Bad Old Days

A dream about being in a coal mine prompted some googling. The historical reality isn’t pretty:

UK Mine Disasters — “Between 1880 and 1910, over 1000 fatalities occurred every year in British coal mines.”

Account of 1814 Visit to English Mine

List of Welsh Mining Disasters

U.S. Dept. of Labor Mining Disasters Exhibit

List of U.S. Mining Disasters

List of Major Coal Mine Fires and Explosions in Pennsylvania

Interesting site devoted to the conflict in Coal Creek, Tennessee over use of convicts as slave labor to mine coal. Note the obvious RKBA implications.

Here’s a book about the 1958 Springhill, Nova Scotia disaster. I looked this one up because I remember from childhood a dreary folk song about the same event. The reality seems to have been more interesting than the song.

Happily, things are better now. But note that even in 2002 there were 27 coal mining deaths in the U.S., and an average of 40 deaths annually in 2000 and 2001. Keep these numbers in mind the next time someone asserts that nuclear power generation is dangerous.

6 thoughts on “Bad Old Days”

  1. An how many people have died mining uranium? Probably not as many people. According to one anti-nuclear site I visited: “One estimate puts the number of workers that have died of lung cancer and silicosis due to mining and milling alone at 20,000.” Not nearly as many who’ve died from coal mining. I live near a coal-fired plant that has all the latest scrubbers and yet rates of allergies, asthma and lung diseases are higher than normal for our area. I’m all for cheap electricity…but I’d rather have nuclear.

  2. And coal also contains radioactive isotopes, making coal-fired power plants the major source of radioactive materials released into the environment.

    From that link:

    “Both the benefits and hazards of coal combustion are more far-reaching than are generally recognized. Technologies exist to remove, store, and generate energy from the radioactive isotopes released to the environment by coal combustion. When considering the nuclear consequences of coal combustion, policymakers should look at the data and recognize that the amount of uranium-235 alone dispersed by coal combustion is the equivalent of dozens of nuclear reactor fuel loadings. They should also recognize that the nuclear fuel potential of the fertile isotopes of thorium-232 and uranium-238, which can be converted in reactors to fissionable elements by breeding, yields a virtually unlimited source of nuclear energy that is frequently overlooked as a natural resource”.

    So the isotopes can be removed from the coal and used as a energy-source, but I’d venture a guess that existing regulations prevent that. The whole regulatory system is stifling innovation and the energy-market anyway.

    I think that deregulation wouldn’t make nuclear power the dominant technology, rather that there would be a mix of technologies, with natural-gas, coal, oil, hydrogen and nuclear, solar and wind powered stations. Each of these technologies have their own advantages and drawbacks, so a mix would be the logical answer. The current either-or debates are the result of the fight for political support by the various lobbies, that’s all.

  3. Since your interest began with a dream, did you look up this story? Summary: A little girl dreams that her school is covered in black stuff and she dies. A few days later, her school is covered in black stuff and she dies (and so do 143 other people).

    This story—whether true or not; we have only her mother’s word—came to light because a British psychiatrist advertised for people who had stories about premonitions of the disaster. When I was a teenager I loved to read stories of psychic phenomena, and when I read your post I vaguely remembered a story about people who dreamed of this before it happened.

  4. Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that story. Now that I am I await being kidnapped and hustled off to mine coal. Maybe I should have rearranged my dream to situate myself in a mine staffed by naked supermodels. But perhaps such psychic reorganization would have diminished the dream’s predictive power.

    More seriously, I wonder if the psychiatrist also advertised for people who had premonitions of events that never happened.

  5. Scott, the rate of allergies, lung problems and asthma in your area might be higher, that does not mean the power plant still is the cause of the problem. These health problems are also prominent in areas without power plants or chemical factories. Most studies that have alleged a direct link have been seriously amended since. It’s not always the obvious culprit.

    Increasing rates of asthma and allergies have long been associated with air pollution, for instance. Yet their rates are high even though air pollution in modern western countries has been drastically reduced (that’s right; get Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist if you want the detail). The current culprit is the fact that our houses are amazingly well insulated, resulting in the air inside them being renewed 10 times less than it used to, and a lifestyle where people spend a lot more time at home. Hence, the higher prevalence in cities vs. areas where people spend a great deal of time outdoors for a living.

    It’s not always the obvious culprit.

    Cancer rates is another one. It is claimed, on a regular basis, that the increase in those is also linked to air and water pollution. When in fact, most are linked to old age. Past the age of 30, the risk of cancer triples every ten years. As life expectancy increases and more and more people survive to a great old age, the cancer rate naturally increases. As for the main cause of cancer out there, it is self-inflicted by smokers. But of course, if you’re the Sierra Club, that won’t get you donations in the mail, will it ?

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