April 5, 2017 / 5:30 AM / 3 years ago

Formosa Vietnam steel mill meets conditions for test runs a year after spill

HANOI (Reuters) - Formosa Plastics Corp’s steel mill in Vietnam has met environment ministry conditions to start test runs, state television said on Wednesday, a year after a toxic spill from the plant caused the country’s worst environmental disaster.

State-run Vietnam television VTV said the ministry announced the conclusion after a three-day inspection visit of the Taiwanese company’s plant. It will still require approval by the government before it can go ahead with tests of its first blast furnace.

A year ago, the $11 billion Ha Tinh Steel plant accidentally spilled toxic waste that polluted more than 200 km (125 miles) of coastline, devastating sea life and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism.

Recovery on the coast has been a slow process and many communities remain angry about the spill and the pace of action to fix the problems.

Formosa has addressed 52 out of 53 violations identified in an official investigation into the spill, VTV cited the ministry as saying.

The remaining violation was its use of a ‘wet’ coking system, which generates more waste than the more modern ‘dry’ coking systems which do not use water as a coolant but are more expensive.

A release of water from the wet system after a power failure was the cause of the toxic spill. The company is expected to put in place a dry coking system by 2019.

If the government decided to allow the steel plant to operate before Formosa finished fixing the wet coking system it would be irresponsible, said priest and activist Nguyen Thanh Tinh.

“I’m really worried to know this. Maybe our fight to protect the environment will have to continue for a long time, but we surely will not give up,” he said.

Last year’s spill, and the delay in addressing it, triggered rallies and an outpouring of anger not seen in four decades of Communist Party rule.

Formosa last month said it would boost investment by about $350 million in the project to improve environmental safety measures with the hope of starting commercial production by the fourth quarter of this year.

The company welcomed the environment ministry’s decision on Wednesday.

“This not only allows us to take the first step before we can start production, it also reaffirms our redoubled dedication to protecting the environment,” an executive of the steel plant told Reuters by phone. “We will allow no room for further mistakes.”

Additional Reporting by Faith Hung in TAIPEI; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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