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Chinese coal mining a risk?
by Staff Writers
Beijing (UPI) Sep 4, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

A series of coal mine accidents in China have called attention to the safety of the country's mining sector.

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported Monday that the death toll rose to 45 from a blast last Wednesday in a mine in China's Sichuan province. That was followed by a mine explosion Sunday that killed 15 miners in Jiangxi province in eastern China.

Less than a week before the first accident, a spokesman for China's work safety regulator had said that coal mining remains a high-risk industry in China despite improvement during the last decade.

"We must stay clear-headed all the time and be on alert for coal mine safety," Huang Yi of the State Administration of Work Safety said at an Aug. 24 news conference.

There is a fatality rate of 35 workers for each 100 million tons of China's coal output, Huang said. That's about 10 times the death rate for the United States' coal sector.

The two latest accidents occurred at relatively small mines.

While small mines contribute one-third of China's total coal output, they account for about 85 percent of the country's 12,000 mines and are the biggest source of danger because of poor safety provisions and report two-thirds of all deaths annually in the industry, Huang said.

Xu Yi-chong, a professor of Australia's Griffith University in Brisbane told The Wall Street Journal: "To me, this is the main problem. The small coal mines tend to have very, very, very low safety standards and very, very, very low labor standards and are very difficult to regulate."

To help reduce the number of fatalities, Huang said the government aims to close 625 small coal mines this year.

Under regulations released in April, dangerous mining enterprises are required to spend at least $4.70 for each ton of production on improving safety, Xinhua reports. The report didn't specify the criteria for "dangerous."

One of China's largest miners Yanzhou Coal Mining Co., for example, highlights its safety record in its latest annual report, noting that it has recorded a rate of zero fatalities per million tons of raw coal mined in each of the past five years.

China, the world's largest miner and consumer of coal, produced 3.47 billion metric tons of coal last year accounting for 45 percent of the global total of 7.678 billion tons, says the World Coal Association.

Despite China's economic slowdown, Barclays still forecasts a 5.9 percent increase in coal production this year, to 3.6 billion metric tons, the Journal reports.


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