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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 19:05 GMT
Furnace opens at explosion site
The new blast furnace is lowered into position
The new blast furnace is lowered into position
Steel giant Corus has reopened the blast furnace in south Wales where three workers died 14 months ago in a massive explosion and fire.

Blast furnace number five was relit at 1500 GMT at the Port Talbot plant on Thursday, and is on the site of the furnace destroyed in the accident - the worst in the steel industry for a quarter of century.

The reopening of the furnace will help secure workers' jobs, and Corus manager Dr Mark Carr described the move as: "A very significant day for us."

But Lee Jones, who survived the fatal blast on 8 November, 2001, said he had mixed feelings about the new furnace.

Corus plant, Port Talbot
Jobs have been safeguarded at the plant

"It is good for the town, but it also upsets me that it is back up on the Port Talbot skyline," he said.

"If I go into town, I find myself staring at it. There is a lot of emotion tied up in it."

The 75m reconstruction has been completed ahead of schedule and in a climate of cutbacks and closures by the steel company.

Dr Carr, managing director of Corus Strip products division, started the furnace by pressing a button to ignite a 200-tonne pyre of old railway sleepers.

Dr Carr said the rebuilding of the furnace was "a significant investment for the company and for the south Wales community."

The explosion killed workers Stephen Galsworthy, 26, Andrew Hutin, 20, and Len Radford, 53 and injured 12 others.

The explosion left the blast furnace too hot for construction workers to enter for two months.

Then in April, the furnace site was cleared and work began on the rebuilding project, involving 800 workers.

This is a major achievement of international significance

Dr Mark Carr, Corus management

Thousands of jobs have been lost at Corus plants in Newport, Shotton, north Wales, and Gorseinon, near Swansea.

But the Port Talbot plant escaped cutbacks and Corus has strengthened its commitment to the site with this latest investment.

Mr Carr said that the site did stir memories: "We all have very strong feelings and recollections of the day when the explosion happened on number five."

The furnace will have an output of 1.5m tonnes per year, which together with the number four blast furnace will provide Port Talbot with an annual iron output of some 3.4m tonnes.

Lee Jones, blast survivor
Lee Jones: Harrowing memories

Dr Carr added: "Blast furnace rebuilds can typically take up to four years to complete and I would like to congratulate the project team for the exemplary way they have risen to the challenges set, to deliver a state-of-the-art furnace on time and on budget.

Last November, a memorial service marking the first anniversary of the disaster was held in Port Talbot.

Memorial garden

Corus has admitted civil liability for the explosion and now faces an estimated 1m compensation payout.

Interim payments to relatives of the victims have already been made.

There had been plans to create a memorial garden to remember those who were killed but these were later shelved.

An investigation into the blast by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not due to be completed until early 2003.

Preliminary findings have shown the blast may have been caused by water in the works' number five furnace.

A decision on any prosecutions will be taken after the completion of the inquiry.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  BBC Wales Today's Nick Palit
Three generations of Corus steelworkers fired up the replacement for blast furnace number five
Steelworks Blast

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08 Nov 02 | Wales
23 Oct 02 | Wales
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