A Mine Disaster in Russia Highlights Safety Shortfalls in Rush to Dig Coal

A Mine Disaster in Russia Highlights Safety Shortfalls in Rush to Dig Coal

MOSCOW — In the times earlier than his loss of life in a mine explosion in Russia’s coal-rich Kuzbass area, Boris Piyalkin lamented that the security requirements in his office have been insufficient.

“He sat and cried, and was just scared,” mentioned Anzhelika Piyalkina, the daughter-in-law of Mr. Piyalkin, who had spent three a long time working as a miner however more and more feared the situations wherein he was being requested to work.

Mr. Piyalkin, who was 55 years previous, was one among 46 miners and 6 rescuers killed Thursday by the explosion on the Listvyazhnaya mine in Belovo, about 2,200 miles east of Moscow and two hours south of Kemerovo. The accident occurred after a air flow shaft started filling with gasoline whereas 285 individuals have been underground, in line with officers.

Mr. Piyalkin’s spouse, Inna Piyalkina, in a video extensively circulated in Russian media, mentioned he had reported that the methane ranges on the mine “were going through the roof.” She added, “My husband came home from work every day and said it wouldn’t end well.”

The tragedy, the worst mining accident in Russia in additional than a decade, was a reminder of the nation’s poor employee protections and its elevated reliance on coal extraction.

As Western international locations search to lower using fossil fuels, Russia, which accounts for greater than 16 p.c of the worldwide coal commerce, is the third largest international exporter of coal, behind Australia and Indonesia. This 12 months, Russia has elevated manufacturing by 10 p.c.

A video taken outdoors the mine confirmed grieving girls who had misplaced kinfolk within the catastrophe strolling alongside the snow in subzero temperatures. One lady says to a different: “Everyone knew, everyone knew there was methane, and now what? We will get the bodies back, but will they give us back over 40 children, husbands and sons?”

The director of the mine was taken into police custody, together with 5 different directors. But prosecutors are additionally analyzing potential abuses by watchdogs who have been supposed to examine the mine for security requirements.

An unnamed official from the technical supervisory physique that oversees mines within the area advised Russia’s state information company TASS that the mine’s methane sensor didn’t register an extra of the utmost permissible focus.

Mikhail Y. Fedyaev, the chief government of SDS-Coal, the operator of the Listvyazhnaya mine, mentioned on Friday that the corporate would pay quantities starting from 1 million to 2 million rubles, roughly $13,200 to $26,500, to the household of every sufferer who died, and 500,000 rubles to every individual hospitalized due to injures sustained within the accident on Thursday, which adopted a sequence of violations reported on the mine this 12 months.

Rostekhnadzor, the federal government’s ecological, technological, and nuclear oversight physique, has suspended work in sections of the Listvyazhnaya mine 9 occasions this 12 months due to varied violations, the watchdogs’ spokesman, Andrei Vil, wrote on the messaging app Telegram.

He mentioned specialists from the oversight physique had performed 127 inspections of varied sections of the mine for the reason that starting of the 12 months, recognized 914 violations and fined Listvyazhnaya greater than 4 million rubles.

One investigation by Rostekhnadzor in April 2021 famous a number of irregularities, together with defective methane sensors, an absence of sensors for early hearth detection in a single a part of the mine, defective doorways in a air flow construction, and staff who lacked coaching within the air-gas management system.

However, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s primary investigative authority, has additionally opened a case towards native inspectors for alleged negligence. The committee has mentioned that the 2 major state inspectors whose job was to guarantee the security of the air flow shafts didn’t conduct a deliberate inspection and falsified a report the week earlier than the accident that had mentioned the location conformed with requirements.

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SDS-Coal is the third largest coal extractor and exporter in Russia. Mr. Fedyaev, the chief government, owns 95 p.c of its mum or dad firm, and his son Pavel is a consultant within the Duma, Russia’s decrease home of Parliament, The father is among the richest individuals in Russia.

In 2020, the corporate produced 28.2 million tons of coal, and plans to extend that to 32 million tons by 2035. About 97 p.c of the coal is for export, however a spokeswoman for the corporate wouldn’t make its consumer checklist public.

Work on the mine has stopped till additional discover, mentioned Tatyana Dimenko, a spokeswoman for the ability. She declined to touch upon plans to enhance safety for miners or whether or not anybody could be dismissed due to the accident.

Experts say that accidents just like the one at Listvyazhnaya are inevitable as Russia seeks to extract as a lot coal as it might earlier than it will get phased out because the nation’s steadily switches to renewable power sources. Between 2007 and 2017, Russia elevated its provide of coal by an element of 5, and its exports to China 24 occasions, in line with the economic system ministry.

Coal costs reached document highs in October, and companies have sought to capitalize on that.

“The reason Russia increased its coal export targets for the next ten years is that they were hoping to catch that window,” of elevated coal demand by international locations resembling China and India, mentioned Nicholas Birman-Trickett, an power analyst protecting Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The revenue margins for the trade are excessive and rising due to the present power crunches in Europe and China. However, Mr. Birman-Trickett mentioned, due to the dim outlook for the long-term prospects for the coal trade, companies and native governments have been reluctant to put money into getting old, and due to this fact usually unsafe, mining infrastructure.

“This is sheer carelessness,” Aleksandr Sergeyev, the chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Russian Miners advised MK newspaper on Friday. “There is a problem of compliance with safety rules by owners and management. And now they are again shifting the blame onto the workers. This is a systemic problem when people will do anything for profit.”

In current months, Russia has been struggling to export its coal quick sufficient. The Baikal-Amur railway, which runs from japanese Siberia to Russia’s Far East, is being expanded as one of many nation’s greatest ongoing infrastructure initiatives, with the intention of exporting extra coal.

The Kemerovo area is residence to half of the coal produced in Russia, in addition to a lot of its worst mining accidents. In May 2010, 66 individuals have been killed in an explosion within the nation’s largest underground coal mine, Raspadskaya, which was brought on by a buildup of methane.

The area has additionally been the scene of brewing discontent towards the federal government, and native residents say that corporations appear to be placing revenue earlier than the welfare of the individuals.

In March 2018, a shopping center hearth within the area killed 60 individuals, together with 37 youngsters. A court docket discovered that the mall’s homeowners and managers ignored hearth security guidelines to save cash.

The occasion triggered an outpouring of anger towards the nationwide and regional authorities, together with days of protest, prompting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to journey to Kemerovo to put flowers at a memorial to those that died.

Today, the anger at corporations and the authorities within the area continues to be palpable there.

“The company that needs only coal is to blame,” Inna Piylakina, grieving for her husband, advised journalists outdoors of the mine. “Human life is not appreciated.”

Oleg Matsnev and Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.



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