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2 workers die after explosion at metallic compound factory

HONJO, Saitama -- Two workers at a company producing metallic compounds died and two others were injured following an explosion in a tank at the firm here early on Jan. 3, police said.

    The explosion occurred at a Dowa Hightech Co. factory in Honjo at around 12:55 a.m. on Jan. 3, shattering three of the tank's six glass windows. Four workers in the area were taken to the hospital, but two of them, 22-year-old Shinichi Sekine, a contracted worker from the Saitama Prefecture town of Kamisato, and 42-year-old Hiroyuki Negishi, from Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, died. It is suspected they inhaled toxic gas. Two other workers are receiving hospital treatment.

    Police and company officials said that the tank was about 1 meter in diameter and 2 meters high. The accident occurred during the process to produce silver powder to be used for the electrodes of solar panels. Silver attached to the tank was melted with nitric acid, and it was being cleaned at the time.

    The tank's six windows each measured about 10 centimeters in height and width. Officials suspect that something caused the temperature in the tank to rise, resulting in high pressure that shattered the windows. They say there is a high possibility that the workers inhaled poisonous gases including nitrogen oxide.

    According to the company's website, the company employs about 230 people. Its premises measure around 100,000 square meters. The firm also produces metallic coatings for vehicle parts and electrical equipment.

    Recently there have been many orders for solar panels, and work at the factory this year started on Jan. 1.

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