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Darrell Proctor reports that India’s Power Ministry has established a committee to investigate the November 1 explosion at NTPC’s thermal power plant in Unchahar. The death toll from the blast is at 36, and dozens more workers at the plant were injured when flue gases and steam were released from a 500-MW coal-fired unit at the plant. Several remain hospitalized with severe burns. The investigative panel was created November 6 by order of the Power Ministry, under a provision of the country’s Electricity Act 2003. It is led by P.D. Siwal, a thermal power expert from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). The Power Ministry said it wants a report from the committee within the next month, and would like a report on the cause of the blast within the next week. The agency also asked the committee to “fix responsibility for lapses, if any,” and “to suggest remedial measures to avoid recurrence of such incidents in future.”

NTPC, the nation’s largest utility, has its own group investigating the accident, led by S.K. Roy, the company’s executive director of operations. The explosion at the Feroze Gandhi Unchahar Thermal Power Station in Uttar Pradesh state occurred in a unit of the plant that was commissioned in March and had been operating on a trial basis since September. The 1,550-MW plant supplies electricity to nine states ... Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Uttarakhand—and employs about 870 workers.

An investigative group from the Uttar Pradesh labor department on November 3 said “gross negligence” on the part of NTPC led to the blast, although that charge has been challenged by government officials. Ministry of Power head R.K. Singh on November 2 said “I have seen everything during my physical inspection of the accident scene and I can say that there is no human negligence in the unfortunate incident.” Singh last week toured the site with state power minister Shrikant Sharma. Though R.S. Rathee, regional executive director for NTPC, told local media on November 3 that “No one can say anything about the reasons until the probe is completed,” other NTPC officials involved in the investigation have said the accident occurred as workers were trying to remove bottom ash from beneath the furnace in the boiler unit. Pressure inside the affected unit allegedly shot up to 70 times its normal level in just a few minutes, and an emergency shut-off mechanism apparently failed to work. The pressure caused a section of economizer ductwork to fail, resulting in the explosion that released gas and steam onto the workers.

Jagmohan Singh, deputy director of the labor department, on November 3 told the Hindustan Times his group “found the formation and accumulation of clinker [residue from burned coal] in the boiler duct and the lack of its poking as the main reason for the explosion.”

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