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Fire at a lithium battery factory, in Hwaseong
Emergency personnel move the body of a person killed in a deadly fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell, in Hwaseong, South Korea, June 24, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

South Korea battery plant fire kills 22 people, most of them Chinese

By Daewoung Kim and Hongji Kim

A powerful explosion set on fire a lithium battery factory in South Korea on Monday, killing 22 workers, most of them Chinese nationals, local fire officials said.

The fire, which has largely been extinguished, ripped through a factory run by battery manufacturer Aricell in Hwaseong, a major industrial cluster about 90 minutes southwest of the capital Seoul.

Eighteen Chinese workers and one Laotian were among the dead. The nationality of the remaining deceased worker was not yet confirmed, Kim Jin-young, a local fire official, told reporters, citing information from company officials.

The blaze began at 10:31 a.m. after a series of battery cells exploded inside a warehouse with some 35,000 units, Kim said. What had triggered the explosion remains unclear, he added.

A Reuters witness saw firefighters moving up to six bodies out of the factory. Due to the intensity of the blaze, rescuers were finding it difficult to identify the dead, Kim added.

Two people were being treated for major burns, officials at the scene said.

Live TV footage showed firefighters spraying the damaged steel and concrete building. Parts of the upper level had collapsed, and large chunks of the building looked like they had been blown out into the street by an explosion. Aerial footage showed massive smoke clouds billowing from the structure.

Kim Jae-ho, Fire and Disaster Prevention professor at Daejeon University, said the fire had probably spread too quickly for workers to escape.

"Battery materials such as nickel are easily flammable," he said. "So often, there is not enough time to respond, compared to a fire caused by other materials."

President Yoon Suk Yeol was monitoring the situation, his office said, while Interior Minister Lee Sang-min called on the local authorities to take steps to prevent any hazardous chemicals from contaminating the surroundings.

Established in 2020, Aricell makes lithium primary batteries for sensors and radio communication devices. It has 48 employees, according to its latest regulatory filing and its Linkedin profile.

Calls to Aricell offices were unanswered.

The company is not listed on South Korea's stock market but is majority owned by S-Connect, according to Aricell regulatory filing. S-Connect is registered on the junior Kosdaq index and its shares closed down 22.5%.

South Korea, a major industrial economy, has made efforts to improve its safety record after several past accidents, many of which have been blamed on negligence.

© Thomson Reuters 2024.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Sad news. While rare, EV battery fires are extremely hot and hard to extinguish, which is why insurance costs for EVs are rising sharply and more car carriers and car parks are shying away from them.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Very sad.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The worst possible scenario, sad indeed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Bad Haircut, no need to bring in EVs, which have nothing to do with the battery plant in question. In fact, EV batteries are extremely safe and gasoline cars are TEN TIMES MORE LIKELY to burn than an EV: https://www.greencarstocks.com/statistics-show-ice-vehicle-fires-20-time-more-likely-than-ev-fires/

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Correction: TWENTY TIMES more likely

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The loss of life and injuries are terrible regardless of the national origin of the workers.

This was a warehouse fire, not a plant fire. It depends on the type of L-Ion batteries they were storing, but we've all seen how a puncture that joins 2 sides of the power cell can create a very hot fire which will quickly spread to other batteries.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Bad Haircut

Sad news. While rare, EV battery fires are extremely hot and hard to extinguish

This isn't EV battery, but single use battery that you put into gadgets.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Aricell had a total of 48 employees, and unfortunately it appears about half of them died in this accident. Think about that. For almost half the employeed to have died there must not have been any reinforcing walls between each production area. The safety measures might have been quite lacking. No wonder Aricell's parent company stock price dove 22.5%... wouldn't be surprised if it drops further today. Unlike Japan, when an accident happens in S. Korea, companies are held heavily accountable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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