Five people have been killed and 12 injured by an explosion at a plant in Yokkaichi, Japan belonging to Mitsubishi Materials Corp.
It is thought that the plant makes silicon ingots as the source of wafers for use in solar cells and integrated circuit production, although the explosion happened while a team of about 20 was working on maintenance, reports said.
The explosion happened at 2:05pm local time when a heat exchanger used in the purification of hydrogen exploded, the company said. It is possible that the explosion was caused when a chemical agent inside the heat exchanger was exposed to air, according to reports. Broadcaster NHK reported that a 39 year old critically injured man was rushed to hospital by helicopter.
Mitsubishi Materials said in a statement that a heat exchanger has been damaged by an explosion but, "there is no significant damage to surrounding equipment." The company added that it has started an investigation into the cause of the accident and that it would cooperate fully with the authorities.
The high-purity silicon material is produce by the reaction of trichlorosilane with hydrogen gas and both precursors are highly volatile. The plant, which operates 24 hours a day, has an annual production capacity of 2,800 tons and about 70 percent of the output is supplied to silicon wafer manufacturer Sumco Corp. , a Japan Times report said.
It remains unclear how much manufacturing capacity Mitsubishi Materials will lose and for how long, or how much impact this could have on wafer supplies across the semiconductor industry.
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