Keeping Chile's trapped miners alive

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    A Chilean mounted policeman stands guard at the entrance of the San Esteban gold and copper mine, near the city of Copiapo, in the arid Atacama desert, 480 miles north of Santiago, on August 17, 2010. Miners are still trapped in the cave.

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Chilean workers operate a drilling machine at the San Esteban gold and copper mine. Thirty-three miners are still trapped inside the mine after a cave-in

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    Relatives of trapped miners pray and light candles on an altar outside the San Esteban gold and copper mine.

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    Relatives of the 33 miners pray and light candles for their loved ones, who remain trapped inside the mine.

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    A relative of a trapped miner waits for news outside San Esteban gold and copper mine on August 19, 2010.

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    Relatives of the miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine hug each other as news spread that a probe has reached the place were they might be located is announced on August 22, 2010.

    - Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

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    A woman holds a sign reading "Long live Chile and its miners" as Chileans celebrate in the streets of Santiago after the confirmation of the survival of the 33 trapped miners on August 22, 2010.

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shows a message reading "We are fine in the refuge, the 33 of us," from the miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine on August 22, 2010. The miners are alive and contact has been established with them 17 days after a structural collapse trapped them below ground.

    - Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

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    A relative of one of the 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo waves a Chilean flag on August 23, 2010 -- a day after learning that the 33 workers were alive and in good health.

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

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    Relatives of the miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo celebrate with Chilean senator Isabel Allende, left, as a new drilling machine arrives at the site on August 23, 2010. Chilean rescue teams prepared to launch a potentially months-long bid to retrieve the miners found alive and in apparently good health after spending more than two weeks trapped deep underground.

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

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    Chilean Romina Gomez writes a letter to be sent through a drill to her father, miner Mario Gomez, one of the 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine

    - Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

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    Drilling machines work in the rescue operation to free 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago. O

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

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    Relatives of some of the 33 miners trapped inside the San Esteban gold and copper mine greet a rescuer as he leaves his work shift on August 24, 2010.

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

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    A rescuer working on the San Esteban gold and copper mine poses with a national flag while leaving his work shift. Officials in Chile said they have asked U.S. space agency NASA for assistance in keeping the miners supplied with food.

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

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    A banner with the pictures of the 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo, Chile.

    - Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images


BOB MOON: Thirty three miners trapped a half-mile underground for nearly three weeks have not been told how much longer they'll likely be stuck. But government reports say the ordeal could last several months, challenging the health and safety of the miners. Gideon Long is the BBC's reporter in Chile and he visited the mine yesterday. This morning he joins us live to talk about how the mine collapse exposes the danger of the job. Good morning.

GIDEON LONG: Good morning there Bob.

MOON: Gideo, we know mining is a dangerous job. But are things any different in Chile, which is so dependent on mining for its economy.

LONG: Well, the short answer is no. Mining is obviously an intrinsically dangerous industry anywhere in the world. I would say, though, that Chile has a fairly good safety record in this area. It's a country which is steeped in mining tradition. It's absolutely essential to the economy. Mining accounts for over a half of Chile's export revenues. And this one country produces a third of all the copper in the world. And that means that they've got a long history of mining. Generally, safety standards around Chile's mines are very good. But it's a mixed picture. At the big mines, the safety standards tend to be good. But there are hundreds of smaller mines dotted around the country, where maybe things aren't quite so good.

MOON: You visited the mine. Set the scene for us.

LONG: That's right. I was up at the mine yesterday. It's bustling with activity. We were allowed to get as far as the entrance. We can see in where they're starting this drilling operation to try and rescue the miners. And just down below there is a camp, which has been set up, where the relatives of the miners are basing themselves. They're living in tents. They've been there for over two weeks now. They've set up little shrines in the rocks, shrines to the miners down below with personal mementos, messages of goodwill from passersby and photographs of the miners as well. So it has a sense of permanence. The local authorities here have set up food so they have something to eat. It feels like they will be there for some time.

MOON: And how are they planning for keeping them safe, health and alive for months down the road here?

LONG: Well now they've established this bore hole, 700 meters through the rock, which allows them to drop food and water down to the miners. So they can now keep them alive. They've also dropped medical supplies down there and they've had some communication. They've managed to drop down a phone line down there and a camera, so they can see what's happening down there and they can speak to them. I think going forward from here, the key thing is going to be how they look after their psychological health, how they keep them sane, how they keep their spirits up. Interestingly, the Chilean government has been talking to NASA about this to get some information about how they train their astronauts. It's a slightly different situation because obviously astronauts know they are going up into space, they can prepare psychologically. These guys went into the mine thinking they'll be back in time for dinner. So it's different in that sense, but otherwise it's quite similar. These guys are going to be in isolation for months. So the Chilean government is talking to NASA to try and learn from NASA's experience with astronauts.

MOON: The BBC's Gideon Long in Copiapo, Chile. Thanks.

LONG: Thank you.


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