By Pınar Ertör-Akyazı, Cem İskender Aydın, Begüm Özkaynak, Irmak Ertör.
Hundreds of workers were killed following an explosion on Tuesday, May 13, in the coal mine close to the town of Soma, in Western Turkey. According to official reports, more than 200 workers were killed. Among them was a worker claimed to be under 18 years old. An estimated 700 to 1000 workers were inside the mine at the time of explosion and an ensuing fire. Some of the workers near the upper gallery could be saved, but the rest remain trapped inside and largely presumed to be dead by now. The number of workers trapped is unkown, however, it’s quite likely that the number of workers inside the mine was high as the operator did not want to lose time during the shift change.
The coal mine was inspected at least 10 times in the last years and was often closed after 66 faults were found. Each time it was reopened due to political pressure. The main opposition party, CHP, submitted a motion demanding a parliamentary investigation of work-related accidents in Soma only two weeks before the accident. However, the motion was rejected with votes from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).This is not the first mining disaster Turkey is witnessing. The worst mining disaster occurred in Zonguldak in 1992, again in a coal mine, where 263 miners lost their lives. Consecutive governments had long been criticized for failing to supervise mining activities, and more recently, the current government has been accused of subcontracting firms that employ workers with little training and cutting on costs by not taking sufficient safety measures.
“The mining accident that we have seen at this private facility today is truly a work-related murder of the highest degree. We are currently facing the worst work-related murder in the country’s history,” said the former head of the miners’ union Maden-İş, Çetin Uygur.
The head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), Kani Beko, said that there was a large number of subcontracted workers present in the mine. “There are second- and third-tier subcontractors working in this mine. I hope that the death toll will not climb further, but I am not optimistic. There is a massacre that happened following the explosion inside,” Mr. Beko said. When a private company took over the Soma mine from a public company in 2012, the costs of extracting one ton of coal was reduced from 130-140 dollars to 23.8 dollars. At the time, the CEO of the private company operating the mine said that this was a result of the “way the private sector works”.
As part of its development plans called “Vision 2023” Turkey wants to “lift up its energy generation capacity to 120,000 MW”, by relying mostly on domestic potential, where fossil fuels (especially coal) will be an important contributor, together with nuclear, hydro and renewables. According to the Ministry of Energy, Turkey will utilize all its fossil fuel potential (coal, oil and natural gas) until 2023, through a strategy of transferring the coal mining sites to the private sector under the condition of construction and operation of new thermal power plants and producing electricity. As a consequence, 21 new licenses are allocated to the private sector, with the aim of creating an additional capacity of 18,500 MW of coal-fired power plant, on top of the current 34,000 MW. As a result of this aggressive fossil fuel strategy, societal unrest against the thermal plants increased even further. We already have 52 reported fossil fuel conflicts on the Turkey’s Map of Environmental Resistance, and many of them are against coal powered plants under construction or at planning stage.
Image: Fossil Fuel conflicts on Turkey’s Map of Environmental Resistance (Round dots depict conflicts reported in detail, whereas square dots depict cases reported at basic information level)
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Ministry of foreign affairs, “Vision 2023” speech: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/speech-entitled-_vision-2023_-turkey_s-foreign-policy-objectives__-delivered-by-h_e_-ahmet-davutoglu_-minister-of-foreign-af.en.mfa
Turkey’s investment support and promotion agency – Energy vision of 2023: http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/sectors/Pages/Energy.aspx),