TAIYUAN - Underground mine accident shelters, escape capsules and other emergency facilities are being installed in coal mines in the northern Shanxi province, as a pilot program promoting mine emergency refuge systems in the coal-rich province.
The program has been launched in seven designated State-owned provincial coal mines and could be gradually expanded to other local mines, said Zhang Mingsheng, director of science and technology equipment office of the provincial coal industry bureau.
"The facilities are still in the experimental stage, and it's hard to say how big a role they could play in mine accident rescue," he said.
In cooperation with Beijing University of Science and Technology, Changcun coal mine of the Lu'an Group in Changzhi city of the province has installed underground movable escape capsules and shelter rooms, as China's first coal mine with such safety protection facilities, China Youth Daily reported on Friday.
The steel-structure escape capsules, measuring 6.3 meters in length, 1.4 meters in width and 1.8 meters in height, could stand the impact of a gas or even coal-dust explosion. Equipped with oxygen supply, lighting, air purifier, air conditioner, food and toilet, each capsule can hold up to 12 miners for 96 hours if the exterior power supply is cut off.
The mine has purchased 62 such capsules and 16 have been put into use.
The mine also built seven underground emergency shelter rooms. The movable escape capsule and shelter room are linked by a track. Each room can hold up to 100 miners and has communication, power, monitoring and medical systems. A permanent drill hole links the room with the outside world, enabling rescuers to send down fresh air, water and food.
The facilities cost more than 50 million yuan ($7.5 million).
"With these facilities, even if the mine entrance is blocked in an accident, trapped miners still could find safe shelter underground, which could win more time for rescue," said Zhang Xin, director of the federation of trade unions of Changcun mine.
Among coal mine accident deaths, only 10 percent die in explosions and collapse, as most victims die of lack of oxygen or breathing in toxic gas, the report said.
Underground shelter facilities have been an internationally accepted practice among main coal producing countries. China does not have a national technical standard for coal mine emergency refuge facilities.
By 2015, all mines in China would be equipped with underground escape capsules and other emergency shelter facilities, to enhance their safety monitoring and emergency response capabilities, Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said in May while hosting a national work safety meeting in Shanxi.
The mine accident escape capsules come under the spotlight after last week's successful rescue in Chile of 33 miners trapped for more than two months underground. They were rescued using a rescue capsule little wider than a man's shoulders.
An underground emergency shelter containing provisions is believed to have played a pivotal role in sustaining the trapped miners in Chile, according to media reports.
On Saturday, a deadly gas leak occurred at 6:03 am at a mine in Yuzhou city, central Henan province, when 276 miners were working underground. A total of 239 workers managed to escape. But all the trapped 37 miners were confirmed dead when rescuers found the remaining five bodies Tuesday morning, Xinhua reported.
The State Council has approved setting up a work team Tuesday, headed by Luo Lin, chief of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), to investigate the accident, said a statement from SAWS.
The mine is owned by Pingyu Coal & Electric Co Ltd, a company jointly established by four investors, including Zhong Ping Energy Chemical Group and China Power Investment Corp.
A similar incident happened at the same mine on Aug 1, 2008, killing 23 people, Luo Lin said in the statement, adding, "This time another incident of more severe consequences happened. It shows the coal mine has major flaws in safety management, and measures to prevent gas leaks have not been effectively put in place."
An initial investigation showed that 173,500 cubic meters of gas leaked out in the accident. China is the world's largest coal producer and consumer, where the annual national output of coal tripled from 1 billion tons in 1999 to 3 billion tons in 2009, to fuel the country's fast-growing economy.
Its coal mining industry is still one of the world's deadliest, although the safe production situation has been getting better, with the mortality rate per million tons declining from 5.71 in 2000 to 0.89 in 2009.
Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in 2009, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record.