Lightning ignites explosive plant gas discharge

 A heavy storm in Newcastle has seen lightning strikes ignite gas discharges above the Kooragang Island chemical plant.

The hydrogen gas discharges, which were part of the normal start up procedures at Orica’s Kooragang plant, were struck at around 10pm last night, causing 20 metre high flames to shoot into the sky, the Newcastle Herald reports.

Despite resident concerns at the time, Orica stated that it was not an unheard of event during start up procedures.

"It can tend to happen when a plant is discharging hydrogen gas, which it wouldn’t normally be doing when it is up and running," the spokesperson said.

"It’s not common but it’s also not uncommon."

It came soon after Orica announced it would restart its explosives manufacturing plant.

While the plant was slated to begin operations before Christmas, Orica chose to halt the process after false starts last month.

A spokesperson explained that Orica is focused on a safe reopening of the plant, and are reassuring the local community that if Orica "‘‘weren’t happy then they were not going to proceed.

"When we did the pre-start checking there was one bit of the plant that we felt required further work before we recommenced the start," she said.

"We have therefore put it on hold until we are certain that this has been addressed.

"As we have stated, our priority is to restart the plant safely and this action is part of that commitment."

Sean Winstone, the site’s manager, stated "we need to get this right.

"There is no requirement for the plant to be up and running tonight or tomorrow.

"The only requirement is for the plant to be run safely" he told the Herald.

According to the ABC, the plant carried out pre-start testing earlier this month and was now ready to resume production.

"We’ve been through a process before Christmas where we have repaired the things that we needed to repair to make ourselves completely satisfied and we are satisfied that tomorrow we can restart the ammonia plant," Winstone said.

The latest incident has not halted the continuing start up process. 

Image: Newcastle Herald – Peter Scoop

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