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20/03/2009 (On-The-Air)
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20th March 2009
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Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Tim Modise speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Modise: We start this week’s discussion with not so positive news with mine deaths worsening alarmingly and this is a shocking statistic, Martin. 54% more mining deaths so far this year than in 2008?

Yes, it was quite a shock for us. We were at the Exxaro safety summit. They’re having a lot of these safety summits these days and we were thinking, well there is a declining situation with mining deaths because of last year where there was a 23% drop.

All of a sudden NUM came up with these figures that there are actually 34 deaths so far this year against 22 last year, which is an enormous increase in number and this caused a ripple of concern throughout the summit. And NUM pointed to the possibility of the retrenchments actually creating lower morale and people being prone to this sort of thing.

Other unions came up with the introduction of Section 28 artisans. There, people are coming into the mining industry with trade tests statistics not as high as in the past. In the past, these Section 28 people weren’t allowed into the mining environment.

They say that they are involved in many of the accidents, which is quite a concerning thing. The government is now coming up with a real-time data base on mine deaths so that we don’t get these shocks so that you’re actually able to access these figures every day or that they’re published everyday, almost like the metals prices are published, so that this awareness level can make sure that we don’t have these shocks, where we are now heading in a very bad direction with mine deaths. We thought we were actually doing well.

Modise: Well, very, very sad indeed, and tragic there. But still staying with mining – a new concept there, or at least something that you’ll have to unpack for us: clean-coal technology, which is a must for South Africa, a country more coal-dependent than any other in the world.

Creamer: South Africa has a unique relationship with coal. Coal has become a dirty word around the world. People are talking about lower carbon economies, not higher carbon economies. And we’ve got a very high carbon economy.

I mean there’s no other country in the world where you go down to the airport for instance, go down to OR Tambo airport, and fly off on coal like we do here, courtesy of the jet fuel supplied by Sasol. There is no other country in the world where you go down and fill your car on diesel and petrol, which has been made from coal.

Ninety per cent of the iron and steel we produce is reduced by coal. We rely 90% for our electricity on coal, so it’s an enormous reliance on coal. And we are growing. That dependence is growing. We can see a new big power station coming up. Because the world is saying, no, we don’t want high carbon, South Africa just has to clean up its act. It has to introduce clean-coal technologies.

The problem is, these are far on the horizon. Politicians talk as if these clean-coal technologies are available off the shelf, but they’re about ten years away. Some of them are totally unproven. The carbon-capture-and-storage technology is not an airtight solution at present.

There are many critics of that. It isn’t proven. Perhaps the first company that could start this is Sasol because it is the one that separates the carbon dioxide out from the other emitted gases. It has already concentrated that CO2, which is a costly business.

Perhaps they could be the first to show us how this clean-coal technology works. That’s the carbon-capture-and-storage technology. So big challenges ahead for a country that is highly dependent on coal and is going to be more dependent on it going intto the future. It has to clean up its act.

Modise: And a new substantial business formed by two South African firms and an Australian firm that have joined forces to form a consulting engineering giant.

Creamer: This is a new giant, Aurecon, quite a difficult to pronounce name. It’s made up of Australia’s Connell Wagner and South Africa’s big consulting engineering firms, Africon and Ninham Shand, coming together to form a big new consulting engineering giant, with 6 700 people in 87 offices in 27 countries and R6-billion worth of revenue a year. So it’s quite substantial.

But it’s in the top 60 of the worlds consulting engineering firms, so not in the league of the Bechtels and the Fluors that take up a lot of our business here.

But they’re trying to say that these consulting engineering firms need to look beyond their borders these days and get more critical mass in order to get more business in the likes of Africa, the Middle East and this particular company will be headed by an Australian to start off with, Paul Hardy.

But he wants to make sure that he doesn’t sit in Australia. He’s going to sit in Singapore so that they have a more global look, and the non-executive chairperson will be a South African, Jakes Gerwel, who is former president Nelson Mandela’s DG, so we will have this South African and Australian and a combination of our consulting engineering skills.

But the idea is to be more global and to be able to go into bigger infrastructural projects around the world. With the stimulus packages by the world’s governments, they’re hoping for a lot of business in the infrastructure front.

Modise: That’s Martin Creamer, the publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He’ll be back at the coalface at the same time next Friday.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter


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