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Friday, October 22, 2010

Miners trapped - Chile could rejoice - China is sullen

Cruel are the ways of life for some, as some celebrated in Chile, some of the same profession at China have suffered the worst.

Much has been written about the mining accident that occurred at San Jose copper gold mine at Chile on 5th Aug 2010, the miraculous survival of those 33 miners for close to 70 days and the dramatic resuce from underground by rescue capsule. The whole nation rejoiced and their President personally oversaw the entire planning and operations. The Sanjose Miners were trapped at approx 700 meters (23000 ft) deep and about 5 km away from the mine entrance. There earlier had been some accidents and one death. Reports state that the rescue operations costed between US $ 10 to 20 million, some covered by private donations and rest funded by state owned mining corporation Coelco and the Govt. itself.

Mother Earth is rich in natural resources and mining is the extraction of valuable minerals from the earth. There are variety of things mined from the base metals, coal, salt, potash, petroleum, natural gas to precious metals, uranium, diamonds and…… mining activity has been going on for hundreds of years – much has improved over the years – improvement in equipment and safety standards, yet accidents do occur. Some nations have been crying hoarse of the negative impact on the environ and safety has always been a concern and challenge.

Whilst Chileans rejoiced, China has not been so lucky. Recently China launched massive rescue effort involving 300 rescuers for reaching the trapped miners after a gas leak at the pit in Yuzhou. The accident left more than 2500 tonnes of coal dust. China had earned notoriety on the safety standards of the mining industry.

Unlike Chile, there has not been availability of much details of the tragedy that struck at Henan Province of China. China is one of the major producers of coal from mining – roughly 45% of the world’s coal but unfortunately has much higher % of fatalities per tonne of coal than other big producers which includes India.
Though 37 have tragically dided, the China’s central television news channel has not made much mention in the news.

Obviously there are references to Chile incident and criticism on Chinese authorities mounted. The Govt. had taken some efforts to improve the safety standards which included closing of small private mines. Earlier this year a coal pit in Shanxi province was flooded – 115 were rescued but 36 could not be. It was reported that the miners survived by eating sawdust, tree bark, paper and even coal. Some strapped themselves to the walls of the shafts with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.
The recent one in Henan was an explosion in the pit of a mine owned by Pingyu Coal and Electric based in Yuzhou city. Though some of the trapped miners could be located, tonnes of coal dust had to be cleared before the mine shaft could reach anywhere near them. The blast occurred as workers were drilling a hole to release pressure from a gas buildup to decrease the risk of explosions, according to safety officials. The blast is reported to have unleashed more than 2,500 tonnes of coal dust. Though the type of gas was not specified, methane is a common cuase of mind blasts and coal dust is explosive.

The gas level inside the mine was 40%, far higher than the normal level of near 1%, CCT reported. The type of gas wasn't specified, but methane is a common cause of mine blasts, and coal dust is explosive. There are reports that an unknown number of illegal mines still exist to profit from the fast-growing economy's huge appetite for power. China's economy remains reliant on coal for about two-thirds of its energy needs.

The hopes were fading and at first 26 were confirmed dead – there were reports later that five more bodies were recovered and the total toll was put at 37.  In a stunning piece of statistics, mining fatalities correlate with the country’s level of economic development with accidents reported to be more common in poor nations. Even when the safety standards are vastly improving, the % of those die in Australia is far less than those in Russia; though it is clear that safety cannot be linked to GDP. The comparison is not like for like as Aussie mines are more open cast and the accident ratio is very high in underground mines.
History also points arm at China – the worst coal mining disaster occurred way back during the II WW. On Apr 26, 1942 a coal dust explosion killed 1549 minders at Benxihu Colliery in Liaoning Province. The city was under Japanese occupation since 1931 until 1945. mining had been on in that colliery since 1905. It is stated that invading Japanese forced the workers to work under poor conditions and upto 12 hour shifts or longer. The explosion sent flames bursting out of the mine shaft entrance, hundreds were trapped and suffocated to death.

The world over it is the poor who always suffer and the price of human lives are many a times different.

Regards – Sampathkumar.


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