Thursday 5 March 2015

At least 33 dead following Donetsk mine explosion.

Thirty three miners are known to have died and it is feared than many more deaths will still be discovered following an explosion at the Zasyadko Coal Mine in the Donetsk Province of Ukraine on Wednesday 5 March 2015. Sixteen workers are receiving hospital treatment following the incident, which has been described as a methane explosion, and as many as fifty may remain bellow ground. Coal mines in Ukraine have a poor reputation for safety, and workers who are caught below ground in this sort of incident and not evacuated quickly are seldom found alive.

A miner being treated for injuries at the Republican Center for Traumatology hospital in Donetsk following the 4 March explosion at the Zasyadko Mine. Kyiv Post.

Coal is formed when buried organic material, principally wood, in heated and pressurized, forcing off hydrogen and oxygen (i.e. water) and leaving more-or-less pure carbon. Methane is formed by the decay of organic material within the coal. There is typically little pore-space within coal, but the methane can be trapped in a liquid form under pressure. Some countries have started to extract this gas as a fuel in its own right. When this pressure is released suddenly, as by mining activity, then the methane turns back to a gas, expanding rapidly causing, an outburst or explosion. This is a bit like the pressure being released on a carbonated drink; the term 'explosion' does not necessarily imply fire in this context, although as methane is flammable this is quite likely.

The Zasyadko Mine is in a part of Donetsk Province held by Russian-backed separatist rebels, who have reportedly not allowed Ukrainian rescue workers to enter the region. What provision the rebels have for rescuing mineworkers is unclear, and press reports are describing searches for bodies being carried out by local miners without outside support. 

The political situation in Donetsk and neighbouring Lunhansk provinces (which together make up the Donbass mining region, where the bulk of Ukraine's mines are situated), is currently extremely unstable, with pro-Russian separatists seeking independence for the region. This has led to a series of armed encounters between separatists and Ukrainian authorities, and an incursion into the region by Russian troops. A referendum on independence was organized by the separatists in May 2014, but the (pro-independence) results of this have not been recognized by the Ukrainian government, the EU or the US. This is likely to lead to ongoing political instability in the region, and therefore improvements in the mining industry's safety standards are unlikely to come soon.

See also...

Seven miners are known to have died and two more are still missing following an accident at an underground coal mine at Kirovsk in Luhansk Province in eastern...

Seven workers have been killed and an eighth is being treated in hospital after an explosion at the Skochinsky Coal Mine at Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The explosion occurred when the miners hit a pocket of methane gas early in the morning, resulting in an...

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