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Coal shortage not linked to power plant closings
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China's State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) on Sunday disputed claims that coal shortages being experienced around the nation were related to a campaign to close small coal-fired power stations.

SAWS said that in 2007, the country eliminated 553 small thermal power generators with a total capacity of 14.38 million kilowatts, 44 percent above target. Additional stations of this type would be shut this year, amount to 13 million kw, or about 30 percent more than the 2007 target.

Small coal-fired power stations were shut down "in dual consideration of energy saving and environmental protection. Those stations were out-of-date, wasted a lot of energy, emitted plenty of pollutants and could not meet work safety requirements," said Huang Yi, spokesman with SAWS.

He added that most of the country's worst mine accidents had taken place among illegal facilities. Statistics indicate that 17,000 illegal mining operations have been banned and 11,000 small stations have been eliminated since 2005.

In 2007, there were 2,900 deaths in coal mine accidents, down 15.5 percent year-on-year and 33.9 percent lower than 2005.

Huang stressed that the closure of small mines had not affected coal production; rather, he said, it had promoted productivity. Modern, safe coal and power industries couldn't be built on a small scale, he said.

The country produced 18.58 million tons of crude coal in January, up 3.1 percent over the previous year, according to figures from SAWS.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, also said that current power shortages in some regions were "absolutely not related to the closure of small coal-fired power stations. And highly efficient, ecologically friendly generators, with a total capacity of 100 million kilowatts, had offset reductions caused by last year's closure."

Coal reserves most recently stood at about 21 million tons, less than half of the usual level. Nearly 90 power plants, which accounted for more than 10 percent of national gross installed capacity, had less than three days of coal reserves, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) reported late last week.

Coal transport has been hampered by a combination of the harsh weather that has affected much of the country and rising passenger rail traffic as the Spring Festival approaches. Simultaneously, cold weather has increased coal demand for heating, and heavy rail traffic is also pushing up demand for coal, which helps power the rail system.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)

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