42 Blamed in Mine Explosion

For MTAman Tuleyev, right, and Konstantin Pulikovsky sharing their findings with reporters on Tuesday in Novokuznetsk.
NOVOKUZNETSK, Kemerovo Region -- A government commission has found 42 employees of Yuzhkuzbassugol to blame for the March 19 explosion that claimed at least 108 lives in the company's Ulyanovskaya mine -- the country's worst mining disaster in the post-Soviet era.

Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev said Tuesday that the blast in the west Siberian mine was the result of "the premeditated, conscious actions of technical staff" who sabotaged the mine's methane-monitoring system, which he called "the most reliable in the world."

Tuleyev said employees had hacked into the system and reprogrammed it to prevent power from being shut off in the mine when methane levels reached dangerous levels, allowing miners to continue working.

Representatives of Davis Derby, the British firm that produced the system, were stunned to discover that the system could be reprogrammed, Tuleyev said.

"The system was set up in the mine's administrative building. Everyone conspired [in disabling it], even the operators. The system was tampered with both inside the shaft and on the surface," Tuleyev said.

Eight of the accused employees died in the blast, said Konstantin Pulikovsky, head of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection, adding that the commission would hand over its findings to local prosecutors and "do everything possible to bring a criminal case to court."

The commission included Tuleyev, Pulikovsky, his deputy Nikolai Kutin and Yuzhkuzbassugol general director Georgy Lavrik.

Pulikovsky said the commission had tested the system in the Ulyanovskaya mine by spraying methane on the sensors, which failed to respond. An identical monitoring system in the Tagaryzhskaya mine, also owned by Yuzhkuzbassugol, was tested as a control. When exposed to the amount of methane released before the Ulyanovskaya blast, the second sensor "immediately sounded the alarm and the system shut off power in the shaft. This did not happen at Ulyanovskaya," he said.

An engineer who works in one of the shafts at the Ulyanovskaya mine, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that it would be a mistake to blame the miners for the blast.

"It's very difficult to block the sensors of this state-of-the-art British equipment locally," he said. "A miner can't block a specific sensor in the shaft by covering it with a jacket or rags as you could with older systems."

In the aftermath of the blast, there was speculation that miners might have covered the sensors.

Miners receive a portion of their wages at a fixed rate, with the other portion linked to their output, creating an incentive to continue working despite dangerous conditions.

At the time of the blast, the miners earned 9,000 to 13,000 rubles per month.

In a statement released last week, Yuzhkuzbassugol announced that it would raise miners' pay by up to 60 percent, which observers say could reduce the importance of incentives for higher output.

Pulikovsky said the explosion was caused by a spark from a faulty wire. "An explosion was bound to happen sooner or later," he said.

The force and number of the explosions -- there were four or five in quick succession -- were the result of a high concentration of coal dust in the mine, Pulikovsky said, adding that nothing had been done to neutralize the dust.

"If this had been done, the number and the force of the explosions might have been decreased," he said.