A steel tube with inner diameter of 6 mm and 10 m length was filled with radiolysis gas (stoichiometric H2-O2 mixture) at 70 bar for boiling water reactor simulations. Via a pneumatic valve, a venting line with similar cross-section and 2 m length, filled with atmospheric air, was connected.

For venting the tube, the valve was opened (fast) and an explosion occurred.

Explanation: Due to diffusion ignition in the leading shock, a flame flashed back into the pre-mixed reservoir and induced a detonation there. The tube system and involved measurement technique was destroyed. For safety reasons, the whole installation was set up in a protective container so that no person or other equipment was threatened.

Incident Synopsis
During a standard testing procedure, a 3,000 psig relief valve actuated at normal line pressure, releasing gaseous H2. The gaseous H2 combined with air, resulting in an explosion which damaged the test facility.

Cause
The relief valve was improperly set to open at line pressure, and the inspection was inadequate in that it didn't identify this error. Contributing cause was poor design of the venting system, which was installed in a horizontal position, causing inadequate venting and buildup of static electricity.