The new owner of the Pike River coal mine will not risk lives to recover the bodies of 29 men who remain trapped underground.
State-owned coal mining company Solid Energy agreed a conditional purchase of the mine with receivers on Thursday but told family members of the dead it may be years before they were in a position to bring out their remains.
Chief executive Don Elder said it was determined to bring the bodies out.
"But we will not risk further tragedy in doing so," Dr Elder said.
The bodies were only likely to be recovered if feasibility studies found a second mine was commercially viable.
Solid Energy will pay an initial $7.5 million for the assets with up to an additional $25m to be paid depending on whether the mine is reopened and the level of production.
Dr Elder said it was not yet known if mining in the Pike River coalfield was possible and substantial work was needed to see if it could reopen.
"This work may take a number of years and it has no certainty of a positive outcome," he said.
Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley said the government's expectations on the recovery of bodies remained unchanged - but not at the risk of further loss of life.
In a letter to Solid Energy, Mr Heatley said any commercial reopening of the mine must include a body recovery plan which the government may help fund.
But Greens MP Kevin Hague says the government has let the families down by making the retrieval of remains dependent on the mine's viability.
"The government should honour its commitment to recover the bodies regardless of commercial deals," the West Coast-based MP said.
Receivers PwC said settlement was due in July.
A series of explosions in the mine in November 2010 killed 29 workers and the company was placed in receivership a month later.A royal commission of inquiry into the disaster is due to present its report in September.
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