Thursday, March 02, 2006

five past midnight in bhopal

Related website: The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

A snippet from the book ...
In their reinforced concrete tomb, the three tanks, two yards high and thirteen long, looked like enormous sarcophagi left behind by some pharaoh. They lay, half buried, side by side, at the foot of metal structures on view to Dilip and Padmini's wedding guests. They had no names on them, only numbers: 610, 611, 619. These tanks were masterpieces of the most advanced metallurgy. No acid, liquid or corrosive gas could eat into their shells, which were made of SS14 stainless steel. At least, that was the theory: methyl isocynate had not yet revealed all of its secrets. A complex network of pipes, stopcocks and valves linked the tanks to each other and to reactors that produced the MIC and Sevin. To prevent any accidental leakage of their contents into the atmosphere, each tank was connected to three specific safety systems. The first was a network of fine piping contained in the tank's lining. When freon gas flowed through it, the MIC would be constantly refrigerated to a temperature close to 0 degree centigrade. The second was a monumental cylindrical tank called the "decontamination tower". It contained caustic soda to absorb and neutralize any escaping gas. The third was a 120-foot-high flare. Its role was to burn off any effluents that might have escaped the barrage of caustic soda.

That December 2, 10984, there were sixty-three tons of methyl isocynate in the tanks---a real "time atomic bomb right in the middle of the plant" as the German chemist from Bayer had described Eduardo Munoz---and not one of the three safety systems were operational. The refrigeration had been off for a month and a half and the MIC was being kept at the ambient temperature about 20 degrees centigrade in a winter month. The alarm that was supposed to go off in case of any abnormal rise in temperature in the tanks had been disconnected. As for the decontamination tower and the flare to incinerate the gases, several of their components had been dismantled the preceding week for maintenance.

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