Czech chemicals producer Unipetrol AS has been forced to shut down its key petrochemicals plant at Litvínov for several months after an explosion and fire in the steam cracker unit crippled the facility.
Plant personnel were reported to have escaped without serious injury from the Aug. 13 event. Up to 1,000 people were reported to be evacuated from the plant and surrounding area following the incident.
Local media reported that five people, including four fire fighters, were treated for minor injuries at the site. The road between the cities of Litvínov and Most was closed for several days and connecting public transport was limited.
The initial blast and fire at the firm's Záluží Chempark resulted from a propylene leak in the 545,000 metric tons per year steam cracker unit early on Aug. 13. A new blaze then broke out in another part of the unit, according to Prague-based Unipetrol.
As the fire spread, the polymer units were shut down and all petrochemicals production at the site ceased. A total of 43 fire fighting units from across the region on the Czech-Germany border were deployed to tackle the blaze.
They brought the fire under control within hours, allowing remaining propylene to burn off and cooling down the affected units, reported Unipetrol, part of Poland's PKN Orlen oil group.
The adjacent Litvínov refinery, which provides the plant with naphtha feedstock, was not directly affected by the fire although, as a precaution, crude oil throughput there was reduced to a minimum. Production at the site's ammonia plant was also limited.
Four days after the blast Unipetrol declared the situation at the stricken site “stable.” A special team of Czech police and fire department personnel have launched an investigation. Once the team has completed its task, Unipetrol specialists are due to plan repairs and assess when to resume petrochemicals production, the firm said.
“We want to re-establish the production in the plant in the shortest possible time. Regarding re-establishing operation to a full extent, we are talking about a horizon of approximately months rather than weeks,” commented Unipetrol's chairman and CEO Marek Świtajewski.
Unipetrol has a second Czech refinery just north of Prague at Kralupy nad Vltavou which the company reported to be unaffected by the accident and operating at full capacity. The site also has a butadiene production capacity of 120,000 tonnes per year.