Short items

Five die in explosion at chemical plant

Five people have died and nine were injured following an explosion in Wucheng County in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, according to the official Xinhua news agency. The explosion took place in the acetonitrile production facilities of Heli Chemical Co Ltd on 1 January 2009. The head of the acetonitrile project was found dead at the scene, while the other four lost their lives in hospital. Among the nine injuried, only one was seriously hurt. All those killed or injured worked on the site. 

The accident is the most serious in China’s chemical industry since the big blast last August in Guangxi Vinylon Group in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which killed 20 workers and hospitalised another 60. The blast prompted the State Administration of Work Safety to release 22 chemical safety standards in November - which came into effect on the same day as the Heli Chemical blast. 

Chemist awarded the top prize 

Xu Guangxian, an 88-year-old chemist at Peking University, has been awarded the State Supreme Science and Technology (S&T) Award, together with 83-year-old brain surgeon Wang Zhongcheng, by the Chinese president Hu Jintao at the annual national S&T awards conference on 9 January. Each scientist received 5 million yuan (US$730,000). 

Graduating from Columbia University in 1951, Xu has led China’s rare earth chemistry studies. He developed a new theory of extracting different metals from rare earth, enabling China to produce and export high purity rare earth metals. Xu is also a leading theorist in the field of quantum chemistry.  

Besides research, Xu has actively promoted China’s chemistry. With his previous position as chair of the chemistry sector at the National Natural Science Foundation of China, he pushed for more funding for chemistry research. 

Xu is the second chemist, after petrochemical researcher Min Enze, to receive the top science award in China since its debut in 2000. 

Renewable investment 

Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, has started building a massive renewable resources production base. Costing a total of some 940 million yuan (US$138.2 million), the demonstration base will develop recycling facilities to process waste plastics, metal, electronics, automotive components, paper, ships and chemical plants. The region plans to use the reprocessed materials to make new products.   

Phase one of the project is expected to be completed later this year and will cost 120 million yuan. The recycling base will replace numerous small processing plants in the region’s capital city and nearby towns. 

The Nanning recycling base is one of 24 demonstration bases across China, with others scattered across Guangdong, Tianjin and Jiangsu. China’s recycling industry has raised environmental concerns in the past, but the Chinese government intends the new larger facilities to have higher environmental standards.