After bus explosion, probe begins

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After bus explosion, probe begins

In the wake of the explosion on Monday of a Seoul city bus that left 17 people injured, officials have instituted special safety checks of other buses, starting immediately.

Bus drivers and passengers are calling on the government, bus companies and manufacturers to quickly investigate the incident that involved a bus running on compressed natural gas.

Seongdong police officials said it is likely that the explosion was due to a faulty gas tank. Forensic investigators and experts from the Korea Gas Corporation and the Seoul metropolitan government were on-site yesterday investigating the scene.

“We’re weighing the possibility that there were some flaws with the gas tank because we believe there was no problem with pipes that were linked to the gas tank,” said an investigator with the Seongdong police department. The exploded gas tank was manufactured in Italy in 2000 and had a life span of 15 years, according to police.

Twelve bus passengers and five pedestrians were injured in the explosion. One of the victims, a 27-year-old woman, parts of her feet.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy released a statement yesterday afternoon saying it will carry out a special safety check from today until Aug. 21 on 731 buses that contain gas tanks that were produced between 2000 and 2001.

The ministry is also requiring 165 natural gas fueling stations across the country to check gas tanks for leakage before filling them with gas. The Seoul city government said it will begin checking all buses running on compressed natural gases to determine whether gas tanks loaded on the buses are safe enough or are inferior in quality.

Ten CNG bus drivers at Jungnang public transportation garage who yesterday were discussing the accident said they couldn’t understand why the bus exploded. The bus had departed from the Jungnang garage.

“We were told at a CNG bus education session provided by the Korea Transportation Safety Authority that the CNG buses absolutely have no risk of explosion and they won’t explode even if grenades were thrown at the gas containers,” a bus driver said.

But some mechanics who look after CNG buses suggested that the accident, tragically, was not unexpected.

“There’s not that much mechanics here can do, because we are limited to checking for leakage of gas tanks with naked eyes,” said Kim Sang-muk, a mechanic at KD Group, adding that there was no gas safety expert at the garage.

There are nine mechanics at local bus company KD Group, and they check on the buses twice a week.

Lax safety controls concerning the CNG buses aren’t entirely new. At the end of July last year, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy and Ministry of Environment released a report that pointed out problems with CNG buses. The report advised that gas tanks in buses be checked on a regular basis and that gas tanks be installed on the roof of a bus, not inside. But that idea was not accepted by bus manufacturers and bus operators.

Compressed natural gas buses hit the roads in Korea in 2002, in an effort to reduce air pollution; the push was initiated by the Ministry of Environment. There are more than 25,000 CNG buses and cleaning vehicles across the country and 7,300 out of 7,558 Seoul buses now run on CNG. CNG buses don’t spew exhaust and they cause much less of the emissions that lead to the destruction of the ozone layer.

By Kim Mi-ju []
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