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10 October 2010
SAN JOSÉ MINE, Chile -- Plans to start pulling 33 miners out of the mine here, where they have been trapped for two months, got another serious delay.
The narrow rescue shaft has been ready for two weeks, but politicians and mining experts have been debating for a month how much of it to reinforce with steel pipe. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said, "The more we reinforce, the more the rescue will be delayed. But if we choose not to reinforce a section and it collapses, entire careers in the mining industry could be impacted. There could be finger-pointing all the way to the next election campaign."
Mr. Golborne said that, on purely technical considerations, the executives had decided to weld together 16 pipes, each six meters (nearly 20 feet) long, and jam them into the top of the rescue shaft, even though the top part is curved. Again working solely from their expertise at geology, the executives said that the possibility that this operation would itself cause a rock-slide is "negligible." Nor is there a chance that bringing the men up could carry risks. "We have instructed all the miners not to kick as they are being lifted out of the mine. Nor try to run their fingers along the rescue shaft."
Unfortunately, just as officials had set a Wednesday date to begin the rescue, a new obstacle has come up. "You see," explains President Sebastián Piñera, "last year we signed the new United Nations protocol on handicapped-accessibility. If an inspector arrives during the rescue, we will all face fines and administrative proceedings. That hole simply cannot accommodate a wheelchair."
"We have a workaround in place," the President said. "Our plan is to have signs on all sides of the rescue shaft, stating that there is an elevator right around the corner."