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China Closes Nearly 6,000 Small Mines

China has shut down 5,931 small coal mines in the first four months of the year as it continues efforts to reduce the high accident rate in the coal mining industry.

Wang Shuhe, deputy director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety (SACMS), said the country has so far closed 10,957 small mines since the beginning of 2005.

The shutdown of small mines and enforcement of tough safety standards have led to improved safety records in the industry, he said.

In the first four months of the year, China's small coal mines reported 763 deaths in 483 accidents, dropping 33.5 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively.

China once had 80,000 small coal mines. Two-thirds of China's coal mine deaths occurred in small mines, which account for only one third of the country's coal output.

As in 2005, small coal mines recorded 5.53 deaths for per million tons of coal production, which is 5.8 times that of major state-owned mines.

In a bid to improve the safety records of the country's mining industry, the Chinese government decided in 2005 to shutdown all unsafe small coal mines by 2007.

By the end of 2005, over 5,000 small mines had been shutdown, reducing the total number of small coal mines to 19,828, according to official figures.

Despite the progress being made, Wang said the safety situation at small coal mines is still fragile. Most of them still use primitive methods and each produce less than 30,000 tons of coal per year.

These mines use backward equipment and are poorly managed, with some of them not being licensed, he said.

Wang urged local authorities to keep up the pressure on small mines and shutdown all those mines that are not safe, illegal, or damage the environment and waste resources.

He noted that substantial efforts shall also continue to be made to promote mergers and acquisitions among small mines and improve their technological standards.

Meanwhile, the government has recently approved plans to build 13 large coal mining bases in coal-rich Shanxi, Shaanxi and other provinces.

Total production of these bases are expected to eventually hit 1.3 billion tons, making up over half of China's estimated coal output in 2010.

(Xinhua News Agency May 19, 2006)

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