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Refuge system could save lives

(China Daily)

15:35, August 26, 2011

SHUOZHOU, Shanxi - It looks like a waiting room, but the spacious area built into the rocks actually provides emergency shelter 323 meters underground at a coal mine.

Bright and cool inside, the mine refuge cave is designed to separate miners from the humid mine shafts with an orange iron door, a refuge which could save lives in the wake of a mine disaster.

China's mine safety officials believe that this refuge cave will lead to the introduction of an emergency refuge system at coal mines in China.

This drive for safer coal mines comes as the State Administration of Work Safety vows to tap high-tech in the mining industry to help coal mines in the country get rid of an unwanted title as the world's deadliest.

"The emergency refuge system must work," Zhao Tiechui, deputy head of the administration, said on Thursday at a conference here to promote mine safety systems.

A total of 2.69 billion yuan ($420 million) has been allocated this year to fund the building of emergency refuge systems, including the mine refuge cave and mine refuge chamber, said Zhao.

Mine refuge caves provide bigger and longer-use shelters for miners, while mine refuge chambers, mostly movable, are designed with limited capacity.

"Coal mines in Western countries do not use refuge caves," said Ba Yanping, general manager of the China Coal Comprehensive Utilization Group Co, a subsidiary of the China National Coal Group Corp, the second biggest producer of coal in China.

The Beijing-based company is a leading producer of mine emergency systems.

In contrast, Western countries with advanced mining technologies, such as the United States, have turned to refuge chambers to safeguard miners' lives.

Ba said refuge caves have proven to be an effective solution in China, where complex geological conditions make Chinese coal mines far more dangerous than those in Western countries.

In early August, a 48-hour experiment simulating a mine accident was carried out in Shuozhou, said Li Cai, director of the No 1 Tunnel Coal Mine of the China Coal Pingshuo Coal Industry Co.

Li, who was one of the 100 miners taking part in the experiment, said he had felt good, except that eating biscuits for two full days left him constantly hungry.

By the end of this year, construction will be completed at 259 pits in pilot projects to showcase six mine safety systems, according to the administration.

These safety systems are composed of a monitoring system, miner positioning system, ventilation, water supply, communications and emergency refuge system.

However, mid- and small-sized coal mines lag behind in the building of such safety systems, said Zhao, and progress was not even across China.

In January, the administration required that all Chinese coal mines complete the construction of emergency refuge systems by the end of June 2013.

The administration will continue to standardize the specifications of the permanent mine refuge cave and mine refuge chamber, Zhao said.


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