‘Every revolution evaporates, Leaving behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy’ Franz Kafka 1883–1924
There is no common theme such as a topic of a conference in this issue, but rather a collection of papers from different countries and different subjects.
Most of them are mining related, two on advanced physical metallurgy and one of a general environmental nature. All of them invoked my interest, even those introducing technology new to me, and all suggest potential future advances.
For those who find interest in mathematical modelling, there is some pretty challenging finite difference calculus from Iran, dealing with fracturing of rocks using a non-explosive expansion material (NEEM, which I have not encountered before).Without any references to cost and practical applications, it was difficult to suggest future potential. However, it did evoke memories of some wild speculation from Egyptologists who theorized that a technology of this sort did exist with the super race preceding the Egyptians, which enabled them to produce cubic blocks of stone with high precision. This was the factor, coupled with a mathematical ability, which enabled them to build pyramids to line up the Pole Star through optical channels to follow the precession of the Earth’s wobbling axis of rotation. I hope that in future papers from Iran we shall learn more of the applications and economic features of this method of rock breaking.
A paper from Budapest deals with the restoration of the holes left in the surroundings from the quarrying of building stone.
There are papers on the measurement of residual methane in coal mines and a model to predict the performance of roadheaders based on the Rock Mass Brittleness Index.
Of more general interest are two papers on meeting the milestones of noise control in small and medium mines.
I recall clearly a leading ENT specialist expressing the opinion some 50 years ago that the loudest noise his deaf patients had encountered, was in the rod milling plants of the South African gold mines. Although these rod mills have long since been replaced with autogenous milling systems, it is now interesting that the exponential increase in hearing loss has moved away from mines and industrial factories (where most of them have compulsory ear muffs [hearing protection?]) to the users of modern electronic music available in high intensities from the miniature ear pieces of the iPods and similar personal music players with multi decibels from micro circuits.
In the field of the production of special super alloys, there are two papers on the use of laser beam layering techniques to produce and measure surface ultra-hard and corrosion resistant aluminium based titanium and nickel alloys. This work demands a high measure of sophistication in instrumentation and expertise and it is of absorbing interest. I am aware of the very highly priced composite alloys with outstanding corrosion hardness and other physical properties, whose uses range from medical transplants to applications in aerospace and satellites.
This is what I refer to as ‘rocket science’. Of course, there is also its potential for long-term application and for maintaining our research and training at the forefront of materials science.
The paper that interested me most was one, not by a metallurgist or mining engineer, but by a geographer. It is a most carefully researched paper about restoring the pristine and attractive appearance of areas converted into a mess by bulk surface mining by large and many small contractors to provide ’river sand’ for concrete production. I do not have the statistics available, but looking at the rate of erection of shopping centres and skyscrapers, I have the perception that, as commodities go, the production of the components of concrete is second only to that of coal mining in terms of magnitude and environmental impact.
My interest and admiration in reading this paper undoubtedly relates to its being conventional ‘old time’ basic technology involving soil science, topsoil fertilizers and the nature of the indigenous grasslands and vegetation. It isbasically agricultural science and technology, and the results have been a notable success in re-establishing the environmentally attractive landscape surrounding the village of Boekenhout near Pretoria and Cullinan. The expertise came from the department of Soil Science of Pretoria University and the habitat expertise of the University of Johannesburg. The sandmining companies have been provided with a formula for environmental sustainability. Based on this formula, a game park conservancy can now be established as originally planned. One of the main problems encountered was to overcome the effect of a large proportion of slimes, the fine material left behind after removal of the sand. Slimes, as in slimes dams, are generally a menace in post-mining operations, and I use a historical license to relate the word to my quotation.
There is much food for thought in this methodical and wellconceived paper. It most effectively takes care of a situation, which is commonplace in most developing countries in which infrastructural development based on concrete edifices and on road and civil engineering structures, are taking place. This development also attracts migration from rural areas and causes environmental damage close to the urban infrastructure.
Indeed, I and many others are becoming increasingly convinced that efforts of many other disciplines are essential when one analyses the realistic long-term sustainability of conventional and older mining operations around which the urbanization and infrastructure explosion is taking place.
Some abbreviated points of concern are:
➤ Sustainability is rapidly assuming a dimension of shortterm job creation, in which semi-derelict ‘ghost towns’ or tribal villages fail to offer reasonable employment and basic services.
➤ There are at least three cardinal essentials that must be considered:
– Water supply and effluent purification. There are countless employment opportunities in conventional technology to do this and to use the recovered water to create agricultural and other employment.
– Schooling revitalization in which sport facilities at schools is one of many opportunities. Beating a ball with a boot, bat, racquet or golf club offers such large income generation that sporting bodies have more than adequate funds to finance a mammoth ‘sport-inschools’ development of playing fields, teachers/coaches and, to some measure, new and updated facilities. I have heard figures of tens of billions of rands being available and there is unanimity that a culture of discipline and obedience is an invaluable by-product.
– Detoxification and restoration of extinct mining wastelands. As evidenced in this issue, extensive expertise and conventional technology can be brought to bear almost immediately.
These are a few observations dealing with a profound national problem, which perhaps can be debated at length in future.
Unquestionably, long-term innovations in technology must be explored intensively. But rocket science almost invariably demands high added value in terms of time-dependent expertise and capital and a high level of technical and entrepreneurial culture through generations in schools and universities.
Restoration can, if tackled over a broad range of disciplines, take place much faster and, most importantly, provide the foundation for enduring sustainability.
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