Premier Wen Jiabao urged China's leading coal producer, the northern province of Shanxi, to increase production capacity to ensure a steady coal supply for the country while "resolutely preventing" the occurrence of any major accidents such as gas explosions.
Wen was speaking at a Wednesday afternoon panel discussion of Shanxi lawmakers who are attending the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
"Shanxi plays an important role in the country's coal reserves and output," said Wen, stating that the province should expand exploration for resources, speed the construction of large mining centers and further tap the production capacity of existing mines.
Wen said that the province must ensure a safe and steady coal supply that can meet the needs of the country's economic development.
At the same time, he stressed that "nothing is more precious than human lives" and that "top priority must be given to production safety at the coal mines."
He called for more investment in safety upgrades and stricter implementation of the "safety responsibility system." At present, he said, the primary focus should be the problem of coal bed gas, the top killer in China's mining accidents.
"We must take more effective measures and resolutely prevent the occurrence of any major gas-related accidents," said Wen.
Coal accounts for 67 percent of China's primary energy consumption. In an effort to meet demand, coal production was pushed up by 200 million tons a year from 2001 to 2004.
In 2004, Shanxi's proven coal reserves were 272.5 billion tons, accounting for about one-third of the nation's total, and total production was about 493 million tons, 25.2 percent of the 2.0 billion tons produced nationwide. Its total coal reserves are estimated to be 871.0 billion tons.
China's coal industry has been plagued by an increasing number of accidents. The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) recently reported that of the 2.0 billion tons of coal produced last year, only 1.2 billion tons were produced under conditions that met prescribed national safety standards.
The official nationwide death toll in the coal mine industry was 6,027 in 2004, 150 below the official maximum target for the year. Guizhou Province topped the provincial figures with 894 deaths. Shanxi was in fourth place with 485.
(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn March 10, 2005)