Chinese space station falling soon

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 was blasted into orbit in 2011. In March 2016 control was lost, and since then the 10 metre long station has been gradually losing altitude. It is expected to burn and possibly crash in the next day or two, but it is uncertain exactly when, and where.

Image result for tiangong 1

The possibilities:

It sounds like we are safe as far south as Dunedin, and most and probably all people around the world will be unaffected.

It is unprotected by heat shields so will mostly or completely burn as it drops into the Earth’s atmosphere. This could be spectacular if you can see it – and with streaming telescopes that should be easy wherever it happens.

Thanks to the Virtual Telescope Project and the Tenagra Observatory, people can see it live –click here to watch.

LiveScience: Here’s How to Watch the Chinese Space Station’s Uncontrolled Plunge to Earth

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is plummeting back to Earth this weekend, and anyone with an internet connection can watch the fiery demise live online.

Tiangong-1 is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime between late Saturday (March 31) and late Sunday (April 1).

With our time difference in New Zealand add half a day or so to that, so Sunday-Monday.

It also remains true that it is not a danger to you or anyone else, because the Earth is very big and still mostly pretty empty, and the station is very small in the scheme of things. And the odds of getting hit by a piece of the space lab that manages to survive the fiery re-entry into our atmosphere are incredibly low.

The Conversation: Tiangong-1 crash: why it’s so hard to predict where space debris will land and what can be done about it

While experts have been aware that this would happen for more than a year, there has been huge uncertainty around the exact timing. As the station’s orbital altitude has decreased, however, this uncertainty has gradually reduced and it is now possible to determine that it will deorbit within a few days.

Most of the 8.5-tonne station will burn up and disintegrate as it passes through the atmosphere, though some debris may hit Earth.

We cannot actually predict the time and place of Tiangong-1’s potential impact on Earth, despite it being only 200km above us.

Why is it so difficult, and will science one day help us nail such predictions?

Newton’s laws tell us that satellites orbit the Earth in perfectly circular or elliptical orbits, repeating their path again and again (assuming that gravity is the only force acting on them). However, this is not true at low altitudes, say below 1,000km, because the satellite is then moving through the Earth’s atmosphere. This causes “aerodynamic drag” (air resistance) – a force that opposes the satellite’s velocity, which effectively turns the orbit into a downward spiral towards the Earth’s surface.

The spacecraft’s velocity is easy to measure fairly accurately using observations. However, the other parameters are highly uncertain – making it difficult to determine Tiangong-1’s path. For vehicles such as cars and aircraft, C can be estimated theoretically or with computational fluid dynamics and measured experimentally in a wind tunnel. The main problem here is that Tiangong-1’s shape is complex, and the object is uncontrolled and tumbling chaotically, resulting in a constantly changing airflow.

The other unknown is the density of the atmosphere, which decreases with altitude. However, particularly at high altitudes, this varies due to a number of unpredictable factors – the most important of which is solar activity.

Another important factor is that the satellite will disintegrate and burn during the final phases of reentry, adding further uncertainty to all terms of the drag formula.

One thing is certain – there will be plenty of coverage of the burn online and on TV, and if any remnants crash the location is likely to be known and closely examined.

Adams v Little on Pike River re-entry liability

In Parliament yesterday Amy Adams questioned Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry, about liability for any decision to re-enter the Pike River mine.

There is a lot of credibility and responsibility riding on mine re-entry for Little and Labour.


7. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry: Who will bear potential liability under health and safety legislation for any re-entry of the Pike River drift that he approves, and what is the range of penalties that could be imposed on them in the event of a breach of workplace safety obligations?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Hon Andrew Little, I will indicate to the House that I have been informed by the Minister’s office that this is likely to be a longer than normal answer, and, because of the important nature of it, I’ve allowed that.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the first question: there are potentially many people liable as required under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which was passed by her Government. This includes employees, contractors, and subcontractors. Health and safety after all, as we all know, is a shared responsibility.

To the second question: in so far as the member would be aware that I am unable to give legal advice, the penalties in the legislation range—depending on whether they are an individual or a company—from an up to $50,000 fine for failing to comply with a health and safety duty or up to five years in prison or an up to $3 million fine for reckless conduct exposing someone to the risk of death. These penalties will only be applied where the agency fails to meet its obligations. But I can reassure her that I have every intention of ensuring that the re-entry work is consistent with health and safety obligations.

Hon Amy Adams: What was the recommendation from his Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials on the optimal decision-making structure for Pike River re-entry, given those health and safety obligations, among other things?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I received advice from MBIE and also from the State Services Commission, and I followed the State Services Commission advice, which was for an arrangement that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament. That’s what I am here for.

Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject official advice that a decision about safe re-entry will be best achieved by ensuring the decision maker is independent, with the decision maker being the holder of the key duties of care around ensuring health and safety?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: In putting together this project, I was acutely aware that the previous Government had handled the families involved in this matter in a completely shabby and appalling way, and I wanted to ensure that the arrangements we put in place allowed for full accountability to this Parliament, engaged the families fully and properly, allowed for good quality advice at all levels, and complied with our health and safety legislation.

Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject advice that the best decision would come from an independent decision maker?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I got a range of advice, including from the State Services Commission, which expressed their preferred option about having a structure that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament as well as flexibility and responsiveness. The member should read the papers properly.

Hon Amy Adams: On what basis does the Minister think it’s reasonable to expect public servants that report to him to carry the burden of criminal responsibility for decisions that that Minister makes?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member misunderstand the law that her Government put in place called the Health and Safety at Work Act, and she misunderstands the implied obligations in every employment agreement for every employee. Every employee, contractor, subcontractor—anybody involved in a task—has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. No employee under our employment law can be required or instructed to undertake unsafe work, and no employer can issue an instruction that is unlawful and unreasonable—and that won’t happen in this project.

Hon Amy Adams: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library for my office that makes it quite clear that the chief executive of the agency is criminally responsible.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to the tabling of that document? There appears to be none.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Pike River Agency CEO liable if re-entry goes wrong

Andrew Little and Labour intend handing over responsibility of whether a Pike River re-entry attempt is made to the Recovery Agency they are setting up, and if re-entry is attempted and something goes wrong the agency chief executive will be liable. I suspect that applicants for the job may be limited.

Stuff:  Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive liable if re-entry goes wrong, not Andrew Little

The chief executive of the Pike River Recovery Agency will be held responsible if anything goes wrong with the re-entry of the drift.

Last month, the Prime Minister and Andrew Little – the Minister Responsible for the Pike River Re-entry, announced the Government would establish a government department by the end of January 2018 to assess the risk associated with a manned re-entry, and the best way to carry out the entry.

The entry of the mine’s drift, and the recovery of any remains of the 29 men killed in 2010, would be completed by March 2019.

Both Jacinda Ardern and Little said there would be risk involved with a manned re-entry, but it was up to the agency to assess the risk and to mitigate it, and if the level of risk was acceptable, go forward with the re-entry.

Despite promises by Winston Peters and Labour that there would be re-entry into the mine they are handing over responsibility to someone else.

At the time of the announcement, Little said the agency – Te Kahui Whakamana Rua Tekau ma Iwa (The Empowering Voice for the Pike 29) – would answer to him, and as the minister in charge, he would have the final decision.

Apparently not now.

He refused to respond to questions on who would be held liable, under New Zealand health and safety laws, if something went wrong.

However, documents relating to the establishment of the agency show the chief executive of the agency would be held legally responsible if something went wrong.

So Little wasn’t prepared to be up front about what he is organising, and is also handing over both the ultimate decision plus liability to someone else.

A ministerial briefing paper from November 3, said the liability would rest with those instructed by the minister, not the minister.

In order to remove that legal liability, health and safety laws would have to be changed – something the Government decided not to do.

Establishing an independent decision maker from the outset, would provide clarity on who was accountable for the decisions around safety, the briefing document said.

“It sets a clearer level of expectation around single focus and impartial decision making.

“If you wished to retain a departmental model to keep the entity closer to government, then the chief executive … could be given the statutorily independent role of determining whether re-entry should go ahead.

“In addition, without legislation, the Minister could potentially be exposed to accessorial liability in the event that something goes wrong in the course of re-entry activities.”

“A decision about safe re-entry will be best achieved by ensuring the decision-maker is independent,” the document said.

The decision-maker should be responsible for developing “a robust and credible plan” for safe recovery of the drift, including engaging fully with the Pike River families and their experts, and then charged with implementing this plan.

“This provides clear lines of accountability, with the decision maker and implementer of the decision being the holder of the key duties of care around ensuring health and safety.”


December 2016: Winston Peters says Pike River re-entry is bottom line to election deals 

Winston Peters says re-entering Pike River mine is a “bottom line” to any election deal made next year.

In interviews this morning, Peters also reiterated his claim that he will enter the mine himself.

“I’m making no bones about it, we’ll give these people a fair-go, and yes this is a bottom line, and it shouldn’t have to be”.

Any political party seeking New Zealand First’s support to form a government in the 2017 election will have to commit to re-entering the mine.

September 2017: Pike River families give their blessing to Jacinda Ardern as she visits region where Labour started

Ardern met with family members at the Pike River memorial on the West Coast to re-state her commitment to re-enter the mine in which 29 miners died following explosions in 2010.

“After all this time, the least we can do is the right thing,” she told them.

Anna Osbourne, whose husband Milton was among those killed, said she was hoping for a change of Government to ensure the re-entry went ahead.

“We’ve had lies, we’ve had broken promises, so I’m hoping for a change of Government,” Osbourne said.

October 2017: Winston Peters meets Pike River families

Families spokesman Bernie Monk told media in Wellington they knew they had Mr Peters’ support.

“He’s a man of his word, and we’re going to support him the whole way… We’ve got full faith in Winston Peters and what he’s going to do.”

Asked if reentering the mine was still one of NZ First’s bottom lines, Mr Peters responded: “What do you think? How many times do I have to tell you?”

The Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement specifies: “Commit to re-entry to Pike River”.

October 2017: Pike River manned re-entry possible early next year – Little

The minister responsible for re-entry into Pike River, Andrew Little, hopes to get people in to the mine by April next year.

Mr Little told Newhub’s The AM Show today that he had two comprehensive reports and he believes manned entry is entirely achievable.

“There are risks – but there’s risks [in] doing anything.

“So lets clear all that stuff out of the way, lets look at what we know is there, what we know that the technology and the science tells us is possible, and work up that plan.”

The plan seems to be to make someone else make a decision on re-entry and to be liable if anything goes wrong.

4 December 2017: Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive liable if re-entry goes wrong, not Andrew Little

Ardern was asked whether she was comfortable with the legal liability resting on the shoulders of the chief executive.

“I’m confident that we’re going to go through a process that means we’re going to dot all of our i’s and cross all of our t’s,” she said.

“We’ve given ourselves enough lead time to make sure we do this properly.

“But the point ultimately is whether or not we’re doing right by families and that’s what we’ve undertaken to do.”

Gobbledegook and duckingdeduty.

Little to make decision on Pike River

Pike River re-entry will ultimately be a political decision, with Pike River Minister Andrew Little having the final say.  After saying there would be definite re-entry during the election campaign it has morphed into a maybe.

NZH: PM Jacinda Ardern: Pike River re-entry the goal but not at any cost

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Pike River Minister Andrew Little set out plans for the new Pike River Recovery Agency, including a target of re-entry by March 2019, after Cabinet signed off on it on Monday.

Little said he personally would make the decision on whether to go ahead with a re-entry into the drift of the mine after the agency conducted risk assessments.

The agency would be set up from January and would work closely with the Pike River families on the process.

Labour committed to a re-entry as part of its election campaign, but has since said that was not an absolute guarantee.

Ardern said her commitment to the families was to do everything within the Government’ power to attempt a re-entry, but safety would be priority.

She said it was possible there was information the Government was not aware of, or expert advice that countered the advice the families had. If that happened, it would work through it with the families.

“There will be risks. Our job is to mitigate them as far as possible and to weigh up whether there is an acceptable level of risk. But as I’ve said, there were risks every day that those miners walked into that mine.

“The risk they took on was an unacceptable level of risk at the hands of the company they worked for. Now it’s incumbent on us to make the right decision to try and re-enter that drift, but we have to do it with all the information.

“Any decision to re-enter will be based on a thorough technical assessment of the risks and advice on how the risks can be mitigated. The families know that we will not endanger any more lives, and that has been one of their most important principles.”

Lowered expectations of body recovery.

Stuff editorial: New rulers but the same old problem at Pike River

A new group of politicians is promising to re-enter the Pike River Mine to retrieve the bodies of the miners. So once again the grieving families of the miners are hoping to find their loved ones.

But in the end the result might prove to be the same: that the mine cannot be safely entered, and the families will again be left high and dry. In which case the grief and the outrage will go on.

Andrew Little, the minister in charge of the re-entry, says it won’t happen if it is too risky. “I am not going to put anybody at undue risk. I am simply not going to,” Little said.

So how is that different from what the last lot of governing politicians said? Former National Prime Minister John Key said he would do everything possible to get the bodies out. Labour politicians promised to do something similar. NZ First leader Winston Peters made the most dramatic pledge: he would go into the mine himself.

Perhaps the main political difference right now is that Little is working alongside the families and involving them in the project. He has the advantage that he is part of a new government that has not yet disillusioned the grieving relatives.

Working more closely with the families of dead miners may help the Government avoid criticism and reduce pressure – for now.

Perhaps that is why the families find it understandable that the new Government’s promises of re-entry contained caveats over safety. But they also think it “unlikely” that the risk assessment would uncover something they didn’t know.

The brute reality, however, is that no government could allow re-entry if it is unsafe. Here, however, it seems likely that the experts will disagree. And in that case the final decision will be made by politicians – Andrew Little and his Cabinet colleagues.

The scope for political trouble here is huge, partly because Peters has already decreed that it is safe to go into the mine. He cannot back down on that without damaging his own credibility and infuriating the families.

But the big decision – and responsibility- is with Little.

Because in the end the decision must be the Government’s. If the re-entry results in more deaths in this terrible place, the Government will be blamed, regardless of the recommendations its experts made.

And here the political issues are tangled. The families are grieving and clearly some of them feel that they can never stop grieving unless the bodies are recovered.

But outside this small group there is no large constituency with a passionate commitment to re-entering the drift. Nearly everyone agrees that more casualties in the mine would be a catastrophe compounding a previous catastrophe.

The families, understandably, are likely to have a different view of the safety risk from most other people. That is another reason why the final decision needs to be made by someone whose emotions are not as fiercely engaged.

Or as politically involved.

There will be family and political pressure for Little to enable re-entry. There are real risks regardless of his decision.

Sealing of Pike River mine will be stopped

The Government has changed tack on Pike River re-entry, citing new robot technology that will make it safer to go into the mine, and will stop the sealing of the mine.

Stuff: Sealing of Pike River mine will be stopped, says Bill English

Pike River families have been told the sealing of the mine will be stopped following a meeting with Prime Minister Bill English, with Solid Energy asked to look into new technology which could allow unmanned entry.

Family members of the Pike River miners met English for the first time in an attempt to stop the sealing of the mine, and emerged afterwards with cautious optimism about the options on the table.

Some family members of Pike River victims have been campaigning for re-entry, some haven’t.

Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families, said the meeting was “very positive”.

“We’ve got another step forward for us…I think they got a lot of understanding about the ins and outs, because it’s not easy for them to understand what we’ve been through over the last six years.”

Monk said English’s promise to stop the sealing of the mine would allow the group to end its picket at Pike River, which had been going on 24 hours a day for 13 weeks.

Forster said English had stated the Government’s continued opposition to any humans re-entering the drift, but shared a a “clear expectation” that non-manned technology, such as aerial drones, should be considered as an option.

‘Aerial drones’ in a mine sounds funny but they could be flown up the shaft.

English said a decision to re-enter the mine was “not about politics, it is about safety”.

In an election year with families pushing hard and parties, particularly Labour and NZ First, making a political issue out of it, then it’s hard to separate some of the politics.

“We lost 29 lives in that mine and I will not risk losing any more.”

The families’ proposal for re-entering Pike River did not include a detailed plan, “and therefore does not make the case for a safe re-entry”, he said.

However, he would ask Solid Energy to stop work on the mine’s permanent seal and explore options for unmanned entry, after the Government was approached in recent weeks by experts with new proposals.

“The families’ technical advisor agreed that there has been significant advancements in technology since the tragedy occurred six years ago.

“We will ask Solid Energy to explore those options. We will also keep the families informed and allow their technical input into the search for options for unmanned entry.”

The Government would give Solid Energy money to look into the unmanned options, English said.

If drones are used they could look but it’s unlikely they could remove bodies.

Several robot vehicles have already been sent into the mine and have failed (broken down).

Labour leader Andrew Little said stopping the sealing of the mine was “the right thing at this stage”, but questioned why the Government continued to rule out a physical re-entry.

“We’ve got to keep the pressure up…because it must still be possible to get in there and see what remains are in there.”

There is one thing worse than not doing anything about re-entry in election year and that would be sending people into the mine and losing more lives.

Little changes Pike River commitment

This week Andrew Little changed his commitments on Pike River, from seeking another expert report and “leave it for the experts”, but two days later said the experts say that safe re-entry can be done and he will make re-entry a priority as Prime Minister.

On Monday Stuff reported: Labour leader Andrew Little not giving ‘false hope’ to Pike River families ahead of visit to the West Coast

Little stands by his promise to seek another report by world-leading experts and make a decision on whether to re-enter the mine based on a third opinion.

To date the Government has a report saying it’s too dangerous while the Pike River families have their own report saying it’s safe.

In response to whether the findings of a third report would be treated as gospel, Little said, yes.

“I’m not going to give false hope to people but I’m not going to deny them realistic hope either.”

He said a third report would mean “you’ve got more experts than not saying what is practical to do”.

You’ve got to leave it for the experts and show respect to them.”

Little is clearly saying he would “leave it for the experts” and abide by a third report in making any decision.

However on Wednesday via the Labour website: Bill English needs to back Pike River Bill

Bill English has been hiding behind the legal excuse that any attempt to re-enter the mine to recover the bodies might place the mine’s owner, Solid Energy Limited, and its directors in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

“My Health and Safety at Work (Pike River Recovery) Amendment Bill removes that risk and, therefore, removes the excuse the Prime Minister is using to block recovery operations that international mining experts maintain are feasible and not unduly risky.

“I will be tabling the Bill on the first day of the new Parliamentary session on 7 February and I challenge the Government to back it.

“Bill English can’t hide behind this excuse unless there are other reasons he has for not wanting recovery to happen. He needs to front up and do the right thing for the families of the Pike River miners who have been waiting too long for their men to be returned.

“As I have said all along, Labour supports safe re-entry, which the experts say can be done. I want justice for the families who have suffered the worst workplace tragedy in decades.

“If New Zealanders choose to change the Government this year, re-entering Pike River will be a priority in my first hundred days as Prime Minister,” says Andrew Little.

This gives quite a different impression – that Little “supports safe re-entry, which the experts say can be done”, and ” re-entering Pike River will be a priority in my first hundred days as Prime Minister”.

Nothing in that about a third report and leaving it to the experts.


Government respond to Little’s Pike River pledge

Yesterday Opposition leader Andrew Little said he would table a bill in Parliament removing liability from the directors of Solid Energy so that the Pike River Mine can be re-entered.

He said the government claimed the mine could not be re-entered because of the liability risk, so on the first day of the new parliamentary year he would seek leave to table his bill.

That would exonerate Solid Energy’s directors from being held liable for any harm to people taking part in the mine re-entry, he said.

Mr Little said the victims’ families were promised everything that could be done to recover their loved ones’ bodies would be done, and the government needed to follow through on that.

– Little bill to enable Pike River re-entry

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith responded today.

RNZ: Govt: Labour’s Pike River plan ‘hypocritical’

The Labour Party’s attitude to re-entering the Pike River Mine is hypocritical and unsafe, according to the government.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith accused Mr Little of a dangerous and contradictory position.

“It would be extraordinary to make an exemption from the Health and Safety at Work Act at the very place where 29 workers lost their lives from inadequate standards that triggered the new law,” Mr Smith said.

“This is a bid by Mr Little to outplay [New Zealand First leader] Winston Peters politically rather than taking a principled stand about the importance of a consistent approach to workplace safety.”

Dr Smith said his advice showed the mine had 100,000 cubic metres of methane and was likely to have a residual source of heat as well.

This would be capable of triggering an explosion if there was a source of oxygen.

The minister added there was a risk of rock falls from unstable strata fractured by the 2010 explosions.

“There is a significant difference between someone saying re-entry might be possible compared with company directors taking legal responsibility,” Dr Smith said.

There’s been a lot of other criticism of Little’s move. He lobbied for stronger safety provisions in the current law, and now wants to put them aside to allow re-entry into an unsafe environment.

Some of the Pike River families have tried to escalate mine re-entry into an election issue, but it’s early in the year and it will be difficult to sustain the party posturing.

Little bill to enable Pike River re-entry

After visiting the Pike River picket line today Andrew Little said he would table a bill in Parliament that would remove an obstacle to re-entry into the Pike River mine.

RNZ: Labour would remove liability for Pike River re-entry

Labour leader Andrew Little plans to table a bill in Parliament removing liability from the directors of Solid Energy so that the Pike River Mine can be re-entered.

He said the government claimed the mine could not be re-entered because of the liability risk, so on the first day of the new parliamentary year he would seek leave to table his bill.

That would exonerate Solid Energy’s directors from being held liable for any harm to people taking part in the mine re-entry, he said.

Mr Little said the victims’ families were promised everything that could be done to recover their loved ones’ bodies would be done, and the government needed to follow through on that.

This doesn’t guarantee re-entry, it would just remove one obstacle.

Little had earlier said that he supported an independent investigation to see if mine re-entry was safe enough to attempt.

He said that if the Government did not allow his bill to proceed he would add it to the Members’ ballot.

NZH: Labour leader Andrew Little proposes health and safety exemption for Solid Energy

During a visit to Greymouth today, Little said he had a solution.

“We can actually deal with that threat of liability for the [Solid Energy] directors by legislating to prevent that happening in this particular case.

“What I pledged to the families is that on the first day of Parliament I will seek leave to table a bill that does just that.”

He added: “It removes any risk of liability for the directors of Solid Energy in relation to any attempt at re-entry for the purpose of recovering remains or any bodies in the drift leading to the mine.

“And I’m working on that bill now, I’ll have that ready to go on the 6th of February.”

He won’t be tabling the bill on February 6, that’s a Monday and also a public holiday (Waitangi Day).

Speaking in Parliament last year, English said Pike River was the “most dangerous workplace in New Zealand“, and approving a re-entry would go against the very health and safety laws passed by Parliament in response to the disaster.

English said Little himself had lobbied for the safety changes.

“The member should understand the legislation which he advocated for, which brings together judgement about safety and legal responsibility for anyone in that workplace,” he said.

“So whatever any independent expert says, someone who is responsible for anyone who might go into that mine are legally responsibly for their lives.”

So Little is proposing an exception to the safety laws he lobbied for.


Little versus Peters on Pike River

Winston Peters has kicked off his political year by picking up on his Pike River posturing, but criticism of Labour has prompted a retort from Andrew Little.

NZ Herald: Little: Peters’ Pike River re-entry comments ‘cheap’

Peters said his party believed in a report that said there is no technical mining reason that re-entry could not be achieved safely.

“We believe your report and believe that a party should be allowed to enter the drift to look for your men,” Peters told the meeting.

“And to all those who say we’re not serious on this promise we say, our party will make re-entry into Pike River a bottom line at the next election.”

That’s a repeat of what he said late last year.

The Paroa Hotel is owned by Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the mine. Monk said a crowd of more than 100 gathered to hear from the NZ First leader.

“He was overwhelmingly applauded by the people here today … he is the first politician that has really stood beside us and made his feelings known.”

This comment grated with Labour supporter Anne at The Standard:

Well, that’s a bit rich coming from Bernie Monk. Either he’s showing a political bias or he has a poor memory. Andrew Little (starting before he became leader) spent many hours/days/weeks over time talking with… comforting… trying to do everything he could to get the men back into the mine. I recall question after question after question in the debating chamber. He has never given up.

But of course Andrew doesn’t use his personal support for political gain. He just gets on with what he knows should be done. How many hours/days/weeks has Winston spent on the West Coast trying to help the victims of the tragedy?

Peters had a specific dig at Labour:

Little has promised that a Labour Government would get an independent assessment of the mine and re-enter it if it was declared safe.

Peters told the meeting that promise was “weak and disingenuous”.

“It means, ‘sometime never’. You already have a thoroughly professional report from world leading experts in this field. How many more reports do the authorities need before they can say ‘Go in’? What more proof could they possibly want?”

Andrew Little took issue with Peters’ comments.

“One thing I am never going to be challenged by Winston on is my commitment to Pike River. And the difference between me and Winston Peters is I wasn’t sitting in a Cabinet in the 1990s that undermined our health and safety regulations in mine regulations, specifically,” Little told the Herald.

“This is a serious issue. Put aside the, I thought, cheap call about Winston leading a team in there – that is disrespectful to the mines rescue folks and others who are experts – you do want the best possible decision to be made.”

Peters and Labour seem to be intractably at odds over Pike River re-entry.

Peters wants to go with the report obtained by (some of the) Pike River victims’ families and says NZ First “will make re-entry into Pike River a bottom line at the next election”.

Little wants an independent assessment, which seems sensible. But presuming such an assessment isn’t done before the election that would appear to make a coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First impossible – unless either Little or Peters change their stance.

While Monk and some of the Pike River families are trying to talk re-entry of the mine up into an election issue I’m not sure that the wider public vote will define the election by it.

But the political posturing could define the next government, which based on the stated positions of National and Labour versus NZ First that would leave NZ First out of any coalition.

Pike River re-entry plan

Pike River families came to parliament today with a plan for re-entry to the Pike River mine. The plan is backed by experts who have different advice than the experts advising Solid Energy.

Stuff: Families of Pike River mine disaster victims release expert plan for safe re-entry

Families of some of the victims of the 2010 Pike River mine explosion have submitted an experts’ report to Parliament in a bid to stop Solid Energy from sealing the “crime scene” forever.

The report was written by David Creedy, vice-chairman of the United Nations group of experts on coal mine methane, and Bob Stevenson, a former mines inspector in Britain.

The report has been peer-reviewed and endorsed by Britain’s leading mines rescue expert, Brian Robinson, and mining ventilation experts John Rowland and Roy Moreby.

“What I have is a credible plan from our mines experts, our international experts, from the UK and Australia, saying this can be done and it can be done safely,” Osborne said while holding the report up to the crowd.

“And it’s actually not that hard. The drift is safe. It is a stone tunnel, it cannot explode, we can enter it. These guys, our experts, are saying it can be done.”


The method for re-entry proposed by Creedy and Stevenson would involve establishing a nitrogen plant at the mine to provide inert gases as required.

Surface boreholes would serve as “return airways” along the 2.3km drift, with flame traps installed at two boreholes to prevent fuel combustion.

The 170m stopping would be ventilated, with air or nitrogen allowed into the mine, while auxiliary fans would be established at the drift entrance to control airflow into the mine.

The report says the ventilation system, complete with degassing units, would more than double the amount of air required to dilute the measured methane flow to a safe standard of one per cent.

“Special attention” would be given to the maintenance bays at 1.9km, which are offset to the drift.

Once the ventilation system was complete, the “inbye workings” – those going towards the coal face – would be isolated to remove the risk of heating and reduce gas emissions.

As the drift was entered, roof, wall and floor conditions would be inspected before workers proceeded. Additional support would be installed in areas where the drift condition was a concern, while existing camera evidence could identify areas unable to be traversed until made safe.

Major obstructions such as floor debris would be removed to minimise hazards, and vehicles would be used to transport materials and provide rapid evacuation of miners.

The number of workers in the mine would be limited to the “absolute minimums” for the work being done.

I have no doubt that the mine could be re-entered, but there will always be risks involved.

And it will cost, probably a substantial amount, but no indication of how much.

Getting right up the drift and into the mine, searching for and recovering 29 bodies, and investigating possible causes of the explosions, would be a time consuming and costly project.

I understand some of the families want remains recovered, but it still has to be asked whether the chances of success stack up and if it is worth the risk.

Labour leader Andrew Little vowed to families he would do everything he could to open the site for re-entry should his Labour party be elected at the next election.

“A political commitment was made to you, that the Government of the day would do everything they could to get your men out and bring them back, to return them to you so you can give them a dignified farewell.

“And so you are right to come here to have that promise fulfilled.”

But he didn’t say Labour would re-enter the mine, just that they would get expert advice. This really isn’t much difference to John Key’s commitment.

…Peters saying he was so confident in the expert plan to re-enter the mine that he would go in himself.

Peters said that, as “someone with some experience” in working underground, he would have no problem entering the mine drift.

Peters worked on the Snowy Mountain Scheme in the 1960s in what he described as a tremendously dangerous project where “they lost a man a mile”.

That is ridiculous populist pandering, even for Peters. There is no way anyone should let him anywhere near the mine.

English has dismissed Winston Peters’ offer of personally entering the mine, saying the NZ First leader should not trivialise the tragedy.

“I don’t think anyone will take that seriously. There’s a serious safety issue there and he shouldn’t trivialise it,” English said on Tuesday afternoon.

“He’s not an expert. The issue here is around the safety of the mine and, under the law, the decisions have to be made about the safety of that mine by people who are responsible for it, not by politicians.”

And Peters has said NZ First will make re-entry a condition of coalition support (another one).

Politics aside, the plan should be assessed, at least approximately costed, and judged against the chances of success.