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Gov't Urges Increased Mine Safety Spending

The central government is calling on China's coal mines to invest more in safety, in the wake of a number of deadly gas explosions.

The authorities are calling on collieries to voluntarily pay higher safety fees, which could help make up the country's 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion) deficit in coal-mine safety investment.

But this could further increase domestic coal prices, which already surged by more than 50 percent last year.

China's top economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), last month called on collieries across the country to study the experiences of those coal mines successfully controlling gas blasts.

The commission revealed that mines with a good safety record allocate 15 yuan (US$1.8) from every ton of coal produced to establish a fund to improve safety.

Starting from last year, China required coal mines to pay 2-10 yuan (24 US cents-US$1.2) into such a fund for every ton of coal produced.

But local governments in some parts of the country, including Shanxi Province - China's major coal production base - have stipulated a safety fee of 15 yuan (US$1.8) a ton.

Based on last year's coal output of 1.9 billion tons, at least 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion) could be invested annually in mine safety if all collieries paid 15 yuan per ton.

"We should increase investment in safety, and improve technology to effectively reduce the number of severe gas blast accidents," Ma Kai, minister of the NDRC, told a conference on coal production safety held last month.

The suggested increase in the safety fee is part of the government's effort to tackle coal mine disasters. A series of gas explosion occurred in China's coal mines over the past two months, including one which killed 214 people in February in Fuxin in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

The latest coal mine blast occurred in north China's Shanxi Province two weeks ago, claiming 70 lives.

Coal accounts for 70 percent of China's energy consumption. To feed the nation's roaring economy, China's mines produced 35 percent of the world's coal last year. But more than 6,000 miners were killed, making up 80 percent of the world's coal mining deaths.

Complicated and dangerous geological structures, poor equipment, inadequate safety facilities, lack of training, and the violation of regulations have all been blamed for these accidents.

Insufficient investment in safety is the biggest headache for the government.

Official figures show 40 percent of last year's production of 1.9 billion tons of coal last year operated without sufficient safety controls.

Chinese coal mines were mired in huge debt before 2002 while coal demand remained low. Coal mines invested little in safety control over the past decades, leaving a safety investment gap of as much as 50 billion yuan (US$6.0 billion).

The government supports the improvement of safety, and pledges to gradually bridge the gap, said Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety.

The government will invest a further 3 billion yuan (US$362.7 million) in upgrading safety this year, following last year's investment of 3 billion yuan (US$362.7 million).

Ma has pledged to complete the technological upgrading of safety facilities at the nation's coal mines over the next two to three years.

(China Daily April 4, 2005)

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