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Buncefield Joins the Grisly Roll Call

Audible 50 miles away, the Total-Texaco oil storage depot explosion resulted in the largest fire in Europe since World War II.

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Major industrial accidents in the United Kingdom tend to have an impact far beyond these shores. Thirty years ago, Flixborough—still the largest peacetime explosion in Britain—introduced the engineering world to such concepts as the Unconfined Vapour Cloud Explosion (UVCE) and stress corrosion cracking. The explosion and fire at Texaco’s Milford Haven refinery almost exactly 20 years later resulted in a report from the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which is still routinely quoted whenever process plant alarm management is discussed.

Now joining this grisly roll call is Buncefield, the Total-Texaco oil storage depot some 20 miles Northwest of London, where an explosion on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 11, audible 50 miles away, resulted in the largest fire in Europe since the second World War. Almost incredibly, there were no fatalities and only two casualties serious enough to require extended hospitalization. But the smoke plume was seen across most of southern England, and the damage to surrounding houses and business premises will run into hundreds of millions.

With the main fires only just out, the initial cause is still a mystery. What is certain is that if you’re in any way connected with industries storing or processing flammable substances, or with their measurement and control, you’re going to become very familiar with the name Buncefield.

About the author

Andrew Bond, andrew@abpubs.demon.co.uk, is a journalist based in the United Kingdom, and is the Editor of the Industrial Automation Insider, a monthly newsletter delivered via e-mail. www.iainsider.co.uk.

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