Daily NK has learned from a source in North Korea that a gas tower at the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex, a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan Province, recently exploded, leaving eight dead and another 12 wounded.
According to a source in the province earlier today, the accident occurred after the Anju-based factory introduced “new technology” aimed at increasing fertilizer production. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he told Daily NK that the 12 people who were wounded were sent to a provincial hospital for treatment.
North Korean authorities have long focused on ways to increase the factory’s production because it has failed to meet fertilizer production targets each year, the source said.
While scientists and technicians worked to place the new technology into the factory, officials from the country’s Central Committee and Ministry of Chemical Industry reportedly visited the plant to monitor these activities.
According to the Rodong Sinmun on June 7, even former premier Kim Jae Ryong visited the factory and emphasized that it was important to quickly “expand the factory’s fertilizer production capabilities” and “repair equipment” so that it could provide fertilizer to the country’s agricultural sector.
The newspaper also noted that Pak Pong Ju, who manages North Korea’s economic activities, visited several production centers in the factory and that he similarly highlighted the need to expand production.
The fertilizer plant ultimately began tests on the new technology amid intense interest from the central government. On Sept. 18, however, a gas tower in the plant exploded, leading to the casualties.
“They had already succeeded in tests conducted in a small testing plant some time ago, and had placed the new technology into the factory, but then this accident happened,” the source said.
“An accident investigation team made up of 14 officials from the Central Committee, Cabinet, and Ministry of State Security, along with experts, technical and government officials, and officials from the prosecutor’s office have arrived and are conducting an investigation into what caused the accident,” he said, adding, “They have not found a scientific reason for the accident yet but believe that it was caused by [the accumulation of] high pressure.”
Locals near the factory have expressed disbelief that the factory management went ahead with placing new technology into the factory on the basis of limited experimentation. Some are criticizing the management for not paying enough attention to worker safety.
Most of these locals work in the fertilizer plant and have expressed anger about frequent accidents occurring at the factory because they feel they are risking their lives for just a little extra rations. The source said that some are asking themselves whether they need to send their family members into such a dangerous working environment.
The factory workers who were wounded in the explosion have not been able to receive compensation from the state, much to the sympathy of those around them.
“Just because people died doesn’t mean that the state will step in to care for their families or provide compensation,” the source said, adding, “Those suffering from serious wounds in the hospital won’t be able to work when they leave the hospital, and are dreading the future because they will be treated as disabled people even by their families.”
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