Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: Underground mining without any people and free of all emissions was showcased to the world this week.
Creamer: Yes, this new virtual world can take you anywhere. This week they took the world to a test mine in Finland, and showed us just what mining is going to be like underground in the future. Definitely, there was no human being in sight. There was also no pollution, it is an emissionless situation. It is all electric, you don’t see diesel anymore.
The situation is such that the vehicle can analyse a million points a second. It can set up for itself its own decision making. It can load, it can haul and dump. It is all electrical. There is not even a cabin. So, the idea of a person ever sitting in this thing just doesn’t exist. This is still a concept vehicle, of course, but it is showing the way that the world is going and that in invulnerable areas where human beings can be killed, they don’t want humans to be there anymore.
It is fine if the machine gets smashed up they can replace it, but zero harm is the target and the way they do this is so carefully worked out that they also showed that where a human being did appear in front of this machine, it came to a perfect halt to make sure that there is safety. If there is an object in the way it doesn’t always stop dead still; it can slow down and go around it. It is thinking all the time and taking its own decisions. The new world of autonomous mining is already close at hand.
Kamwendo: A new concept flashing across the globe is “circular economy” which means no waste and more jobs.
Creamer: The world with climate change doesn’t want any waste; it wants to circulate everything, so it is a circular economy. We also watched virtual events this week about how even drill bits used in mining are getting to be recirculated, how they are going to be recycled and turned back into virgin material.
The big thing about it is they want to walk on both sides of the street. So, they are on the high technology side of the street, but they also want to look after communities that live near to the mines. The idea is that the carbide in the drill bits could be extracted by the community and in this way there will be less travel needed, because they will then convert the carbide into virgin materials for use in the drill bits and they won’t have to ship the material over, which will save a lot of carbon dioxide emission.
All the world is looking at the moment is to do things better and at the same time create jobs, because that is another crucial issue. There is so much that used to be dumped that can now be brought back into the system immediately without being dumped and provide a lot of work with people.
Kamwendo: Our Koeberg nuclear station was given a new lease of life this week with the arrival of special hardware.
Creamer: The equipment that we see being replaced now has been in there since 1984. It was supposed to be changed some years back, but there was a court case that slowed everything down. Now, finally we see these steam generators on their way from the harbour, 40 km to Koeberg, which is our only nuclear power station.
These six new generators are going to be installed, but they have to make sure that they extract the existing steam generators first, so these new ones will lay in waiting as this happens. Then, when they place the existing ones into position, there are challenges as well. There is always a radioactive challenge with nuclear, so they will then have to hand the old generators over for radioactive disposal and that is quite a process.
In the meantime, Koeberg which produces very economically, very clean electricity, this has been given a new lease of life of another 20 years. So, it is good news for our power generation capacity.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.