The government had enough time to prevent Soma disaster

The government had enough time to prevent Soma disaster

Below is my column from May 2010, when a mining accident in Zonguldak left 30 workers dead.

Unfortunately, in four years nothing has changed. We are still losing lives for nothing but greed and ignorance. The death toll was still rising as of yesterday, but one life would have been sufficient to re-publish this piece from the past to underline that the accidents are not the act of God, but rather attempted murders from the people in charge.

All the officials in charge and the news outlets with close ties to the government are trying to hide this fact. They can fool their “AK” youth, but they cannot fool everybody all of the time. The government should be more transparent and the responsible people must be brought to justice. And simple technologies that could have saved these souls should be immediately put to use. From 2010-2014, the government had enough time to prevent this disaster.

It is safe to say that the way in which a nation uses technology determines the way in which the individuals live in that society. The interactions between science, technology and society determine almost everything in our age. It sometimes determines who will live and who will die. The non-existence of available technology can act like a Valkyrie that determines who will survive.

The relatives of the 30 miners trapped 540 meters below the surface in Zonguldak must be feeling this very strongly. One of the most heartbreaking things about the explosion is that the families are, out of despair, asking for help from the same people that are responsible for this. To put things into perspective, let’s make it clear that government officials and the owner of the mine are the only people responsible for the foreseeable “accident.” I strongly believe that the officials who didn’t fulfill their duties of inspection and the mine owner that put money before safety should be tried for murder, because with the current technologies that we can use it should be impossible to have casualties in mines.

The United States Bureau of Mines was established a century ago to investigate how to reduce coal mining hazards and prevent coal mine explosions. The basic principles for prevention are deceptively simple: A methane-concentration of between 5 and 15 percent is explosive. To preclude an explosion, the methane concentration must be maintained well below 5 percent, usually less than 1 percent where miners are working. This is to ensure that even if an explosive mixture of methane and air does occur, all ignition sources are eliminated.

Elaborate engineering and operating procedures have been developed and implemented to apply these principles and prevent explosions.

Ventilation to dilute methane to below 1 percent of the circulating air is a well-developed science; instrumentation to measure the concentration of methane in mines are refined and in universal use; electrical equipment in coal mines must meet stringent manufacturing standards to assure that errant sparking will not ignite any gases; and, finally, water sprays are mandated to prevent ignition caused by friction.

Simple as that.

After speaking to various professors and coal mine specialists, MIT’s Technology Review concludes that if the existing technologies can be fully deployed, these incidents wouldn’t happen at all. The specialists all agree that these disasters are manmade. The tragedy of coal miners is not specific to Turkey. In the beginning of April, two mines exploded in China and the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

However, Turkish mine accidents occur frequently and no preventive measure is taken.

It really makes me wonder why a society so eager to have the latest phone doesn’t use technology where it matters the most. Two years ago, 20 percent of the phones in use were 3G phones. It is a striking figure when you think that the technology was unavailable back then. Whenever a high level executive of a tech firm comes to Turkey, he or she always talks about the potential of Turkey and how its young population is going to determine the future.

I realize now that the potential they were talking about refers only to being a market. A country that is only a market for technological products rather than a technology developer cannot understand how to manage technology in business, industry and governance.

I believe that because Turkey is not among the first that comes to mind when you talk about the countries with a high number of usable patents produced per year, the link in between science, technology and society is broken.

That is the reason why we will have other mine disasters and that is why we had fatalities on the first high-speed train run. Unless we produce technology and learn how to manage technology, our people will be suffering from easy to solve problems.