Explosion at institute for defense kills one, injures 6

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Explosion at institute for defense kills one, injures 6

A 30-year-old researcher died and six others were injured by an explosion on Wednesday afternoon at a state-run defense institute in Daejeon, 87 miles south of Seoul.

The precise cause of the accident at the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) is not yet known, but ADD officials said the scientists were experimenting with “rocket fuel.”

One ADD researcher died and five others ADD employees were injured while a 46-year-old researcher from a different organization was also injured, bringing the total number of casualties to seven.

The 46-year-old researcher was the most severely hurt of the six, but police said his injuries are not life-threatening.

According to police and ADD officials, the explosion occurred at around 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, when the researchers were experimenting with rocket fuel in a lab. The 30-year-old who died was on the first floor conducting the experiment, while four others were on the second floor in a separate measurement room.

The 30-year-old researcher was transferring nitromethane, a highly flammable liquid, from a fuel tank to a combustor, while the other researchers were measuring the flow rate, or the movement of the mass of a substance in a set time.

An ADD official said the researcher who lost his life may have misused the experiment equipment, causing the blast, though authorities will have to investigate further.

After the blast, the researchers on the second floor all successfully evacuated. Fire fighters discovered the dead researcher on the first floor after extinguishing the fire. Two researchers who were not directly involved in the experiment suffered from smoke inhalation.

Lim Sung-taek, head of the ADD’s 4th R&D Institute, said the institute was “baffled” by the blast because it was completely “unforeseen” given the expected experiment process. The “danger level” of the experiment was so low that the researcher who was killed was wearing casual clothes instead of a fire suit, said ADD officials, though it was not explained whether he would have survived his injuries if he had been wearing a fire suit.

The Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency said Thursday that some 30 to 40 people from the National Forensic Service, National Defense Ministry, Employment and Labor Ministry, Environment Ministry, Daejeon police and firefighting authority were holding a joint inspection to figure out the cause of the explosion, as well as whether all necessary safety measures were taken in advance.

The blast was said to have caused some 15 million won ($13,000) worth of damage.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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