another new plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute at University College London, said that although the blast at the Flamanville reactor was not disastrous, it would still add pressure for EDF regarding safety inspections. He said “It’s the cherry on the top of the horrendous time that French nuclear is having.” Many feel that a switch to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power is favourable, reducing the reliance on nuclear power and providing a more eco friendly solution.


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