Following the Victorian 2009 Black Saturday Bushfire catastrophe, various recommendations were made by the Royal Commission to mitigate the effects of future bushfire events.
Unfortunately, very few of the recommendations have been applied.
In the 2013 – 2014 bushfire season, severe bushfires broke out all across Australia, including WA, NT, QLD, NSW and VIC.
This intelligence estimate focusses upon the recent Hazelwood Coal Mine fire near Morwell, Victoria. This facility is a Vital Asset.
The coal mine was ignited when a small, deliberately lit grass-fire spotted into the mine on 09FEB2014.
The flames took approximately 4 weeks to extinguish and the Victorian CFA have now announced that the fire-fighting operations are in their final stages.
Mr Warrington states that the hot spots are only 0.5 metres in depth, however, coal mine fire history suggests that the Hazelwood mine fire could enter a much more dangerous phase.
We still do not know exactly how deep the fire has penetrated into the coal seam. In other words, has the surface mine fire now extended into the underground areas of the coal seam?
This is critical, because once a surface fire becomes an underground fire, it is almost impossible to extinguish.
According to a 28FEB2014 article by David Cliff, Professor of Occupational Health & Safety in Mining at the University of Queensland;
If there is an underground coal fire burning along seams beneath the Hazelwood power station, then 25% of the Victorian power supply is at risk.
Underground Coal Seam Fires
The danger in underground coal seam fires is that surprisingly few people know about them. As reported by Danny Kingsley in a ABC Science Online article;
One of the most experienced global experts on coal mine fires is Professor Glenn Stracher from the East Georgia State College in the US.
In this radio interview with ABC Radio reporter Phillip Adams, Prof Glenn Stracher explains just how dangerous the Hazelwood coal mine fires are for communities.
China has the largest number of underground coal seam fires in the world, where an estimated 200 million tons of coal burns per year.
To bring this in perspective, US industry burns about 1 billion tons of coal per annum. This indicates the severity of this type of disaster that can occur without proper risk management.
The Centralia, PA underground coal seam fire in the US also provides a stark example of how serious the ramifications are with these types of fires.
This YouTube video adds to the devastating chronicle of what happens with out-of-control underground coal seam fires.
In this article by Audrey Wozniak, there is also a significant threat to those fire-fighters tasked to extinguish coal seam fires.
The Armoured Strike Team vehicles originally recommended for Australian fire-fighters in 2007 have quarantined breathing systems plus a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical [NBC] hardening.
Above is the Australian designed Fireking – built in Bendigo, VIC. None are in service with the Victorian CFA.
In military terms, the Hazelwood power station is a Vital Asset in the national register.
It therefore lies within the parameters of the Australian Defence Force sphere of interest.
There are multiple threats to the Hazelwood Power station and people living in the Morwell district, specifically;
- Continuing and escalating threat of underground coal seam fires, with the potential to undermine the structure, facilities and infrastructure vital to the electrical generation of 20-25% of Victorian capacity.
- Poisoning of the air from any further coal seam burns, whether by spontaneous combustion from those areas already burned, or from the ignition of underground coal seams.
- Such air pollution will ensure that the workforce within and supporting the power plant operations will face currently unpredictable and likely long-term health risks. These skilled workers and their families will leave the vicinity.
- Should power supply interruptions [short or long term] occur as in 2006, there may well be a flow-on of catastrophic effects for the estimated 5,737,600 residents of Victoria. Does Victoria have a viable back-up plan should it lose one quarter of its generation capacity?
- Whilst it is beyond the scope of this analysis to comprehensively project or predict such events, it should be noted = if no additional capacity can be sourced from the National Electricity Market [NEM] to make up the shortfall, then ramifications will include:
- Spoilage of perishable foods from any retail outlet that does not have adequate and or long-term back-up electrical generating capacity – does Coles, Woolworths and their logistics facilities have such a capability?
- Other ramifications will be added, subject to time constraints.
- Emergency services such as Ambulance, Fire and Police responses will be severely compromised.
- All business, whether government, corporate or private, will be compromised. Expect problems with water and sewerage pumping stations.
- Hospitals without any reliable backup generation will be unable to provide normal healthcare services. Expect the cancellation of all elective surgery.
- Widespread blackouts – shutdown of broadcast media, radio television and internet, traffic chaos [no traffic lights], all trams and suburban trains will stop. Petrol stations will be unable to provide fuel for public transport [buses] corporate & wholesalers or private individuals.
- Hazelwood power station also had a fire in the mine in 2006 resulting in power interruptions:
The 2014 mine fire is significantly larger than the 2006 event. To suggest or hope that there will be no power interruptions is unacceptable in any proper risk management process.
Material on pages 12 to 19 provide a synopsis of previous Intelligence Estimates that recommended drought mitigation and new bushfire combat methods in Australia.
Note that the Hazelwood power station was listed as an option to produce thermally desalinated water for drought mitigation.
2007 Intelligence Estimates
Construct Low Temperature, Multi-Effect Distillation [LT-MED] Desalination Plants, adjacent to Heavy Industry and/or Power Stations and/or geothermal resources.
Power stations such as Yallourn & Hazelwood can be modified into Cogeneration [also known as Combined Heat & Power [CHP]] facilities. They are only 100kms from seawater access and can be used for thermal distillation.
Basic principles of cogeneration;
- Top diagram, regular power plant = 70% of the heat is lost.
- Bottom diagram, cogeneration with heat recovery = 55% heat can be recycled for thermal desalination.
- Overall efficiency – Regular = 30% Versus CHP = 85%
Graph - Costs of Desalination
By using heat recycling, Thermal Energy costs are reduced to the point that MED is far more economical & efficient than the Reverse Osmosis [RO] process.
The Wonthaggi Reverse Osmosis Desalination plant was budgeted to cost approx. $2,100 million [$2.1 Billion], however, the costs blew out to over $5,600 million [$5.6 Billion]
Source: Brumby’s Money Pit, by Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar: The Age, dated 8th August, 2010. : http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/brumbys-giant-money-pit-20100827-13w2n.html
According to Tom Arup, also from The Age, in an article entitled, Desal Plant Could Sit Idle for 3 Years, dated 27th March, 2013;
“In 2013-14, the plant will cost Victorian taxpayers $649 million even without water ordered.” Source: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/desal-plant-could-sit-idle-for-three-years-20130327-2gtn6.html#ixzz2fFJM0kqv
Water from thermal desalination plants is:
- provided to Peter Andrews and his Natural Sequence Farming team
- piped to the headwaters of inland creeks and rivers for trickle feeding,
- stored in water-towers near at-risk communities for bushfire mitigation.
Peter has been converting drought-stricken, salt-pan affected, unproductive and clapped-out farmland back into pristine primary producing areas for many years. Our plan is to utilising these proven methods on our Crown Lands, State forests and areas surrounding at-risk communities, to reduce drought and mitigate bushfire risks.
Monash – On War-fighting – circa 1918
“the true role of infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, ... but, on the contrary, … to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward."
Monash Adaptation on Fire-fighting - circa 2007
“the true role of firefighters, emergency services and citizens is not to expend themselves upon heroic physical effort, nor to wither away under merciless fire fronts, not to be trapped by hostile ember attacks, nor to be engulfed by clouds of blinding smoke and ash, not to see their families, communities and workmates perish … but, on the contrary, … to prevail and survive using the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in static defences, such as firefighting shelters, sprinkler systems and water reservoirs, in mobile assaults, by use of back-burning, armoured strike teams, aeroplanes and helicopters; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved of the obligation to fight their way forward through insurmountable walls of flame."