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Miike coal mine explosion and disaster, Japan

The Mitsui Miike coal dust explosion on 9 November 1963 was the second deadliest coal mining disaster in Japan. 458 miners were killed in the accident and twice as many were permanently injured. Monetary compensation was small.


 A memorial ceremony was held on 9 November 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s worst mine accident in the postwar era. [3] An explosion in 1963 at the Mitsui Miike coal mine in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture,  and Arao, Kumamoto Prefecture, which used to be one of the country’s largest, killed 458 workers. Another 839 suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.  The mine, which closed down in 1997, was operated by Mitsui Mining Co. On November 9, 1963, the explosion occurred in a mine tunnel roughly 500 meters below the mine ground-level entrance. The blast and flame caused roof fall in many areas in the tunnels, which then quickly filled with carbon monoxide.  It was the worst postwar mine disaster. Lack of safety provisions to prevent coal dust was the main cause. Coal dust was the cause. Coal-dust explosions are the worst type of explosion because there is a great amount of carbon monoxide produced. As a result of this, many mine workers continue to suffer from the long-term after-effects of carbon monoxide poisoning even if they are lucky enough to be rescued alive. Methane gas explosions create carbon monoxide when the density of the gas is high, but if there is not much gas it is more often than not dispersed in the air. However, in coal-dust explosions the story is a very different one. Coal dust, being a solid rather than a gas, does not burn completely, and high-density coal-dust clouds can be formed. This prevents adequate air circulation, contributing to the production of carbon monoxide. Even if a coal-dust explosion does not spread throughout the length and breadth of the mine, the resulting carbon monoxide gas does in fact spread in this way and all the workers are poisoned. The Miike mine explosion of 1963 was an example of this. [1]  It was common knowledge that maintaining the site clean and making the area moist by watering could prevent such explosions. These easy preventive measures had been in place on a routine basis. However, after a strong labour dispute  in 1960, the insufficient number of safety personnel, caused by the employer's productivity-first policy, failed to take those measures. In 1955 coal as a primary energy source provided 50 per cent of energy needs in Japan, but after the Miike labour dispute and mine explosion, the level decreased, dropping to 16.4 per cent by 1975, while the use of oil increased from 20.2 to 73.3 per cent. [1].  The accident was second worst in Japanese mining history and one of the worst ever recorded in the world, and resulted in a series of lawsuits that dragged on until 1987, when it is reported that each of the victims' families was awarded the modest sum of US$1,800.[2]

Basic Data
Name of conflict: Miike coal mine explosion and disaster, Japan
State or province:Fukuoka
Location of conflict: Ōmuta
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Coal production at the Miike mine was 14 tons per worker in June 1958, but this was increased to 44 tons as of October 1963. Mined coal was transported by a belt conveyor system, leading to an increase in coal production. In 1958 over 6,000 tons per day left the mine, rising to over 10,000 tons in 1962 and 13,000 tons by October 1963 at the time of the accident of 9 Nov. 1963 [1]

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:1400 dead and wounded
Start of the conflict:09/11/1963
Company names or state enterprises:Mitsui & Co Ltd from Japan
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sohyo (National Organization of Labour Unions)
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Refusal of compensation
There was a debate on the amount of compensation to be paid for loss of life and injuries.
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires, Other Environmental impacts, Air pollution
Other Environmental impactsCoal dust explosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Project cancelled
Development of alternatives:Coal mining stopped in Omuta in 1997 (years after the terrible accident), because of change in the energy matrix of Japan.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:A major industrial disaster, the second largest coal mining explosion in Japan's history. Small compensations paid to families.
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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A collection of the world's worst coal mining disasters. ("The Mitsui Miike coal mine explosion on 9 November 1963, was the second deadliest coal mining disaster in Japan after the Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine Disaster in 1914").
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3]The Japan Times, 9 Nov. 2013
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[1] The Miike coal-mine explosion (UN University publication on environmental problems in Japan, Takeshi Hayashi Project Co-ordinator)
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Full report in The Japan Times of a historical film on the Miike coal mine made by Hiroko Kumagai, “Miike — Owaranai Yama no Monogatari” (“Echoes from the Miike Mine”)
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"This documentary by Hiroko Kumagai confronts the infamous Miike mine and 150 years of forced labor, strikes and explosions that modern Japan is still trying to forget."
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Other documents

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Meta information
Contributor:JMA (suggested by Kenichi Matsui)
Last update23/12/2016
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