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October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

Posted October 21, 2009 12:00 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, a mass of mining debris claimed the lives of 144 people in Aberfan, a Welsh village near Merthyr Tydfil. After several days of heavy rains, land subsided at Colliery Waste Tip No. 7, one of the large piles of loose rock and mining slag that Britain's National Coal Board (NCB) had deposited above Aberfan on the side of Merthyr Mountain. The resulting landslide was so loud that some villagers thought a jet was about to crash. But the "horrible nightmare" that eight-year old Gaynor Minett witnessed was far worse.

A Long Time Coming

For nearly 50 years, excavated mining debris from the Methryl Vale Colliery had been dumped above the village of Aberfan, Wales. Arranged in piles or "tips", the mining waste was layered above highly-porous sandstone that contained underground springs. Although Aberfan authorities had long worried about the possibility of a landslide near the village school, NBC officials remained indifferent. Local mining managers denied that the ground near Colliery Waste Tip No. 7 contained a spring, and the NCB itself remained without a tipping policy.

On the morning of October 21, 1966, more than 150,000 cubic meters of water-logged waste slid down Merthyr Mountain at a high rate of speed. Although a majority of the mass was deposited on the lower slopes, some 40,000 cubic meters buried parts of Aberfan in a slurry 12 meters deep. The dead included 116 students who had just arrived at Pantglas Junior School (picture above). "I could see the black out the window", Gaynor Minett later recalled.

The Tribunal of Inquiry

On October 26, 1966, the Secretary of State for Wales, Cledwyn Hughes, appointed a special tribunal to investigate the Aberfan Disaster. For 76 days, the inquiry interviewed 136 witnesses and examined 300 exhibits. One of these exhibits, a March 1964 letter from D.L. Roberts, the NCB area mechanical engineer, described plans to discontinue tipping "where it is likely to be a source of danger to Pantglas School". Tragically, existing tips such as Colliery Waste Tip No. 7 were left in-place.

In its official report dated August 3, 1967, the inquiry concluded that "the Aberfan Disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above". The NBC's legal liability to pay compensation was "incontestable and uncontested", but legal recourse would not bring back Aberfan's children.

Resources:

http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/tri.htm

http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/let4.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Tamilnadu, India
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#1

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/22/2009 1:56 AM

For habitation and fulfilling major human needs ,land reformation is essential. But needs a judicial consideration at what extent. Man kind is disturbing the very solid stability of the planet

*Surface land reformation for agriculture, urbanisation, housings

*Deforestation

*On shore& off shore minerals, coal & oil exploration, excavations and extractions

*Transport and cave routes

*Canals, Harbouring activities

*Rigging bore wells

*Open and closed mining activities

All activities intended towards looting out all possible resources ,an endless thirst, Hunger and greed.

A serious impact analysis of used and under use and future planned mining activities with reference towards stability of the planet structure is the need of the hour.

Ensure safety[ LONG TERM] first and treat output as secondary.

It is also high time to think seriously on recycling, alternates and renewable based on flora.

Alternate optional materials and resources got to evolve as a serous and new science for that matter.

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Guru

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/22/2009 12:00 PM

It would seem that you are handing up an indictment of man kind and advocating retribution by Mother Earth. Perhaps you would prefer that Mother Earth retaliate by one of the following:

1. A plague like that of the 1300's where the world population was reduced by probably a third. Or perhaps just a pandemic like the Spanish Flu of 1918 and limit the deaths to only 20 to 25%.

2. Maybe she could touch off one of those super volcanoes and start a "nuclear winter". Toba in Sumatra evidentially did that about 70,000 years ago and almost eliminated man kind completely. You can just imagine all that ash with the ensuring darkness cancelling out all that expensive "feel good" (renewable?) solar power. Or all that abrasive glass filled ash scoring up all those wind powered generators and their blades, grinding them to a halt. Of course that's assuming that they're even turning. After all a nuclear winter with the resulting temperature drop and lack of sunlight would cause the oceans and land masses to reach an equilibrium point where maybe there would be no wind or breezes.

3. There's always the possibility that she can call on a small asteroid to make a hit like the one in the Yucatan that supposedly put an end to the dinosaurs. Who wanted to go out in the back yard and see T Rex having a doggy treat, your doggy that is.

If man kind is to survive on this planet without Soylent Green or a major catastrophe becoming a reality it needs to make use of the best science and engineering available at the present time. This doesn't mean "feel good" solutions or "politically correct" agendas. It also means taking firm steps to eliminate the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude that so many have. After all, they're saying it's OK in YOUR backyard, just not in THEIRS.

Whether it's hydro-electric, tidal or coal gasification with CO2 conversion by plant or algae means it must take into account other forces of nature so mankind is not caught with a its pants down in the middle of a very cold nuclear winter. Politicians can not prevent something that they are too stupid to comprehend.

The path to progress is taken one step at a time with your eyes wide open. The path to destruction is followed blindly.

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Guru

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/22/2009 12:46 PM

Spinco,

Good points raised. Man kind need to do a lot manipulations to survive and grow against challenges of nature.

Can we reconsider some reserves to ensure longer and safe life for both the NICHE and ourselves. That part needs a judicial control and not over grazing.

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#2

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/22/2009 7:54 AM

Quick question for all those who would have us quit mining. How many jobs would be lost not just direct mining, but those who rely on the paychecks of the miners? How much electricity would we have tomorrow if we quit burning coal? Oh and if I do remember, gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, all gems, they come from mining. Oh and 99% of houses have drywall installed. Where does gypsum come from? What would happen to the world economy if we quit mining? It would be a complete collapse. Instead of complaining and making grand statements that we should quit mining, come up with an alternative?

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Anonymous Poster
#5

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/22/2009 1:00 PM

I did not read the first post as stating that natural disasters do not happen or that he desired to stop all mining or other industry. He seems to indicate safety concerns should come first and some attention payed to recycling and alternate technologies.

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Guru

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: October 21, 1966 – The Aberfan Disaster

10/23/2009 3:31 AM

Well said guest. Thank you for the interpretation.

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