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Orica searches for explosive alternative

The company provides explosives to well over 50 per cent of coal mines in the Hunter Valley region, as well as many other operators across Australia and abroad.

Without Orica?s supply of ammonium nitrate, the operations run the risk of running out of explosives. An Orica spokesperson confirmed that many quarrying operations could suffer shortages.

“We are endeavouring to put alternative supply chains in place, but yes, there will be some shortages for the region,” the spokesperson told Quarry. “We do supply from the Kooragang Island plant not just to New South Wales, but also into Victoria and internationally. Potentially there may be impacts – certainly in the Hunter Valley – but also broader impacts as well.”

Orica advised that the shortages would last as long as the enforced shutdown was in place, the duration of which remains unclear.

The shutdown comes after the second major spill in three months, with a 990kg chemical leak occurring earlier this month. In August, a hexavalent chromium spill forced the plant into partial shutdown.

The ammonia leak was airborne and put two people in hospital. At least four others were reportedly affected.

Orica chief executive Graeme Liebelt described the leaks as ?not acceptable?.

?We are obviously bitterly disappointed about the release of ammonia from Kooragang Island on 9 November,” Mr Liebelt told the ABC. “We have been working very hard since the incident on 8 August to rebuild the trust of the community and to address technical issues on the site.”

According to the company?s annual report, the plant?s closure in August ripped $21 million from the company?s bottom line. At this stage, the Newcastle plant has been closed indefinitely.

Job losses haven?t been ruled out as a consequence of the leak. According to The Newcastle Herald, about 300 workers will be affected by the shutdown. Orica says it will find ?other jobs? for them to do.

The paper reports that federal pollutant inventory figures show that Orica lost 69 tonnes of ammonia in fugitive emissions in 2009-10,  370 tonnes of ammonia was vented from ??point sources?? including chimneys, while 110 tonnes went into waterways.

The leak has brought the licensing system around chemicals such as ammonium nitrate into sharp relief, with some commentators calling for its reform. NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker acknowledged there were problems with the system.

“I share the concerns about the licensing system. I don’t want to jump to conclusions but the government has modernised the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) and at the heart of those reforms is more information to the public, more requirements on industry,? she told the AAP. “(Orica should) triple their efforts to get this plant up and running, restore confidence, make sure it’s safe for the community, for the workers.”

    ?    Sources: AAP, The Newcastle Herald, ABC

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