All indications are the ignition propellant known as gun-cotton was the cause of the explosion at Rheinmetall Denel Munition’s (RDM’s) facility in Somerset West on Monday that left eight people dead.
RDM chief executive Norbert Schulze said: “The product involved in the incident was an ignition propellant consisting of more than 95% nitrocellulose, commonly known as gun-cotton. It is used as an ignition material for ammunition charge systems. The combustion products in gun-cotton are carbon dioxide (34%), water (13%), nitrogen (13%) and carbon monoxide (38%) as well as a percent each of hydrogen and methane”.
He again stressed the smoke cloud from the explosion never constituted any health threat to RDM employees or communities around the plant.
“The investigation started with a joint operations centre (JOC) activated within hours of the explosion to co-ordinate disaster response and mitigation,” Schulze said, adding it was first response to an incident with input from various agencies and government bodies.
“With the response phase completed, the JOC was deactivated and a recovery phase started. Again, municipal and government departments are working with RDM to identify the cause of the explosion.”
RDM today (Thursday) continues its engagement with family members of those killed.
“There is nothing more important right now than providing utmost support and care for the families involved in this heart-breaking incident,” Schulze said.
The explosion happened during the propellant blending process, destroying the entire building where this is done and damaging surrounding blast walls but there was never any risk to people living in the area or the general public.
Flags at Denel operations and business units around South Africa are all at half-mast as a public sign of support to RDM, its employees and the families of those who lost loved ones, Denel Board chair Monhla Hlahla said.