The minister in charge of the Pike River Mine recovery effort, Andrew Little, says it is "just impractical" to expect the remains of all of the fallen miners to be recovered.
Instead, the re-entry efforts are now essentially solely focused on gathering evidence in the "homicide of 29 men", Little told a select committee hearing this morning.
The 29 miners died in an explosion at the mine in November 2010.
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Speaking to MPs this morning, Little also revealed that there would be no further funding for re-entry.
This comes after the cost of the project has more than doubled since its inception.
Re-entry originally had a $23 million budget but the Government has already spent roughly $35m and that that could reach as high as $50m.
But that, according to Little, is the absolute funding limit.
"There is always a limit to these things – I have no plan or intention of returning to Cabinet for any further additional resources."
He likened the recovery efforts to a police homicide investigation – "which is effectively what this is".
He said the average homicide investigation is between $2m and $3m.
"We're looking at the homicide of 29 men."
Little said the cost to date can be justified, because this was a "tragedy that did not need to happen".
He added that there is still an open police file on the incident and the re-entry efforts are focused on gathering evidence to help with the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the miners.
The goal, Little said, was to get to the pit bottom in stone where evidence – including instrumentation panels which will help determine the cause of the explosion – will likely be.
He said bringing the remains home was no longer an objective of the re-entry – he said it was "just impractical" given the complex technicalities of the mine's geography.
But in terms of recovery of human remains, Little said he has always maintained there is a very low probability of recovery.
"I would put it as more than remote – but it is very low."